Another horror film that teamed up Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Nothing But the Night is a particularly strange one. It doesn’t really work and the ending in particular is a poorly-edited debacle that damages the whole film, but thinking about it afterwards, it seems to me that it one of those badly-executed efforts that wastes a really disturbing premise that deserved better. In better hands and better circumstances, it could have been as harrowing as The Wicker Man or other of the best British horrors. There’s even a genre nod with Christopher Lee nearly being the one put in the fire this time around.
To get into this, I have to break into spoiler territory but I imagine spoiler warnings for a film as obscure as this is largely pointless, but anyway, here goes nothing: beyond this point lie spoilers, folks.
So anyway, the basic premise of the film, which is a ‘shock’ twist reserved for the films end, is that Frankenstein-like mad doctors/scientists in a children’s orphanage on a remote Scottish island have discovered a method of immortality by abusing/killing the children in the orphanage’s care. The twelve trustees of the orphanage and the carers there are all in on the horrible scheme. Its really quite harrowing and disturbing when one thinks about it. The mind/personality/memories of the old trustees/carers are being transferred into the bodies of those of the young children, whose own minds end up in the old bodies of the trustees and then executed in various ways to suggest accidents or suicide. This makes the opening sequence, in which we see three mute people being secretly murdered (one woman sitting in a car that is rolled out over a cliff, another a man pushed over a balcony to his death, another an old woman shot in the face as if shooting herself) really horrifying in retrospect, once one appreciates that infant children are trapped in those bodies and sacrificed for the ‘greater good’/immortality of the evil old buggers ostensibly responsible for them.
There’s a pretty scary film in there, but this film isn’t it. I did appreciate a suggestion that this ‘immortality’ isn’t perfect and is gradual, with one of the girls in hospital haunted by dreams of fire, not realising that she is the founder of the orphanage and that the dreams are actually memories of a traumatic moment in her previous life and that actual self-awareness and individuality only comes later (i.e. at the films end when the girl/old woman finally reveals who she really is and what is going on). Shades there, too, of The Boys from Brazil.
Sure, the whole premise is rather daft, but it is pretty much the same premise as Get Out, the 2017 film that was highly regarded, so there was obviously promise in it and I’d argue that executed properly, Nothing But the Night could have been far more horrible and scary than Get Out, if only because of what grisly fates it inferred for the innocent children.
As it is, Nothing But the Night is just poor, wasting both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and featuring some peculiarities that endlessly distract- a very odd Diana Dors as an angry mother who unintentionally looks like Little Britain‘s Matt Lucas in his female character roles (the likeness and mannerisms are uncannily similar), and the dawning recognition that Mary, the girl haunted by dreams turns out to be none other than a (understandably) very young Gwyneth Strong, later better known for playing Cassandra in Only Fools and Horses.