18 October 2008 | Bunuel1976
NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT (Peter Sasdy, 1972) **1/2
It's always a thrill to catch up with something that I missed out on when it was shown on local TV in the early 1980s; the fact that this immediately takes me back to my childhood days when home video was still science-fiction in my neck of the woods and I was (almost completely) at the mercy of TV programmers for my practical film education is kind of sweetly ironic given the picture's own 'reincarnation' theme! Even if it's available on DVD in Japan (of all places), I came across it via a full-frame TV screening with forced French subtitles.
It was the sole film made by Christopher Lee's own company, Charlemagne Productions: in an interview done at the time of the film's release (which I just dug up in a magazine of my father's), he takes pains to stress how he abhors screen violence and how, despite the presence of himself and frequent partner Peter Cushing, his new film is "not one of those macabre movies...but an action-adventure thriller with tension, suspense, a lot of exciting outdoor action, and some moments of high terror...a very good evening's escapist entertainment" (needless to say, the film's lurid re-issue titles – THE DEVIL'S UNDEAD and THE RESURRECTION SYNDICATE – made no such qualms!). Incidentally, it is also stated that Lee intended to adapt two other works by John Blackburn (writer of the film's source novel) for the screen – but these, of course, never came to pass. Still, given its eventual climactic similarities to the later and superior THE WICKER MAN (1973), this film is as much a horror piece as that one would prove to be. The initial disjointed outburst of inexplicable murders almost makes one expect a conspiracy like the one that would later figure in THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978); that the eventual revelation, then, is closer to THE DAMNED (1963)-meets-THE BROTHERHOOD OF Satan (1971) makes it worth waiting for nonetheless, with a powerful climactic sequence that is clearly the film's highlight and makes one bemoan the fact that it comes too late to really make this show a winner (and which perhaps explains its relative invisibility nowadays).
Actually, Cushing and Lee (playing all-too-typical parts, albeit with their customary professionalism) are not the main characters – which are instead unremarkably filled by Keith Barron and Georgia Brown as overzealous doctor and journalist respectively looking into the mysterious mumblings of a 'special' girl that hails from the remote, exclusive Scottish island/school of Bala. Diana Dors, as the girl's tarty, jailbird of a mother, spends most of her time screaming, pushing people around or crawling on her belly to escape the clutches of the pursuing police force (who have been set on her by the seemingly all-powerful school institution) and who have tracked her down to Bala. Fulton Mackay as a bumbling but high-profile Police Official and Kathleen Byron as an enigmatic scientist engaged at the school also have noteworthy roles; for the record, this turned out to be the last film of John Robinson (the star of the original TV series of "Quatermass II" , here appearing as an aristocratic protector of the school) as well as Michael Gambon's first, playing a young Police Inspector.