Psychotronic Ketchup: Nothing But the Night (1973)
Director: Peter Sasdy
Charlemagne/Rank, 1:30, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 4
Charlemagne/Rank, 1:30, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 4
What spells terror to you? How about a fat whore wearing a Ronald McDonald style wig-do and a bright red leather jacket crawling across the Scottish countryside? Yep, that’s what I thought. It’s horrible to even consider it…
She would be far scarier if they didn’t show her panting desperately for air every few steps, and if they also didn’t show her stopping for a sandwich break halfway through her supposedly epic crawl across the breadth of a remote island as she angrily tries to reach her young daughter, supposedly to do her great bodily harm. I know the English must have their tea time, but this is ridiculous. And this is in the midst of incredible, frenetic violence going on all around her – helicopters circle overhead, police teams leading dogs comb the hillsides looking for both her and a little boy who has disappeared, and a boat gets blown to smithereens, killing five more trustees of a place called Inver House, where the fat whore’s daughter and a group of other children are being sheltered for some possibly nefarious reason one might discover later in the film. The only terror generated by this supposed threat to the welfare of English children everywhere is the one posed by her grotesque looks, with makeup lacquered on so thickly about her facial features that you will instantly realize I am not mistaken for the Ronald McDonald reference at the beginning of this piece.
And this is surprising, because the fat whore is played by none other than Diana Dors, often known as the British Marilyn Monroe, normally blonde, normally gorgeous. I certainly did a double take when I read the credits, but there she was, trolling it up in the opposite direction that she used to, looking a fright instead of a delight. And please don’t consider my statement regarding her status as a “whore” to be misogynistic; I am merely stating her profession within the film… that of a prostitute – a bloody, frightening one by looks at that – and one who did time for murder as well, at which point her daughter was wrested from her possession and became a ward of Inver House. For reasons that I am wholly bored by, she wishes to get her daughter back… or seems to... and her daughter is consumed by memories that may or may not be her own, of terrible fires and the deaths of numerous people. She might be the reincarnation of someone else, or is there something far more sinister at play? You know, the sort of wickedness that would cause us to have to watch her wretched mother bumble her way over hill and dale, panting and heaving awfully the entire, all while trying not very hard to make it seem like she is exactly the sort who could elude detectives, policemen and the army over hundreds of miles -- and possibly plot and commit the murders of all who stand in her noxious way – for an hour and a half.
The movie begins with a trio of what seem to be the horrible murders of the first three trustees of Inver House, and then we meet this awful, screaming wretch of a child. The actress playing her is graced with the traits of the worst child actors, and plays every emotion within the same range, from whispering to screeching, sometimes within the same sentence. She’s the type of child actress that makes one appreciate the Dakota Fannings and Haley Joel Osments of the world. (The reason decent child actors seem so alien sometimes, especially in Osment’s case, is that we have become so accustomed to kids automatically sucking onscreen, we are stunned when we actually see quality and depth instead. This includes Mr. Culkin who, despite his massive success as a kid, actually was a pretty stiff actor. The right cuteness at the right time was the key to his early success.) There comes the point, for reasons that have nothing to do with the plot, that one stops wishing they would catch the fat whore, and would instead just let her through to the orphanage so she can throttle her annoying daughter for good. One tries to take into account that different times call for different levels of child acting, and to just accept the story for what it is… but then some miniature, shrieking harpy opens her trap and takes one completely out of the film again.
Oh yes, you are supposed to be watching this film because it has yet another team-up of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but when one spends half a film following a porcine, red-headed, slutty clown around instead, one needs to be forgiven the original reason for tuning in. Lee (whose production company made this underwhelming claptrap) and Cushing are both portrayed as being the heroes here, but for the life of me, I couldn’t really figure out a decent reason for their being in the film at its closing point. Lee plays an army colonel who acts with appropriate gusto and determinedness throughout the film, but he really doesn’t seem to hold much influence over anything at all. Cushing plays a pathologist – and a knighted one at that, as we are reminded about a quartet of times in the flick that he is called “Sir Mark Ashley” – and he has one of those professions where you wonder why he is actually involved with this case at all. He seems to be one of those guys just hanging around on the off-chance that somebody will die so he can offer his expertise on how they might have died, and then take the credit for solving the mystery at the film’s end. Not that he really does – he only figures out part of it, and not that any of it makes a lick of sense anyway. And Lee even ends up playing second banana in his own film, letting other younger actors carry much of the dramatic load, relegating Cushing and himself to musing about possible murder angles every few minutes.
And so you are left with two heroes for whom you can’t really understand their compulsion, and a supposed villainess for whom you cannot illicit even the slightest belief that she couldn’t even make it up half a hill without stumbling, falling down, rolling two miles back down the hill to the center of town, and then devour half the contents of a fish n’ chips shop as he crashes through its front door. Without a reservation, mind you. I reserved time to watch Nothing But the Night, and all I received was a blinding headache from the shrill cries of an immensely annoying and precocious child actress, and a lacerating head wound from when I fell down laughing at the thought that anyone in this film would believe that the clownish mother would be any sort of threat to anyone…
Except perhaps by way of STD...