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on 18 April 2012
In 1972, Christopher Lee, increasingly frustrated with the glut of one-dimensional horror roles he was routinely offered, set about creating his own production company with the assistance of Hammer veteran Anthony Nelson Keys. Given the title Charlemagne Productions after Lee's famous ancestor, this new firm was supposed to provide him with some worthy starring vehicles, but due to the quicksand-like state of the British film industry in the 1970s, it was eventually responsible for just one movie, an adaptation of a little-known novel by John Blackburn entitled Nothing But the Night.
The plot sees Lee's bullish Colonel Bingham, a big cheese in MI5, or Scotland Yard's Special Branch, or something, investigating a series of inexplicable deaths linked to an offshore Scottish orphanage with the help of his friend, eminent pathologist Sir Mark Ashley (Peter Cushing). After a weird incident on a coach filled with the orphanage's children leaves the driver dead and one young girl (Gwyneth Strong, later Cassandra in Only Fools and Horses) with what appears to be amnesia, things begin to take a more sinister turn...
Admittedly, it appears that this modest horror-thriller had production difficulties from the very start; originally set to be helmed by Don Sharp (who worked with Lee on the likes of 1965's Rasputin, the Mad Monk), the directing duties were eventually assigned to Taste the Blood of Dracula's Peter Sasdy, but the talented Hungarian's efforts here do not match those on his well-regarded 1969 Lee / Hammer vampire sequel. The shoot, which involved much location work, was hampered by the fact that the tight budget didn't run to a second unit, whilst the filming schedule was beset with bad weather. The screenplay is incredibly tedious and takes a very long time to get nowhere in particular, whilst the performances lack a bit of vim as well.
Lee, attempting to break out of his perceived typecasting as an urbane villain, here plays the movie's ostensible `good guy' and comes a right cropper in the process; he somehow manages to make Bingham, no more than a thinly-written dullard in the script, into an objectionable, impatient loud-mouth. Lee had played irritable, but essentially decent, heroes before (1964's The Gorgon comes to mind), but none were as downright unappealing as his character here. Cushing fares a little better; his part is just as much of a cipher as Lee's, but he gets by on the fact that he's playing strictly to type, giving yet another airing to his familiar `investigative scientist' horror movie persona, though he certainly did it more compellingly in many other films. Because of all this, Nothing But the Night is probably one of the least worthy Cushing / Lee pairings, certainly ranking below such other 1970s team-ups as Horror Express or The Creeping Flesh.
The supporting players are similarly weak. Strong gives a reasonable performance for such a young actress, but portraying her abusive, ex-prostitute mother, Diana Dors (a long, long way from her 1950s glory days as the `British Marilyn Monroe') gives a hideously hammy and grotesquely incongruous turn; all big hair and bad language, she's the horror movie equivalent of Renée Houston in Carry On At Your Convenience, and she's also central to the movie's most unintentionally hilarious sequence, in which, decked out in a bright red anorak and a ginger bouffant, she manages to hide from a police helicopter in the middle of some Scottish scrubland. Singer-actress Georgia Brown is okay as a reporter tagging along with Cushing and Lee, but it's a good thing her excruciatingly pointless `romantic' subplot with Duty Free's Keith Barron (playing Cushing's junior colleague) is unexpectedly knocked on the head less than halfway through the film. In minor roles as local coppers, Porridge's Fulton Mackay and a then-unknown Michael Gambon prop up the bottom of the cast list, whilst fans of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger might like to look out for Black Narcissus' Kathleen Byron, who turns up as one of the orphanage's mysterious trustees.
As previously stated, the poorer aspects of this movie outweigh the good ones, but in all fairness there are some points of interest. Barron's unexpected exit from the story is a welcome surprise, and the later discovery of a murdered little boy has a satisfyingly nasty kick to it. Also, the climax is offbeat enough to withstand inevitable comparisons to the final scene of The Wicker Man, the much more famous chiller Lee would star in the following year. Nothing But the Night might not be the train wreck it is often referred to as in many reviews, and if you are a fan of Lee and Cushing you may enjoy the film, but don't bank on it.
The 2012 DVD release will be the first chance many in the UK will have to view Nothing But the Night, as it crashed and burned at the box office on its original cinema run, and hasn't been seen on British TV in many years. Though the DVD has a clear full-screen transfer, it lacks extra features of any description, and whilst I'm not sure that the movie is worthy of all that much attention, it still would have been a nice bonus if a few of the surviving participants had been invited to take part in a commentary recording. At the time of writing, Sasdy, Strong, Barron, Gambon, and Lee himself are all still around, and given Lee's previous involvement in DVD commentary tracks for minor movies like The City of the Dead and Night of the Big Heat, I'm sure he would have liked to get some remarks regarding his only film as a producer on record.
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on 6 April 2011
Here's some info about the disc itself, as others seem to have reviewed the films rather than this dvd.
The Skull is presented in full screen 4:3 format. The print is lacking in detail and more like VHS quality with the picture being jumpy and unstable at times. It clocks in at around 1hr 23mins which appears to be an uncut version. A much better widescreen version of The Skull is available on Region 1 dvd.
Nothing but the Night is again presented full screen. The picture quality is much better and fans searching for this film may be tempted to buy as it is unavailable on any other dvd at present. However with a running time of just under 1 hour 27mins I cannot confirm if this is the full theatrical version which has a quoted run time of 90 mins.
Sound for both films is mono but ok. They are presented on one side of a single dvd which has no extras at all apart from on-screen menu. The dvd box says the films are distributed by Onyx Media International.
So 0 stars for the Skull and 3 for Nothing but the Night in terms of the picture and sound quality.
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Starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it's not surprising that 1973's Nothing But the Night was the only film made by the production company set up by Lee and veteran Hammer producer Anthony Nelson Keys to try to inject some new life into the then-as-ever failing British film industry. You can see that on one level it's a vaguely ambitious attempt to do something a bit different, but it's not a terribly compelling mystery and its horrific undertones are played down for most of the running time, with director Peter Sasdy doing a professional but rather flat job of it.

