Cult Cinema: Lighthouse [Dead of Night] (1999) - Reviewed

Despite having worked recently on the aging drama Edie back in 2017, you probably haven’t heard of British writer-director Simon Hunter.  Though only having two other feature film projects to his name including Mutant Chronicles, the filmmaker struck out on his own in 1999 with the largely forgotten Cornwall set gothic slasher Lighthouse or Dead of Night depending on the territory.  An ensemble survival horror thriller which came years before Robert Eggers’ mystifying horror film of the same name, Lighthouse is that rare overlooked debut which doesn’t reinvent the wheel but offers up a lush gothic horror tale in one of the most remote settings for a horror film that isn’t within the arctic.   

A simple and straightforward riff on The Old Dark House tropes, the film follows a prison ship carrying a most dangerous inmate with a penchant for beheadings with his trusty machete.  One night he escapes his shackles and rows to a nearby island with a lighthouse before smashing the power grid to the lighthouse, sending the prison ship crashing into rocks before sinking.  Unbeknownst to the survivors comprised of doctors and prisoners on the island, the escapee is lying in wait ready to kill anyone and everyone who crosses his path.  Worse still, all communications and power have been cut off with no one to call for help.
Starring James Purefoy as the film’s unlikely antihero, Christopher Adamson as the deranged psychopath and Rachel Shelley as the doctor overseeing the transportation of the prisoner, Lighthouse more or less drops you the viewer with the survivors as they scramble to figure out how to evade and defeat the indefatigable machete wielding sociopath.  Almost the entire film is dimly lit and shot in shadow by Tony Imi, approaching levels of near monochromatic darkness that would make Peter Hyams blush.  Despite being a low budget effort with some effects sequences and editing techniques that show their age, Lighthouse does sport a wealth of set pieces from within the sinking ship, the towering lighthouse and the rocky beaches surrounding the lighthouse itself.

While the film did receive a festival run in New York as well as a home video release in the US under the title Dead of Night, Lighthouse more or less receded back into the ocean of like minded slasher films before disappearing without a trace for years.  The film remains unavailable on streaming and remaining copies of the film on home video aren’t easy to come by.  But if you are able to track this one down, Lighthouse is a straightforward and unpretentious slasher which serves up the decapitations and bloodletting all within an Old Dark House setting.  Though most of you will have a hard time locating this one, as it stands it remains an overlooked clandestine gothic horror gem well worth seeking out.

--Andrew Kotwicki