Appellate Judge Tom Becker would like nothing but a good night's sleep.
Never deny the young.
With its release of Nothing But the Night, Katarina's Nightmare Theater offers up a film that might actually inspire nightmares.
Nothing But the Night once again teams Peter Cushing (Shock Waves) and Christopher Lee (Sleepy Hollow) playing, respectively, a pathologist and a police inspector investigating a series of mysterious deaths; like the previous year's Horror Express, the two once again play allies rather than adversaries.
The opening scenes promise something along the lines of an Italian giallo, with a black-gloved killer murdering senior citizens—one sent to her death in a car, one thrown from a balcony, another shot in the head. None of the victims reacts to these assaults, staring placidly as the killer goes to work.
The elderly victims are all trustees of the Van Traylen Trust, which runs an orphanage on a Scottish island. They are also wealthy, will all their money bequeathed to the trust.
When a bus that's carrying children from the orphanage, along with a couple of trustees, crashes, no one but the driver is killed, but one girl, Mary Valley (Gwyneth Strong, Bloody Kids), is hospitalized with trauma. Dr. Haynes (Keith Barron, The Land That Time Forgot) tries to help her through hypnosis, and while under, Mary screams about a fire and a friend named Vincent, even though the bus did not burn and there was no one named Vincent aboard.
Then, Anna Harb (Diana Dors, Berserk) turns up at the hospital demanding to see Mary—her daughter. It seems Mary isn't actually an orphan; she was taken from Anna after the woman spent 10 years in jail for murder and then took up prostitution. Mary reacts badly to the appearance of her ol' mum, and ex-con Anna makes a generalized threat to everyone associated with Mary; soon after, someone else close to Mary to turns up dead—stabbed with Anna's hatpin.
Is Anna responsible for the killings? She certainly seems obsessed with getting Mary back, despite having had no contact with her for years. Or is there something even more sinister at play here, something the pathologist and the inspector can't even comprehend?
While Nothing But the Night starts out like a British giallo—black-gloved killer, vicious, elaborate killings—it's more restrained than most films of that genre (no real bloodshed, zero nudity). From there, it moves to procedural territory, with Haynes' psychological examination of the girl, and the Cushing and Lee characters—taking a backseat for the first half of the film—flailing about trying not only to solve the puzzle, but to determine if there's even a puzzle worth solving. As the sinister and slatternly Anna, Dors makes for an intriguingly primal villainess.
For the longest time, the film seems to plod along. Director Peter Sasdy (The Devil Within Her) isn't exactly an adept visual stylist or an especially creative force, and at times, the film is almost distractingly pedestrian.
But hang in there, because Nothing But the Night offers a stunning twist that both changes and ties together everything that came before. This is one of three films from 1973 (that I can think of) that successfully pulled the rug out from under audiences with a shock ending, The Pyx and The Wicker Man (also with Christopher Lee) being the other two. Nothing But the Night is probably the least successful of these films. Despite the always welcome presence of Lee and Cushing and some entertaining histrionics by Dors, the run up to the twist just isn't always as compelling as it could be.
Still, the twist is really inventive and disturbing, giving the film a strong, affecting finish.
Katarina's Nightmare Theater: Nothing But the Night offers the film in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a pretty mediocre standard definition widescreen print. Audio is the original mono track. As with all these discs from Scorpion, we have the option of watching the film with or without intros and outros by former wrestler Katarina Leigh Waters. Besides trailers for this film and other Katarina offerings, we get some on-screen liner notes about the making of the film, as well as some (text) recollections of Cushing by the director.
Nothing But the Night isn't top-flight Lee and Cushing, but this little-known film is worth checking out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
• Liner Notes
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