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, Scorpion's 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.