Reincarnate

In Peter Sasdy’s NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, Christopher Lee is stuffy, Peter Cushing is snippy, Diana Dors is stroppy and Georgia Brown is chippy, lippy and slutty. And little Gwyneth Strong is absolutely brilliant. Everyone is intense, fervid, all the time, like they were all fathered by Charles McGraw when no one was looking, which seems to be a Sasdy characteristic (see also The Stone Tape).

It’s Christopher Lee’s only film as producer, adapted from a novel by John Blackburn, a quite interesting genre writer though a very reactionary one. Reaching the screen, some of these attitudes are softened or switched, but some remain, so you don’t quite know what to think.

The plot centres on an orphan (Strong), seemingly traumatized in a bus crash, but there’s something sinister afoot with the foundation caring for her (Kathleen Byron is involved so it can’t be a purely charitable institution, can it?). Dors is a red herring in a red shiny coat, seen trudging through the Scottish heather for reels on end, the least inconspicuous person ever. She’s a fortune teller with a black cat decal on her Hillman Imp and she’s trying to get her daughter back. Tabloid hack Brown tells her, “You must admit she’d be better of with them than here,” which seems a bit unsympathetic. There’s nothing wrong with Dors’ clairvoyance pad: she has a phrenology head and an Emmanuelle chair, what more could any child ask?

Apart from class horror at Dors’ raging slattern, the film seems to share Lee and Cushing’s distaste for the pushy journo, yet she’s the one who sets them on the right trail. The great duo are at everyone’s throats all the way through, with Cushing in particular JUST VERY CROSS in every scene. It’s the Hammer films trope of the authority figures being righteous, correct, our only hope, yet deeply dislikeable. Only with the pitch turned up and a bit of a headache.

Gwyneth Strong can dislocate her jaw in order to swallow whole goats.

We enjoyed the Scottish locations — Edinburgh airport looks unchanged to me — the evil scheme is an intriguing one and the climax gets some real moral horror going, aided by Lee waking up and doing some proper acting as he faces a kind of payback for his role in THE WICKER MAN. He could really rise to the occasion, that man, and at six foot ninety he had a head start.

It all falls apart in the closing shots, where the script can’t come up with a good finish, calls for some effects that don’t quite make it, and the staging falls apart accompanied by mismatched dusk/dawn-for-night and night-for-night shots (NOTHING LIKE THE NIGHT, you could call it), and it looks as though Sasdy just ran out of time on top of everything else.

Night shoots are a bitch.

The music — a lush rephrasing of Nine Green Bottles — is extremely poor. A death-by-hatpin recalls Sasdy’s HANDS OF THE RIPPER. Strong’s performance is one for the ages — authentically terrifying.

NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT stars the Grand Moff Tarkin; Mycroft Holmes; Frau Poppendick; Frau Freud; Nigel Barton; Mackay; Albus Dumbledore; Aunt Beru; Victor Carroon; and Sister Ruth.

6 Responses to “Reincarnate”

  1. Thanks for alerting me to this one, it looks really good! I loved Sasdy’s Hands of the Ripper (that was one of the most compassionatw and moral horror films I’ve ever seen). He really had a good sense of world-building, for lack of a better term (he makes Edwardian England seem very real).
    Weird about the seemingly reactionary tone – Ripper seemed pretty progressive. There’s a whole host of these young British directors who made brilliant horror movies in the 70’s and then nothing afterwards.
    Does Strong top Chloe Franks in The House That Dripped Blood, my gold standard for creepy kids?
    Also, check out a movie called I Start Counting. Before it succumbs to conventional third act thriller syndrome, it’s a really wonderful mix of Lady Bird, Mean Streets, a Giallo, swinging London and Alicenin Wonderland

  2. I love I Start Counting!
    https://dcairns.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/readysteady/
    I’ve forgotten Chloe Banks but I’ll never forget Gwyneth!

    Sasdy might be part of why this film isn’t as reactionary as Blackburn’s books tend to be. Certainly Hands of the Ripper is fascinating and The Stone Tape strikes me as a very progressive attack on toxic masculinity in the workplace.

  3. One final weird thought about I Start Counting: In it, David Greene proved he could possibly direct a remake of The Night of the Hunter, yet when he actually did (for television), it was a dud. Then ANOTHER David Greene indirectly did a very good remake of The Night of the Hunter (I’m referring, of course, to Undertow)

  4. Undertow I haven’t seen. DG Green seems so inconsistent his weaker films make me wonder if there’s anything there at all. But I should see more of the reputable ones.

    Greene’s Sebastian is really great, and I’d love to see a decent copy of The Strange Affair.

  5. chris schneider Says:

    I was watching FEMALE TROUBLE last night, and your talk of Dors and class horror seem very much like Divine as Dawn Davenport.

  6. Hah, could be. But does John Waters not see things from the outsiders’ view?

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