The Nightcomers [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (30th May 2019).
The Film

Upon the deaths of their parents, young Myles (The Pumpkin Eater's Christopher Ellis) and Flora (Superbitch's Verna Harvey) become the wards of their father's brother (Watership Down's Harry Andrews) who promptly leaves them in the care of housekeeper Miss Gross (The Last of the Summer Wine's Thora Hird), nanny Margaret Jessel (And Now the Screaming Starts's Stephanie Beacham), and their father's former valet Peter Quint (Apocalypse Now's Marlon Brando) at the country estate of Bly House and returns to his business in London. Even before she discovers the violent sexual affair between Quint and Jessel, Miss Gross detests the man who taken his charge in watching over the estate by putting on the airs of his late master (along with his clothes); however, the children unquestioningly believe everything Quint tells them when it seems that he is the only one in the house with the courage to tell them that their parents are really dead. Even Quint does not realize that the children's admiration of him extends to spying on him and Jessel in bed and trying to imitate what they see to the shock of Miss Gross ("We're doing sex!") and the incredulity of Miss Jessel ("But they're only children!"). When Miss Gross bars Quint from the house, Miss Jessel has a chance to reflect on the nature of their relationship and vows to keep her distance. Myles and Flora, on the other hand, conspire to manipulate both Quint and Jessel back together. Their reunion is disastrous, but things turn deadly when a disgusted Miss Gross endeavors to send Miss Jessel away.

A prequel to Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" directed with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer by Michael Winner (Death Wish), the sleaziness and absurdity of The Nightcomers unfortunately overshadows some interesting aspects of a script by Michael Hastings (The Adventurers) for a famous psychological ghost story that never really needed to have its backstory explained in the first place. The sexual cruelty of Quint is alternately frustrated and spurred on by Jessel who denies him the privilege of knowing her intimately out of some self-loathing that she deflects with barbs about his relative social station. Seemingly even before he was left alone in a house of women, Quint is only respected and admired by two children who take everything he says as the truth which proves to be his downfall as both he fails to comprehend not only the reasons for their questions about love, hate, sex, and death but also how his answers have further warped their understanding of his relationship with Jessel. Even Miss Gross tries to relate to Jessel with her own tale of unhappy love before discovering the extend of the couple's perversions and the children's attempts to imitate them. While the motivations behind the actions of the two children during the climax are believable, less effectively conveyed is their belief that Quint and Jessel will remain with them after death in setting the stage for events of the James novel. The script both structurally mirrors and inverts the James novel with its audience gradually discovering the perversity beneath the quaint surface while the the climax's badgering and breakdown of Flora recalling the governess' insistence that the girl too sees the ghost of Miss Jessel (although in the case of this film they want her not to "see" or understand what she and Miles are doing). With his irritating attempt at an Irish accent and freewheeling performance, Brando here is less Last Tango in Paris than Reflections in a Golden Eye while Beacham and Hird manage to get by with their dignity intact despite the copious nudity of the former. Nineteen-year-old Harvey playing a fourteen-year-old girl is wonderfully perverse in her complicity in dark deeds while Ellis seems bland next to The Innocents' Martin Stephens (also one of the "Midwich Cuckoos" of Village of the Damned). The usually attractive photography of Robert Paynter (Trading Places) is zoom-happy and composer Jerry Fielding (The Wild Bunch) seems just as confused about what Winner (who also edited) was going for. Anna Palk (Tower of Evil) briefly appears at the end as the nameless governess of James' novel.

Video

Released theatrically by Avco Embassy and then on VHS by Charter Entertainment a label that handled some of Embassy's less prestigious holdings The Nightcomers was one of the Embassy titles that went to Studio Canal instead of MGM, with the film's DVD debut coming from Lionsgate. Through Kino Lorber's licensing of over a hundred Studio Canal titles, The Nightcomers comes to Blu-ray likely utilizing the same master as Network's British Blu-ray disc. The source is colorful and generally crisp-looking but blacks are variable, minute instances of damage are evident throughout in the form of white scratches some only noticeable with frame-by-frame step-through and blacks also vary from deep to slightly cloudy. Moire is evident in fine vertical stripes of Myles' jacket during a couple shots of the kite sequence but this may not be as evident depending on the display.

Audio

The sole audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track with clear dialogue and spare sound design along with the unsubtle music score. Optional English SDH subtitles are included and there do not seem to be any obvious transcription errors even with Brando's mumbled performance.

Extras

Carried over from the LionsGate DVD but not present on the European DVD editions is the audio commentary by director Michael Winner who recalls that the script was brought to him by the writer but that no one would put up the money for the film until he got Brando involved. Vanessa Redgrave was supposed to play Miss Jessell but the film she was making in Italy with Franco Nero possibly La Vacanza for Tinto Brass went overschedule and Beacham was brought in because she had had a small role in Winner's film The Games. Beacham initially balked at the nudity requirements but agreed to them and the publicity photographs but then refused to promote the film in the United States (Winner suggests that her Hollywood career might have been bigger than her notable roles in Dynasty and The Colbys had she promoted the film stateside). His spends less time on analysis of the film than behind the scenes stories, but fortunately there are plenty with Brando involved. Despite Brando's reputation, Winner did not find him difficult; although Winner has his own reputation and may have found him more entertaining despite clashing in other areas like Brando wanting to mix with the cast and crew rather than sharing meals with Winner even though the cast and crew were terrified of the star. New to this release is an audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger who describes the film as a "strange gothic drama" and, noting the presence of the anecdote-heavy Winner commentary elsewhere on the disc, focuses on the way the film divides audiences as a particularly perverse work of British horror of the early seventies, Brando going from "box office poison" to his subsequent lauded turn as The Godfather the following year, contrasting the film with James' novel and Jack Clayton's The Innocents (she unfortunately slips by referring to the director twice as noted DP Jack Cardiff but the flubb is kind of understandable when in deep discussion of British genre filmmaking consiering Cardiff's contributions to the irreality of the Powell and Pressberger films and some of his later horror efforts) with the Winner film, the ways in which Hastings' script might have taken off from little hints and clues about the dead characters in the novel (including a knowing reference James made in the text to some noted gothic novels), as well as the film's elements of sexual sadism and the taboo of involving children. Also ported from the DVD is an introduction by director Michael Winner (1:28) while the theatrical trailer (2:03) and teaser trailer (0:35) are ported from the European DVDs.

Overall

A prequel to Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" directed with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer by Michael Winner, the sleaziness and absurdity of The Nightcomers unfortunately overshadows some interesting thematic aspects and character development.

 


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