If you could somehow take the pedigree of made-for-TV horror anthologies and depict it in a “family tree” format, you’d see Richard Matheson’s name repeatedly popping up in the lineage like some sort of horny bulldog that keeps getting studded out to his cousins. After writing episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, NIGHT GALLERY, and THE NIGHT STALKER in the late 60s/early 70s, Matheson cranked out a couple of stand-alone horror anthologies for the networks: TRILOGY OF TERROR for ABC in 1975, and DEAD OF NIGHT for NBC in 1977, both directed by Dan Curtis.
Everybody’s seen TRILOGY OF TERROR even if they don’t remember seeing it. It’s the one with Karen Black getting chased by a screaming African Zuni doll brandishing a tiny knife. And even if you don’t remember seeing the 1975 version, you’ve probably stumbled across the inferior 1996 remake that was broadcast on the USA Network. The fact is, if you can fondly recall a particularly good anthology segment from 1970s television, there’s a good chance it was penned by Matheson, a prolific television writer who regularly switched between NBC and ABC like they were swinging wives at a 70s key party.
DEAD OF NIGHT certainly doesn’t start out very promising, especially for genre fans, with the narrator gravely informing the audience that “dead of night is a state of mind” (whatever that means) before pulling a bait-and-switch by announcing that only ONE of tonight’s three tales is actually horror-themed. The other two will involve “mystery” and “imagination”, respectively. Cue the groans and complaints. “Mystery and imagination”? What is this, AMAZING STORIES?
Being in a “dead of night” frame of mind might make it difficult to enjoy the first tale, “Second Chance”, a whimsical, soft-focus bore starring Ed Begley, Jr., as a young man who loves to fix up old cars like Moon Roadsters and Haines Speedsters and such, and drive them through miles of repetitive day-for-night footage. One day his Jordan Playboy travels back in time as far as the television budget will allow, and just as things start to get interesting, the tale simply ends, with Begley, Jr., taking over narrating duties to explain that he’d rather just drive off into the sunset and move on to the next story.
“No Such Thing as a Vampire” steps up to the plate, with a smarmy Patrick Macnee as a wealthy home-owner whose wife has apparently been bitten by a vampire. His servants attempt to assist him by providing garlic and vampire-related advice, but Macnee is insistent that vampires do not exist, and so the servants hit the bricks in exasperation. Macnee calls on an old buddy to perform an examination, but once the buddy arrives it becomes obvious that Macnee is up to something sneaky. A talky segment that’s short on atmosphere despite its surface-level, horse-and-buggy trappings. With an ending so anti-climactic it makes the ending of the Begley segment look like the lat five minutes of SEVEN, “No Such Thing as a Vampire” is thankfully not the horror tale.
That dubious honor would be left to “Bobby”, the final story, about a grieving mother’s attempts to bring her dead son back to life with the help of occultism. Remade as one of the tales in the aforementioned TRILOGY OF TERROR II for USA Network, “Bobby” still manages to provoke a few admirable chills. With “Bobby” the anthology finally bears horror fruit, but it can’t combat the sheen of mind-numbing boredom that comes with the first two segments. Like the three-legged puppy in a litter of show dogs, DEAD OF NIGHT is an unfortunate smear on Matheson’s otherwise brilliant resume, best forgotten completely, or quietly smothered out in the barn after chores are done.
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes from “No Such Thing as a Vampire”, a few cuts from Robert Cobert’s music score, a photo gallery, and the a 1969 pilot for a possible DEAD OF NIGHT television series. Titled “A Darkness At Blaisedon”, it’s a muddled mess.