Things Happen at Night is a 1947 British comedy horror film, directed by Francis Searle, a jobbing director who worked fairly steadily from the early 1940s to the beginning of the 1970s without making anything of any significance. This is no exception.
Based upon a stage play, The Poltergeist, by Frank Harvey Jnr, the film tells the story of the Prescott family, who are beset by strange events, usually involving coal. Hot coals from an unlit fire have burned a hole in a bearskin rug, other hot coals smash through windows and are found scattered on the floor.
As insurance man Joe Harris (Gordon Harker) shows up to assess the damage, a psychic investigator also arrives and announces that the acts are the work of a poltergeist, most likely connected to the family’s teenage daughter, who is going through a rebellious stage (this being a 1940s British film, this consists of announcing that she doesn’t like school).
While modern British cinema’s obsession with ‘street cred’ is rather pathetic, you can perhaps understand it more when you see older films like this, where everyone is frightfully posh – only member of the royal family seem to talk like this anymore. It’s one of those films that features a family who are supposedly struggling with money but still live in a massive house and employ a cook and a butler – I imagine working class audiences were less than sympathetic to their plight. That such characters were considered ‘typical’ by the filmmakers says a lot. Harker, the main star, offers up a comedy turn as the lower class Harris (though when I say ‘lower’, he’s still essentially middle-class, with aspirations of social climbing that are, of course, mocked).
Snobbery aside, the main issue with Things Happen at Night is that it is neither scary nor funny. Performances are weak, characters unconvincing and the humour is feeble while the scares are non-existent. It takes more than the odd bit of petty vandalism to make a poltergeist scary.
The only real point of interest here is that this may be the first film to deal with poltergeists as opposed to ghosts or spirits. It’s also, oddly, structurally similar to The Exorcist – a young girl ‘possessed’, a mysterious expert turning up to exorcise the demon. That’s about the only point of interest though. A song and singer are credited, although neither appear in the film.
David Flint, moviesandmania