It is a dark and stormy night, and Lord Archibald Marian is reading his Bible and a poem named "The Apocalypse" which declaims death by the four elements of air, fire, water and earth. His manservant Rufus (Luis Barboo) checks on him although he would rather be in bed because he is scared of the thunder and lightning, so the Lord sends him away. However, he is not as alone in his mansion as he thinks as a mysterious figure looms out of the darkness and knocks the Lord out with a blow to the head and handcuffs him, then drags him outside into the grounds where there is a freshly dug hole. Archibald is pushed into it and proceeds to be buried alive. Soon his wife Cecilla is searching for him and sees to her horror his still bound hands sticking out of the earth - the first murder victim, but not the last...
Night of the Assassins, or La Noche de los Asesinos in its original title, or Night of the Skull to give it yet another alias, was prolific director Jess Franco's run through of the old dark house mystery genre. In the credits, it claims to be based on that old favourite and classic of its type, The Cat and the Canary, and further to have been written by Edgar Allan Poe! The only link to Poe that I can see is the burial alive in the first ten minutes, otherwise it more closely resembles the work of another Edgar, Edgar Wallace, but the script was conjured up by Franco himself under a pseudonym.
If there's one thing the film is strong on it's atmosphere, with the period costumes and shadowy rooms and corridors of the mansion particularly adding to that oppressive ambience. Unlike The Cat and the Canary, the cast are not isolated to the one location, and after the reading of the will are allowed to come go and they please; some of them will be going quicker than they anticipated. Our much-abused heroine is Rita (Lina Romay), the daughter Archibald had with one of his servants who is regularly beaten by her stepmother when she flies into a drunken rage. And it's Rita who wins the whole fortune when the will is read, something that is understandably disputed by the others.
Not that this stops the murders happening as the wicked stepmother ends up chained to a rock so the tides can drown her. The local Inspector is baffled, and glad of the help of Major Brooks (Alberto Dalbés) of Scotland Yard who turns up unannounced to assist, but still the skull-faced killer haunts the mansion, as elusive as he is dangerous. Not even an impromptu seance can stop him, as the couple contacting the spirits are swiftly shot by Rufus for reasons best known to himself. In fact the plot, when it is finally revealed, makes little sense and appears to have been added for the finale to arbitrarily tie up the loose ends, but it's fine as far as it goes - what you're seeing this for is the suspense, after all. Of its kind, Night of the Assassins is perfectly watchable. Why is it dark and stormy every night, though? Music by Carlo Savina.
[Tartan have released this as a Region 2 DVD double bill with Devil's Island Lovers, in its orginal aspect ratio; the only extra is an alternate title sequence which looks suspiciously similar to the one used on the film.]
Legendary director of predominantly sex-and-horror-based material, Spanish-born Jesus Franco had as many as 200 directing credits to his name. Trained initially as a musician before studying film at the Sorbonne in Paris, Franco began directing in the late 50s. By using the same actors, sets and locations on many films, Franco has maintained an astonishing workrate, and while the quality of his work has sometimes suffered because of this, films such as Virgin Amongst the Living dead, Eugenie, Succubus and She Killed in Ecstasy remain distinctive slices of 60s/70s art-trash.
Most of his films have been released in multiple versions with wildly differing titles, while Franco himself has directed under a bewildering number of pseudonyms. Actors who have regularly appeared in his films include Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and wife Lina Romay; fans should also look out for his name on the credits of Orson Welles' Chimes of Midnight, on which he worked as assistant director.