Lightmares and Nighthouses


 3.5 Stars  1999/15/91m

“The brightest light. Your darkest fears.”

A.k.a. Dead of Night (U.S.)

Director: Simon Hunter / Writers: Hunter & Graeme Scarfe / Cast: James Purefoy, Rachel Shelley, Chris Adamson, Paul Brooke, Don Warrington, Chris Dunne, Bob Goody, Pat Kelman, Pete McCabe.

Body Count: 13

Dire-logue: “Two words can sum that up: Sick. Fuck.”

Some films should only be watched once. Such is the case with this leftover from 90s Horror Month, which I frankly ran out of time to review.

In typical British horror tradition, the UK was pretty much the last country to get the film despite producing the damn thing. I saw it about a decade ago after importing an American video copy and thought it was very good but, if memory serves, not likely to hold up on repeated viewings. Watching it t’other day, I was right.

Psycho member-of-public cutter-upper Leo Rook escapes from incarceration during a transfer on a prison ship, offing a couple of guards as he goes and then rows to a nearby lighthouse-isle, slays the keepers and disables the lighthouse, which subsequently causes the ship to hit nearby rocks and sink.

A gaggle of survivors make it to the isle and hobble to the lighthouse where the remaining guards try to keep hold of their power before the group realise that something ain’t right. Attempts to fix lights, generators and radios are all thwarted by Rook, who likes to collect the severed heads of his victims. Eventually, the prison staff and shrinkologist Kirsty (Shelley) admit to the others who was on board and who might’ve escaped and who might be killing everyone. That’s the same person for all three of those categories, by the way.

Lighthouse excels visually and some scenes are precursors to the likes of Haute Tension: sequences where victims know the killer is close by and hide themselves away in tiny spaces while the music is muted and nobody is sure if Rook knows they’re there. Lots of work is done with reflections in puddles and weather beaten windows and shots are angled to maximise the claustrophobic feel of a scene or, elsewhere, making the interior of the building appear like a swirling nightmare. Another great scene involves two prisoners shackled together, one of whom is unconscious while the other decides between spending ages attacking their chains with an axe or hacking through something easier as the killer approaches…

There’s a weird and off putting flashback that links Rook to Kirsty that’s never wholly explain and made fuzzy by strange editing as the film lumbers awkwardly towards it’s overwrought climax, which unfortunately scrutinises the setpieces into looking a bit staged and cheap. There’s no prizes for picking who’ll live and who won’t but the cast is dotted with familiar faces, most of whom (nearly all the victims here are male) die quite gruesomely by the killer’s handy machete.

One of the better British slasher efforts hampered possibly by it’s almost-high-art-but-not approach to a generic opus; parts of it that look beautiful juxtapose clumsily with low-end effects work, but if you can see your way to ignoring that, there are some gripping situations to level the playing field and Lighthouse is definitely worth seeing for a touch of classiness.

Strangely, someone asked me if I thought the film was gay. Gay? Well, a load of men – some shackled together – scramble to salvation on an island with a big phallic penisey lighthouse. But no, I don’t think it’s some big cock metaphor.

Blurb-of-interest: Rachel Shelley was in The Children.

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