4  stars   
"Evil lurks in the light."

directed by: Simon Hunter
starring: James Purefoy, Rachel Shelley, Don Warrington, Christopher Adamson, Bob Goody, Pat Kelman, Chris Dunne, Paul Brooke, Norman Mitchell, Jason Round

(back of video blurb):

"Part Human, Part Hunter, All Evil.

The silent beacon of a desolate lighthouse now echoes with the terrified screams of a sadistic serial killer's victims. The thick fog, smothering the lonely island, holds a danger far worse than the jagged rocks of its shores ... his name is Leo Rook, and he wants you dead. Part human, part hunter, all evil, Rook methodically stalks his prey to satisfy a demonic bloodlust. There's no escape, no place to hide and no way to stop this ferocious madman. He's the killer in the dark who controls the night light ... don't close your eyes! "

choice dialogue:

"Two words would sum him up - sick fuck!"

The survivors of the shipwreck discuss their pursuer.


slash with panache?

Simon Hunter's ambitious low/mid budget slasher flick hasn't got an original bone in its body but the director is to be commended for keeping the action straight-faced at all times (admirable in this, now, often tired jokey postmodern era), and, not least of all, for resurrecting, albeit briefly, the once thriving, if now practically moribund, British terror flick.

The original discovery of Rook the psycho ...

The plot is simple but effective: a prison ship transporting its cargo for incarceration on a distant and isolated island off the Scottish coast is turned into a bloodbath when, with the help of a foolish female prison guard, devilish psychopath, Leo Rook, escapes via a life boat to a small, rocky, island where he proceeds to butcher those he finds in the isolated lighthouse before turning the light off in the tower, causing the prison ship to run aground. His actions having two consequences: covering his tracks, and providing him with a whole bevy of new victims as the shipwreck's survivors struggle ashore the barren wastes of the inhospitable island and into his waiting arms.

What transpires is routine stuff, but how Hunter handles it is, for the most part, anything but.

A killer's work is never done!

Rook's prey is made up of an assortment of characters: the female psychiatrist who had been traveling to the prison to study Rook; the dishy prisoner who has been (perhaps) wrongly convicted of killing his wife; the well meaning but drunkard ship's captain; the cowardly prison guard (from ace 70's Brit sitcom RISING DAMP) - and a handful of convicts (raising comparisons between this and the, on the surface at least, similarly attired ALIEN 3). Of course, it comes as no great surprise that Rook has murderous designs on them all - and, as they invariably wander off into the dark nooks and cranny's of the dank extremities of the lighthouse, they fall victim to him, one by one ...

Hunter manages to inject a good dose of suspense and genuine chills into what could have easily been a routinely humdrum affair - something all the more impressive considering the, at times patently obvious, lack of of anything approaching a Hollywood budget.

Now, 'Argentoesque' is word which gets bandied around often, and is usually misused, however, I've seen it applied several times to Hunter's film and, for once, it's more than justified. The director sets up some impressive set pieces - the best of which is a nailbiting, torturously protracted suspense scene set in the lighthouse's bathroom where a character manages to avoid the white shoed psycho until an unfortunate act of fate gives the game away. Splendid stuff, indeed.

That scene in the lighthouse's bathroom ...

Christopher Adamson as Leo Rook makes a fantastically creepy bogeyman, the ghoulish killer who hoards and mocks the severed heads of his prey, lining them up on the seat of the only surviving boat off the island. What makes him especially effective is that not one word spills from his lips throughout the whole movie, the hulking shadow is reminiscent of the shape in HALLOWEEN and, thankfully, a million miles away from the wisecracking bores of the post-Freddy crowd.

Gorehounds will be pleased, too. DEAD OF NIGHT is by no means a complete bloodbath but the majority of the violence, albeit brief, is explicitly nasty - with vast torrents of the red stuff hissing into the night as Rook goes about his head collecting business. And, there is one memorably horrid moment when a victim-to-be who hides from Rook, cowering in the shadows of the rowboat on the beach, who has to hold still as to not give himself away, has the blood from a freshly severed head pour from the bench above him and into his mouth.

DEAD OF NIGHT builds to a memorable climax

The film only has a couple of drawbacks: the budget limitations do show through at times, most of all during the first half, which may put some viewers off - but I'd urge everyone to stay past those briefly rough edges and stick around for the wham-bam final half (which has more than a slight echo of that other British low-budget lighthouse schlocker: the early 70's proto-slasher, TOWER OF EVIL); and Hunter is to be commended for conjuring up some pretty stylish visuals with such meager funds. Also, perhaps again because of budgetary restrictions, some of the acting is variable and a few digital effects are a bit ropey, but I found that pretty easy to overlook. Lastly, Hunter does somewhat needlessly recycle a couple of especially hackneyed clichés, such as a rat jumping out of a cupboard (I guess it makes a change from a cat!) and an annoyingly contrived double whammy nightmare sequence.

Criminally, DEAD OF NIGHT's mooted UK cinema run never happened - as far as I know - and, to the best of my knowledge it has never appeared on video in the UK (the copy reviewed here is from the film's US video release from A-Pix; it, apparently, also got a week long cinema run in New York which, whilst hardly a widescale release was better than nothing, I guess). Incidentally, the film's original title was the altogether better and far less generic LIGHTHOUSE - Hunter apparently hated the retitling (I mean, how many films now claim that moniker?) and the cheesy box art which makes it look like any number of straight-to-video duds adorning the walls of your local Blockbuster.).

Despite a couple of minor niggles DEAD OF NIGHT gets the stamp of approval. Check it out.

BODYCOUNT 13   bodycount!   female:2 / male:11

       1) Male has neck broken with chains
       2) Female has neck snapped by killer's hands
       3) Male has throat slit with machete
       4) Male killed (off screen)
       5) Male has throat slit, and is then decapitated with machete
       6) Male killed with machete (mostly off screen)
       7) Male killed (off screen)
       8) Female has throat slit (dream sequence)
       9) Male burnt to death
     10) Male falls from height and then dismembered
     11) Male found decapitated
     12) Male dies from machete wounds
     13) Male has flare shoved in mouth and falls to death