NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT
A creepy dry run for The Wicker Man
The bloodthirsty horror fan in me had always been disappointed with this on late night TV. But another viewing, in order to consider the new Nightmare Theater DVD release, was rather enjoyable, now that my expectations of gore have been lowered.
That's not to say this isn't a violent story, but it's too tame for the times considering for instance that Witchfinder General, Straw Dogs and Vampire Circus had already appeared. This may be explained by their lack of a special effects budget: in Christopher Lee - An Authorised Screen History, author Jonathan Rigby talks of Lee, and Hammer producer Anthony Nelson Keys, attempting to start their own production company, Charlemagne. The idea being to cash in on their own success. But in trying to get a distribution deal, their budget was driven down, not that it shows. With a top cast, a wide variety of filming locations and director Peter Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Hands of the Ripper, Doomwatch). Peter Cushing joined in on a countrywide series of personal appearances to promote the film but it, and the company, failed.
Nothing But the Night begins as a grisly mystery, with three murders that look like suicides, yet we see that a black-gloved figure was responsible. A crashing coach full of schoolchildren then swings all attention on an orphanage on a remote Scottish island. Interested parties include the police (Christopher Lee), two pathologists (Peter Cushing and Keith Barron), the press (Georgia Brown) and one of the children's mothers (Diana Dors)...
The story still packs some solid surprises and its bleakest moments leave a lasting impression. You'll have to watch it yourself to discover exactly which genre this belongs in. Needless to say, the police investigation of the remote location brings The Wicker Man to mind, which coincidentally was the next film Christopher Lee made. The two would make a very suitable double-bill.
Foremost, it's a pleasure to see Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appear in so many scenes together and playing friends rather than deadly enemies. Even though their characters argue bitterly, Cushing still ends the scene cracking a smile. Lee must have chosen this part specifically without silly make-up or costumes - at the time he was trying to get more 'serious roles' as well as break into Hollywood. Here he was on the verge of success with The Three Musketeers and The Man With The Golden Gun.
The rest of the cast is impressive, Georgia Brown (Tales That Witness Madness) especially intriguing as a pushy reporter. Keith Barron (The Land That Time Forgot) proves that he should have escaped TV more often. Diana Dors (Theatre of Blood, From Beyond the Grave) is more menacing than her usual bully routine, playing a mass murderer with an 'up' hairdo, reminiscent of Myra Hindley's.
There are great actors in small roles too - a young Michael Gambon (Sleepy Hollow, Toys, The Beast Must Die), Fulton MacKay (Britannia Hospital, Porridge), Duncan Lamont (Quatermass and the Pit) nearly unrecognisable as he's sporting a beard, and Kathleen Byron (Black Narcissus, Twins of Evil). The only weak link is the key role of the young girl traumatised by the coach crash, who starts off well but lets down some pivotal scenes.
I watched this again on a cramped fullframe VHS, but Nothing But The Night has been released widescreen on DVD in the USA, as part of Katarina's Nightmare Theater series. I understand that it's widescreen and that Katarina's introduction is optional, which means that they'll get my money. I'm also glad that they didn't use the alternate US title, which ruins the story.
Speaking of spoilers, I'll also mention Hot Fuzz, but not why...