From The Dead Of Night (1989)

SEPTEMBER 12, 2011


Question – did any of you watch From The Dead Of Night when it originally aired as a two-parter in 1989? And if so, what in the name of Christ compelled you to come back for the second half? I have to assume audiences just simply weren’t too discerning back then, because it’s not that the movie is bad, but there’s just no hook whatsoever, and everything plays out as blandly and uninvolving as cinematically possible, with only two decent chase scenes (in the 2nd half) saving the movie from total failure.

Also, it would have been even longer than this version. A four hour miniseries would have been close to three hours without commercials, but this version runs a little under 2.5 hrs, which means that as dull as it is, it could have been worse. The “rules” of the horror plot are very specific – there are only six spirits trying to get our heroine (TV movie staple Lindsay Wagner), and we see each of them try to kill her in fairly un-rushed fashion, so I have to assume that the excised material was just even MORE scenes of our protagonists milling about doing nothing of note.

I’m also curious, if they were OK with editing the thing down (apparently it was released as a feature in other countries), why didn’t they really go for broke and pare the thing down to 90 minutes or so? For example, at one point Wagner goes to a fashion show that she’s been planning, despite all of the problems in her life. She goes, and... nothing happens. We watch some models show off the clothes, then they bring Wagner up on stage and folks give her applause, including her boyfriend, and then the scene ends. Five minutes for nothing. Worse, it cuts to her walking up to a fortune teller’s house along with her ex, so it doesn’t even match up. Where did the boyfriend go? I can assume that there was material in between these two scenes that was lost, but again, why not just cut out the fashion show entirely? It doesn’t serve the story at all, and introduces clunky editing to boot.

Another thing that seems to have been altered is the relationship between the ex (Bruce Boxleitner) and the new boyfriend, played by Robin Thomas, the dude who was the dad in Amityville Dollhouse (stop boring me, Thomas!). They’re sort of cordial to each other at first, with Boxleitner seemingly understanding that its his own fault he’s no longer with Wagner, and Thomas trying to keep it from being too awkward. At one point they even sit outside and chat while Wagner talks to the fortune teller, but after that they share no scenes until the final reel, where they pretty much just hate each other. I would have liked if they were forced to cooperate to help her out, not unlike Witchboard, but they skip over this potentially interesting dynamic in favor of Lifetime esque dullness in which (spoiler!) Wagner gradually falls in love with him again. It’s funny, it's similar to the setup in Tron, except Boxleitner is in the Bridges role this time around, but then it switches somewhere so that the girl still ends up with Boxleitner. Sly devil.

And it’s a shame, because the horror plot is actually kind of cool. Basically, Wagner died for a few minutes, and when she was revived she brought a few (well, six) spirits back with her, and they want to bring her back to the land of the dead. But they’re not ghosts or whatever; instead they infect the bodies of recently deceased folks and become “Walkers” (which is the name of the novel it was based on, by “Howling” author Gary Brandner). So basically, every 25 minutes or so a peripheral character is killed and then tries to kill Wagner. However it gets overly rule-heavy, with nonsense about how they only have until the full moon to get her, and then also they try to pull a little twist where one of the assumed walkers was actually just some pissed off dude and thus there’s still one to go... it’s the sort of shit that could/should have been excised when they pared the novel down to a more suitable running time.

Unsurprisingly, the Walker scenes are the only ones in the entire movie that are entertaining, particularly the skateboarding flower delivery kid who chases her around a parking garage, as well as the one who drives a semi truck and chases her and Boxleitner down a dark road. Being a TV movie, these scenes are hardly classics of the genre, and the movie obnoxiously keeps everything off-screen (I know they’ve gotten lax over the years, but wasn’t network TV allowed to show SOMETHING back then?), but compared to the excess of soap opera scenes around them, they feel like Hitchcockian masterpieces of suspense cinema.

It also boasts, for lack of a better word, a brief turn by Carpenter regular Peter Jason as a loudmouth tourist who bothers Wagner and Thomas on their romantic getaway, and then becomes one of the walkers after choking on some food, forcing him to play his final scenes without a voice and with his face covered in a Day of the Dead mask, lest Wagner catch on to the plot too early. And Robert Prosky also pops up as a doctor with a silly accent, a character who unfortunately spends the bulk of his scenes talking to another doctor about discrepancies in autopsy reports, which is about as riveting as it sounds. It’s a shame to see good actors wasted in roles like this, but at least they momentarily allowed me to think fondly about their better films, distracting me away from the soul crushing tedium of this one.

In short, this is why the horror-based miniseries is pretty much dead.

What say you?

P.S. I wasn't expecting to find the trailer, but why the hell did this come up as the like 6th match for "From The Dead Of Night"? It doesn't share a single word! Was this the actual horror film he was watching?


  1. I did in fact see this in its original broadcast, and again on VHS about 9 or 10 years ago. My original motive: I was 12 going on 13, bored, and pleasantly surprised to see a full-blown horror "event" on TV. I still think it's an alright movie with a cool concept and some creepy moments- especially the skateboarder. Unfortunately, it does drag on at times and I think it could have done with a bit more judicious editing. I don't specifically remember anything missing between the two viewings, but if there was, I suspect there weren't many particularly gripping moments involved.

  2. I too saw it when it originally aired and it freaked me out but I loved the movie. Then for years I forgot about it but then recently I started to remember scenes from the movies, like where Joanna trips over the cat and falls into the swimming pool and I also remembered the shadowy figures and for a long time I couldn't find the movie but I went onto Google Chrome and sure enough it told me the name of the movie. I'm glad I found it again.


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