For much of the film it's a fairly ambling investigation into a fatal coach crash that may have been intended to kill the rich trustees of an orphanage on a remote Scottish island who have recently been dropping like flies but which instead ended up killing the driver and hospitalising one of their charges who turns out to be central to the would-be mysterious goings on (Gwyneth Strong, who would grow up to marry Rodney in Only Fools and Horses). Keith Barron's doctor thinks she's too psychologically disturbed to be returned, Lee's pompous and obnoxious semi-retired detective thinks she's just collateral damage, George Brown's confrontational reporter thinks her nightmares may hold the key to it all and Cushing's pathologist is largely just there to listen to everybody else's theories while suspicion is cast heavy-handedly on the girl's ex-prostitute natural mother (Diana Dors) who helpfully has already done time for murder.

Yet the threat is rather vague for much of the film even after a couple of dead bodies turn up and there's no-one to really root for thanks to cardboard characterisation and misjudged performances. The two leads are both on grumpy form that allows neither to shine and Brown's aggressive turn isn't going out of her way to win over any of the audience either: at times it's as if all three are trying to win a Who Can Be The Most Unsympathetic competition. As a result the film leans far too heavily on a shock ending that's slightly Wickerish, involving as it does Christopher Lee and another deadly bonfire, but to preserve the surprise (which was given away anyway by the film's alternate US title) the screenplay goes out of its way not to introduce any of the more interesting ideas until the last 15 minutes of the film despite one pretty big early hint on a hospital door. Nor is the journey to those last 15 minutes particularly interesting, not helped by the attempt to inject some tension by intercutting Dors evading police helicopters, a small army of search parties and the obligatory unobservant sentries as she makes her way to the orphanage in a bright red coat that sticks out a mile. Even the final potentially shocking image becomes absurd because, while you can understand why one character does what they do, there's simply no logical reason for the others to follow suit.

A few interesting faces pop up in the supporting cast, like Duncan Lamont, Fulton Mackay and a debuting Michael Gambon among the Scottish constabulary, and one-time TV Professor Quatermass John Robinson and Black Narcissus' Kathleen Byron among the orphanage trustees, but the end result is definitely a lesser and uninvolving slice of Seventies British horror.

While the UK PAL DVD is extras-free, the US NTSC disc offers a decent widescreen transfer that also includes the original trailer, production notes and a fairly informative introduction by wrestler Katarina Leigh Waters as well as trailers for The Devil Within Her, Humongous, Final Exam and The Incubus.
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on 4 March 2010
Please note-This review is only for the films and not for the dvd, as I have not seen it!

Nothing But The Night was one of only two films produced by Charlemagne Productions, a company set up by Christopher Lee to release British horror films(the other film is 'To The Devil A Daughter', eventually released as a Hammer film). Its an interesting, if not entirely successful effort, providing the audience with a whole school of red herrings, before dazing and confusing with an unexpected climax. The story concerns trustees of an orphanage being murdered, and one of the orphans, after being involved in a coach accident, ending up on a hospital ward, where she arouses the concerns of Dr Slade(Keith Barron), who uncovers evidence of trauma when he hypnotises her. Add to the mix, Diana Dors, delivering a real powerhouse performance as the mother of the girl, and you have a very unusual film, but its the bonkers climax which provides the main interest, as well as an interesting cast including Fulton Mackay and Georgia Brown. One thing it can't be accused of is being pedestrian.
'The Skull' is one of Amicus films rare forays into non-anthology horror films. Written by Psycho author Robert Bloch, it concerns the skull of the Marquis De Sade, and the malign influence it has on all those who come into contact with it. Sir Matthew Phillips(Christopher Lee) owns it, rival antiques horder and occult expert Dr. Christopher Maitland(Peter Cushing) desires it, and if that means murder so be it. It's an interesting film, mainly due to an incredible dream sequence half way through, and a great performance by Patrick Wymark as a seedy character called Marco, who aqquires items on Maitland's behalf.
It seems that this release is unavailable, but 'The Skull' is available on its own as a Region 1 release by Legend films. It would be nice if 'Nothing But The Night' was released again too. Anyway 4 out of 5 for the films.
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on 7 May 2015
How many people still own televisions with the old 4:3 ratio picture? Not too many I would guess. I also doubt that those who have not updated to a modern 16:9 ratio widescreen television are that concerned about what they watch on it.

