Formed by genre stalwart Christopher Lee and former Hammer Films producer Anthony Nelson-Keys, the creation of Charlemagne Productions (named in honor of Lee’s Italian ancestry) only resulted in one film, NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT. Although the intention was to uphold quality pictures with a nod towards the macabre (the rights to several Dennis Wheatley novels were also acquired), the film largely failed to make an impact at the box office, and the newfound company was prematurely dissolved. Probably the most obscure and least discussed of the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing star pairings, NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT now makes its DVD debut courtesy of Scorpion Releasing.
Special Branch Chief Colonel Bingham (Lee) is suspicious of murder when three older trustees of a charity are found dead after violent injuries. In the meantime, Mary Valley (Gwyneth Strong), a resident child of the charity’s orphanage, ends up in the hospital after a bus accident. Under hypnosis, Mary recalls a frightening event that only an adult could have experienced to the concerned Dr. Haynes (Keith Barron, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT). Dr. Haynes asks veteran pathologist Sir Mark Ashley (Cushing) for his cooperation by allowing Mary to stay at the hospital for further examination and so that he too could witness her unusual suffering.
The news of Mary’s hospital stay causes ex prostitute and paroled murderer Anna Harb (Diana Dors, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE) to make a public scene, claiming that she’s the girl's daughter, and wanting to take her into custody. This incites the interest of a determined journalist, Joan Foster (Georgia Brown, TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS) who arranges a meeting between Anna and Haynes, after which Haynes ends up fatally wounded and Anna on the run from the police. With Mary safely(?) back at the orphanage, Colonel Bingham and Sir Mark team up to solve the deep mystery behind all these murders, as they are further thrown for a loop after a motor-cruiser carrying five more trustees bafflingly blows up.An adaptation of John Blackburn's same-named novel, NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT is basically a variation on VILLAGE OF THE DAMMED and its classic cinematic themes of demonic children, though in this case its possessed little ones manipulated by unethical adults. More of a slowly-mounted mystery with hints of science fiction rather than a straightforward exploitive horror film, NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT should have been a lot more entertaining in terms of Lee/Cushing pairings (it’s not nearly as fun as HORROR EXPRESS, THE CREEPING FLESH and yes… DRACULA A.D. 1972, all made around the same time) but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit and can be admired for what it is.
Although Lee and Nelson-Keys were intent on having full control of the production, it seems that distributor Rank had more input than they hoped for, but they were fully accepting of having Cushing cast as co-star. One of the best things about the film is that Lee and Cushing share nearly every scene together, and although their characters (especially in the case of Lee) tend to be one-dimensional and given very little in terms of development, the two thesps obviously took the film really seriously and the on-screen camaraderie (much like with HORROR EXPRESS, shot a few months before this) is undeniable. The film is well cast, including the always excellent Barron (whose character is unfortunately killed off too early) and Dors, who by this time was no longer a curvy bombshell but rather a plump character actress prone to playing tactless bitches and uninterested housewives.
Director Peter Sasdy had already done a number of acclaimed Hammer horrors, including TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA with Lee, and the actor was reportedly very receptive to having the young filmmaker helm the first of what was supposed to be many productions under the Charlemagne banner. Although this is far from Sasdy’s best effort, he does a respectable job given the low budget and quick time frame to work with, and the Dartmouth locations (the orphanage is supposed to be set on a Scottish isle) give the film some nice scope. The script is imaginative, and although it tends to be confusing at times, it pretty much all makes sense by the time the fiery climax occurs. It’s interesting to note that a number of individuals from Hammer worked on the film including some of the supporting players (Duncan Lamont, Kathleen Byron and LUST FOR A VAMPIRE’s Michael Brennan in his last film), make-up man Eddie Knight, special effects artist Les Bowie, wardrobe mistress Rosemary Burrows and musical director Philip Martell (composer Malcolm Williamson also did Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN). Michael Gambon, who has found recent success appearing in the “Harry Potter” series, is here in his first feature, playing a cooperative police inspector.
A dreary U.S. theatrical history that had the film playing in southern drive-ins during the mid 1970s as THE RESSURECTION SYNDICATE, it was was then issued on VHS in the 1980s as THE DEVIL’S UNDEAD by Monterey Home Video (remember those big video boxes?). Scorpion Releasing has thankfully acquired the home video rights to NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT after it had been with MGM along with a bunch of other British Rank Organization titles. The film has been transferred in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, and looks very good overall. Colors are always distinct and sharp, and although close-ups look absolutely fine, some of the long-shots tend to be softer in appearance, and there is some scattered speckling on the print source, most of which appears in the last ten minutes of the presentation. The mono English audio is clear, with absolutely no noticeable defects.
As this DVD is part of Scorpion’s ongoing “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” series, beautiful Katarina Leigh Waters hosts the movie, and you also have the option of playing it without these opening and closing segments. The idea of having her do these intros continues to be a worthwhile venture, as she’s easy on the eyes, has a wonderful speaking voice and gives factoids concerning the movie rather than being condescending (aside from a brief, playful sight gag). Chris Gullo scribes the liner notes (found on the DVD’s supplement menu) and includes personal quotes from actress Strong and director Sasdy. The film’s original trailer, as well as trailers for other titles in the series are included. (George R. Reis)
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