Nothing But the Night (1973)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-11-09 07:51

Written by: Brian Hayles (screenplay), John Blackburn (novel)
Directed by: Peter Sasdy
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Diana Dors

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

This nightmare has already killed five people--now it's yours to live!

Just last week, I was complimenting Horror Express for being a rare film that allowed Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to team up rather than face off; now, just a few days later, I get to say the same thing about Nothing But the Night. In the case of the former, I was also able to compliment its moody atmospherics and clever melding of familiar plot elements; unfortunately, Nothing But the Night has much less to offer beyond earning the distinction of quite possibly being the worst film Iíve seen featuring the dynamic British duo.

Three members of the Van Traylen Trust have recently met with mysterious ends; each were rich and elderly, and each end appears to be either an accident or a suicide. Colonel Bingham (Christopher Lee) and pathologist Mark Ashley (Cushing) suspect otherwise and begin to investigate the bizarre events. Theyíre eventually led to a girl who recently survived a bus accident; though sheís bound to a hospital bed, Mary begins to show signs of emergent memories that the two hope will unravel and solve the case before the rest of the trustees meet their doom.

That mystery is certainly the engine of the filmís plot; however, thereís no driver behind the wheel, as the narrative here is sloppily and laboriously delivered through heaps of exposition. I like a good mystery, but this one is either trying too hard or isnít trying hard enough, if that makes any sense. By holding its cards too close, it doesnít give viewers any threads to latch onto; instead, it just dangles out subplot after subplot before wrapping itself up in an explanation that couldnít have really been guessed at anyway. Ultimately, the film bears a remarkable similarity to The Wicker Man, which was released in the same year; letís just say thereís a reason why that one has gone on to achieve legendary status while this one has floundered in obscurity over the years. One genuinely shocking (and explosive) moment punctuates an otherwise dull, shapeless affair whose loud wheel-spinning is almost deafening.

Talent both in front of and behind the camera go to waste as a result. The star duo of Lee and Cushing is as solid as ever, even if they are rehashing similar roles. Cushing is typically grandfatherly, while Lee especially manages to drum up a lot of sympathy during the climax. A young Michael Gambon also pops up as another inspector, but his appearance is rather unremarkable. One standout emerges from the cast in the form of Anna Harb, who plays Maryís mother, a fiery redhead whose temperament matches her hair; a former prostitute whoís spent a decade in prison, she is understandably displeased by being kept from her daughter. The director here is Peter Sadsy, who had directed a trio of Hammer flicks before tackling this; his debut feature was Taste the Blood of Dracula, which of course also featured Lee and is one of the stronger Hammer Dracula sequels, so the flatness of Nothing But the Night is rather surprising. His direction here is rather limp, though much of that is likely a result of the script, which doesnít exactly allow for much in the way of energy.

Nothing But the Night has a couple more interesting historical footnotes. It was the lone production of Charlemagne Productions, a company set up by Lee and famed British producer Anthony Nelson Keys. Instead of being an heir to the British horror throne, itís the ultimate also-ran thanks to this dismal effort. If Nothing But the Night is any indication, Charlemagne would have dabbled in the similar occult waters as its contemporaries and predecessors, though we can only hope any other efforts would have turned out better than this one. Largely unfocused and slipshod, it turgidly plods along with reckless abandon before getting to that climactic reveal, which certainly deserves a better film.

At this point in DVDís lifespan, genuine buried treasures are likely to be few and far between; if any film seemed destined to be one, it would be this, but, alas, itís just a film that could probably benefit from a modern take if it werenít so damn obscure in the first place. Instead, itíll likely continue to lounge inconspicuously outside of the most hardcore of genre circles. Scorpion Releasing is the one doing the honors here as part of their ďKatarinaís Nightmare TheaterĒ line, which is hosted by former WWE diva Katarina Lee Waters (interestingly enough, rival company Code Red has a similar line with Maria Kanellis). Their presentation is fine, as the anamorphic transfer is a little washed out and grainy (particularly during darker scenes), but certainly passable; meanwhile, the mono soundtrack is unimpressive but intelligible. The discís supplemental material includes an introduction by Katarina, the filmís theatrical trailer, and liner notes by Chris Gullo. On a final note, even its title is about as bewildering as its scatterbrained plot--itís a nonsensical collection of words that sounds ominous enough perhaps, but I have no idea what it refers to. If given the choice between simply nothing and Nothing But the Night, I guess youíd take the latter because a night with Lee and Cushing is still a little worthwhile, but just barely. Rent it!

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