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Dead of Night (2000)



When a boat full of convicts headed for a maximum-security island facility runs into trouble, the occupants are forced to take refuge in a lighthouse on a small island (hence the U.K. title Lighthouse). Serial killer Leo Rook manages to bust loose and spends the rest of the night stalkin', slashin' and stirrin' it up in classic Michael Myers/Jason Voorhees style. Sure, the plotline's derivative as hell, but British writer/director Simon Hunter takes an admittedly pedestrian premise and elevates it to heights rarely achieved since the original Halloween.

Here, finally, is some solid proof of a tenet horror fans hold dear: it doesn't have to be wildly original, it just has to be good. On paper, Dead of Night is just another slasher film but the viewing experience is something else altogether: an intense, nerve-wracking thriller that's actually well acted, directed with some serious panache and beautifully photographed. The influence of Dario Argento is pretty obvious, although I'll risk the wrath of millions by asserting that Hunter keeps the procedings a damn sight more coherent than Argento ever could.

A friend who reviewed this film for another publication lamented the fact that Dead of Night probably won't ever find the large audience it deserves, and regrettably I must agree. None of the usual trappings are here: no Dawson's Creek stars, no Burger King product tie-ins, no soundtrack album full of insipid pop tunes that the producers shoehorned into the film in ten-second snippets. At some point not so long ago, none of these things would have mattered; one hopes that at least some segment of the audience still feels that way, because Simon Hunter is surely a talent to watch.