So, why in 2012, when this StrawberryMedia DVD was released, did the producers see fit to provide a 4:3 picture of this widescreen film instead of its correct format?

The shame is, that within the limited view of the original picture made visible to the viewer, the quality is quite impressive, with good colour, sharpness and very little observed print damage. The audio is mono, which I believe is as the film was originally released.
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VINE VOICEon 16 June 2010

Diana Dors stars in this thriller as an ex-prostitute and the mother of a young girl (Gwyneth Strong) who seems sinisterly connected to the mysterious deaths of several wealthy patrons of a child's orphanage.

Suspicions for the murders initially fall on Dors herself, having served ten years in Broadmoor for her own involvement in unrelated murders.

This was Diana's real beginning at 'character acting' (an awful and much 'cheapened' term) having moved away from the blonde bombshell and Hollywood image she'd achieved years earlier - but what a great performance she gives!

This is an unusual film, and though having a very strong cast which includes the likes of; Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Keith Barron and Georgia Brown, somehow still fails to hold the attention and is a little disappointing as a consequence.

To date, this has only ever been officially released as a 'rental' Video during the late 1980s.

For ardent Dors fans only.
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on 15 March 2013
Nothing really happens in this film, accept the sexual chemistry between lee and cushing and its britain in the seventies and its a british horror film, so thats all you need to know, essential viewing

ps and Diana dors running around the countryside a bit confused as to which studio she is meant to be in
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on 2 July 2012
It's a shame that this didn't do too well at the box office. It's what might have been for Cushing and Lee in their best pairing (storywise) of the seventies. The film sticks fairly closely to the exciting and innovative novel by the great John Blackburn. If this film had done better box office, we might have seen a screen version of 'Bury Him Darkly' another horror/sci-fi/ancient evil cocktail and the best of Blackburn's output. Now that there is only Hollywood knocking out films, best lost forever than have them ruin that. Peter Sasdy is the Director who must be drawn to 'ancient evil' mixed with sci-fi stories, because the previous year he directed Nigel Kneale's 'The Stone Tape' and a big screen version of 'Doomwatch'. Nothing But The Night has a flavour of the Wicker Man about it, without the futility and the isolation. There's a stalwart crew of British actors backing up the two main protagonists like Keith Barron, Fulton Mackay and completing the Kneale link, ex-Quatermass, John Robinson. If you like to see Cushing and Lee both playing the good guys for a change, this is the film for you.
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on 5 March 2012
I was pleasantly surprised by this dvd having seen the film once years ago on TV. Yes it's a low budget 70s movie which you're only going to watch if you're a fan of Cushing and/or Lee, but compared to some of their other non-Hammer efforts it isn't bad.

The Scottish setting and centrality of children to the plot are reminiscent of The Wicker Man though that's film splendid ending is not matched here. The location shooting is good and adds to the atmosphere, but as so often with these movies the ideas slightly outstretch the budget and execution.

Tha cast is impressive - Michael Gambon ,Fulton Mackay,Keith Barron and Diana Dors.

All in all one for fans of 70s British horror and the two leading stars of the genre.
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Not seen for far too long (Why? And why isn't this released in the U/K Region 2?), This unpretentious horror/mystery/thriller works on most levels. Perhaps the ending is a bit much to take, but otherwise it's a good watch, with the usual professional perfs from Lee and Cushing, ably abetted by Dors, Keith Barron, and the much underused Georgia Brown. Gwyneth Strong makes a good debut and impresses as "Mary" a crucial role in an unusual plot. The print is good (1.78:1 Anamorphic it says), plus good colour and sound. You get the opportunity to watch the film with a surprisingly intersteing 5' intro from Katarina Leigh Walters...(It says she is "Former WWE DVIA (sic) and CURRENT TNA KNOCKOUT so that's allright then-she can intro any film for me, and the facts are good - Some of you will know about this film already, others, like me, found her remarks useful). I recomend this film and almost gave it 5 stars, but i'ts not quite that good. Price is good tho, so take a chance and if you have never seen it I don't think you will be disapointed.
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