Directed by Peter Sasday and starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, Nothing But The Night doesn’t get the recognition it deserves within the pantheons of British horror films, which is surprising considering the ties to Hammer Studios. Regardless, Scorpion Releasing have stepped up to the plate and brought this one to DVD for North American audiences, a treat for those of us who have wanted to see it for some time. So how does it hold up?
Strange things are afoot at the Van Traylen Trust, an orphanage in rural Scotland lorded over by wealthy trustees who seem to be committing suicide at an alarming rate. Of course, these aren’t suicides at all but murders made to look like suicides by whoever is behind them. When a busload of orphans from the trust crashes and burns under some rather strange circumstances, a cop named Colonel Bingham (Christopher Lee) is tasked with solving the case. Not wanting to go it alone, he enlists the aid of his friend, a pathologist at a nearby hospital named Sir Mark Ashley (Peter Cushing). The sole survivor of the incident is a young girl named Mary (Gwyneth Strong) who is understandably put under watch in the hospital where she frequently suffers from vivid nightmares, though those in charge are unsure what’s causing them.
Meanwhile, Anna Harb (Diana Dors), a low rent hooker and convicted criminal with ties to the occult, shows up at the hospital claiming to be Mary’s mother. She wants the girl released into her custody immediately and when the hospital denies her request, begins to cause problems for all involved. Mary, however, would rather go back to the orphanage than deal with Anna, the latter of whom seems to have strange ties to the orphanage in question where all of the murders are taking place.
Nothing But The Night is well acted from all involved, with Lee and Cushing proving as reliable here a always and Dors turning in a pretty impressive turn as the unstable antagonist. The film lacks style, however, and Sasdy, best known for Taste The Blood Of Dracula, doesn’t seem all that interested in creating much in the way of atmosphere until the end of the movie where the film turns out to owe more to The Wicker Man than to any traditional murder mystery you’d care to name. Though the picture does suffer from some pacing issues during its middle part, the ends justify the means and if it takes Sasdy and company a while to get where they’re going, at least once they do the film provides a pretty solid pay off.
Nothing But The Night probably should have been a better film than it is when you consider the talent involved but prolific Doctor Who screenwriter Brian Hayles’ screenplay (adapted from John Blackburn’s novel) doesn’t click as well as it could have to really rank this one up there with the classics that some of these guys were known for churning out. Regardless, fans of British horror will want to check it out as it does bring things to a satisfying conclusion – just be prepared for it to take a while to get there.
Nothing But The Night looks good in this 1.78.1 anamorhpic widescreen transfer. The image is frequently grainy but in a natural looking way and only minor print damage is noticeable. Some of the darker scenes don’t show the greatest shadow detail you’re ever going to see but this looks to be how it was shot and not a transfer problem. There are no issues to note with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and both skin tones and color reproduction look nice and natural. Audio chores are handled by an English language Dolby Digital Mono track. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided. This isn’t a particularly fancy track but for an older film fast approaching its fortieth birthday it sounds just fine. Dialogue is clean, clear and audible and the levels are well balanced.
As this release is part of the Katarina's Nightmare Theater line from Scorpion, you can play this DVD with or without the optional intro/outro from wrestler turned horror hostess, Katarina Leigh Waters. Aside from that, there’s also a trailer for the film, trailers for a few other titles in the Katarina’s Nightmare Theater line, menus and chapter stops. The disc is packaged with reversible cover art so that you can display the case with or without the Katarina’s Nightmare Theater banner showing through.
The Final Word:
Yes, this one is definitely a slow burn, but Nothing But The Night rewards the patient viewer with a great twist ending that actually manages to provide some legitimately unsettling vibes. Scorpion’s DVD release is short on extras but it looks and sounds good making this one that fans of Lee and Cushing will want to look into.
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REVIEW: IAN JANE