Way back in 1972 the BBC made a supernatural TV series called Dead of Night. This title is not to be confused with a more recent American DVD of the same name or an older Michael Redgrave movie from the 1940s. The BBC series ran from 5 November until 17 December 1972 with seven episodes each of 50 minutes duration. It appears that only three episodes seem to be surviving but as a part of their Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film programme, the British Film Institute people have put them on a DVD for general release in October this year.
I do recall seeing one of these episodes back in 1972 when I was a young student plodding away at chemistry but with an avid interest in all matters relating to Science Fiction and associated literature, that episode being Return Flight, and I do recall thinking it was pretty good. Since then, however, I don't think this series has appeared on TV again so it's really one up for the BFI and their media archaeology for bringing it back to the viewing public once more.
The surviving episodes on the DVD are:
The Exorcism by Don Taylor. A middle-class couple have invited another couple round for Christmas dinner at their country cottage. Everything has been modernised to the latest standard but what they forget is that the cottage has a long history with previous occupants, some going back to the early 19th century when there was a famine and public unrest. Things start to go wrong in the house such as a power cut and doors that are unable to open. There is also something upstairs. Tension builds as evening progresses and they find what is behind the mystery of the house. Four excellent actors in Clive Swift (later appearing in Keeping up Appearances) Shakespearean actor Edward Pletherbridge (The Guardians) with Anna Cropper and Sylvia Kay.
Return Flight by Rodney Bennett. An airline pilot played by Peter Barkworth is on a routine flight from Hamburg when he sees another plane enter his fight path only to disappear quickly. This prompts an investigation but what he saw more resembled a Lancaster bomber from the war. The pilot is a lonely man, a recent widower, and his wife was once married to a bomber pilot lost in the war. Despite being encouraged by a friend, our pilot seems to sink into a depression which was precipitating a journey he was compelled to take.
A Sobbing Woman by Paul Ciappessoni. Anna Massey plays a relatively affluent housewife with a husband and a couple of children but she isn't really happy. Life seems to have passed by. In their new house things do not get any better when she hears a woman sobbing in one of the upstairs rooms. She is the only one to hear this. The husband employs a Dutch girl as an au pair which further isolates her. The sobbing does not stop and she is sent for psychiatric evaluation but would she improve? A really good supernatural drama, you begin to wonder if this is all in her mind or is there a psychic presence in the house?
Everything is presented in the original. 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the colour rendition is not bad at all especially considering that this was made only a few years after colour television started in the UK. In all of the 150 minutes of drama, you will not find irritating background music to jangle your nerves. This is a straight acting performance without any frills. Many people will like this, others not, so it's up to the individual. Personally I found it rather pleasing.
Extras are included on the disc, which include pictures from the missing episodes and downloadable items, PDF files of missing scripts and an interesting booklet of biographies and essays. While the recommended price is a bit steep at almost £20 you will undoubtedly find this cheaper elsewhere on the Internet, such as Amazon, for under £14.
There is a strange dichotomy here in that, despite being old, this is something new. It will certainly be new to a lot of younger people out there who may find the style and presentation a little strange when compared to modern media but they may also find it refreshingly novel. When all is said and done, the DVD is worth a wholehearted recommendation. For further information, it would be best to consult the BFI website.
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