Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Nothing But the Night (1972)

Nothing But the Night was the first and only movie to be made by Charlemagne Productions, the production company set up by Christopher Lee. Its commercial failure in 1972 doomed the company. So what went wrong? It’s actually not a bad film. Lee gathered together a pretty respectable array of talent. The script is quite sound – it involves a young girl who is left in a disturbed state after an accident involving a bus, and a series of odd and unexplained deaths. The central idea, which I won’t reveal because it involves major spoilers, is quite a good one. Lee had his old Hammer comrade-in-arms Peter Cushing as the co-star, and they both give decent performances. The supporting players are extremely good – especially Georgia Brown as a determined reporter, Diana Dors as the mother of the child, and Gwyneth Strong as the girl. Peter Sasdy directs with a competent hand. It has some nicely atmospheric moments, some genuinely horrific moments towards the end, and the settings look good (much of it takes place in an orphanage on a remote Scottish island). It seems to have plenty going for it, but still it failed.

I suspect it was just a little ahead of its time. It was trying to be a fairly big-budget serious contemporary horror movie, and had it been replaced just a few years later after the success of films like The Exorcist and The Omen it might have found an audience. In 1972 I’m not sure that mainstream audience for serious horror really existed to any great extent. And the movie wasn’t likely to appeal to fans of the Hammer gothic horror movies in which Lee and Cushing had made their reputation – by 1972 horror fans expected more action and more sex, and Nothing But the Night is fairly slow-moving and totally devoid of sex. And it possibly takes itself too seriously to appeal to that audience. It tries to be an intelligent horror thriller that relies on psychological terror and atmosphere, and it largely achieves its aims. It’s not quite a neglected masterpiece, but it’s still a rather good film that is definitely worth a look.

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