Dead of Night (1972– )
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The Exorcism 

Four friends gather for Christmas dinner at an old cottage. Suddenly, there's a power failure and the phone goes dead. Then their wine turns to blood and the turkey makes them violently ill. Then things really get strange!

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... Rachel
... Margaret
... Edmund
... Dan
Kenneth Kendall ... Newsreader
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Four friends gather for Christmas dinner at an old cottage. Suddenly, there's a power failure and the phone goes dead. Then their wine turns to blood and the turkey makes them violently ill. Then things really get strange!

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Horror

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5 November 1972 (UK)  »

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A rightfully well-remembered and chilling bit of TV horror
13 April 2016 | by See all my reviews

'Dead of Night' was a British horror TV series which ran for one season with seven standalone episodes. Due to it being broadcast in 1972 well before the advent of home video recording and also owing to the fact that it was a pretty obscure series, only three of the episodes have survived to this day, the others having long since been destroyed. It seems like this instalment, 'The Exorcism', is the most well remembered and certainly, on the strength of this alone, it seems like a very unfortunate waste that four of the episodes from this series have become forever lost.

Despite the title, this one has nothing to do with exorcism. It's a haunted house ghost story which involves supernatural possession. It centres on an affluent couple who buy a remote cottage to do up and use as a second home. They invite two of their friends over for Christmas dinner and it is during this get-together than strange events begin to occur. One of the women inexplicably discovers the ability to play mysterious music she hitherto had never heard before, the electricity and phone lines go down simultaneously, at dinner the wine tastes of blood and the skeleton of a young child is seen in the bedroom.

Owing to its TV origins this is a pretty low-key affair, with all of the action happening within the house. It very much has the format of a tele-play which it essentially is. But despite these restrictions this is an oddly effective bit of horror. It builds things up deliberately and it is somewhat atmospheric in doing so. And once it gets to its possession scene, it's downright chilling. Unusually for a horror tale, the scares are primarily channelled through words. The scene in question has one of the women going into a hypnotic trance of sorts and recounting events that happened at the very house hundreds of years ago. Her words are those of the ghost whom has possessed her physical body and they relate to the horrible mistreatment she and her family suffered at the hands of the authorities at the time, primarily a squire and his wealthy family and associates. The ghost wants vengeance from beyond the grave and has chosen these unfortunate middle-class people as her victims.

Unusually for a ghost story, there is an unmistakable social message at the core of the drama, where poor people have been heinously mistreated by their rich rulers for minor misdeeds, while simultaneously these landowners live a life of luxury while the poor suffer lives of desperation leading them to commit 'crimes' in order to just feed themselves. The socialist undercurrent in the script is certainly distinctive and well integrated into the story. What also makes it work so well is that the acting of Anna Cropper, in particular, is of an extremely good standard. In the key possession scene we simply have a disconcerting close-up of her faces as she recounts her tragic tale in a clearly distressed manner. It's one of the most individually memorably haunting sequences from any bit of TV I've seen. The film wraps up not long after this moment with the people finding the bodies of the dead mother and child in an upstairs room; with the film ending on a pleasingly odd note with a TV report of four people being found in a house all having died from starvation, despite the presence of an abundance of food in an uneaten Christmas meal…


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