There have been a clutch of suicides among some elderly members of an orphanage trust recently: one has driven her car off a cliff, another has thrown himself out of a window, and yet another has shot herself in the head, but not everyone is convinced it was in fact three cases of people taking their own lives, and suspect someone else could be involved. One of those is government man Colonel Charles Bingham (Christopher Lee) who brings his concerns to forensic doctor Sir Mark Ashley (Peter Cushing), but they are distracted by a new patient at the hospital - a young girl, Mary Valley (Gwyneth Strong).
Could Mary have something to do with the deaths, having just survived a coach crash and feverishly complaining about fire, which is odd when the accident did not involve flames? Well, yes she does, but you'd be forgiven for getting a bit lost in the plot of Nothing But the Night, which managed to be rather garbled in execution until a big reveal at the end where the storyline didn't so much fall into place as make you go, ah, I see - no, wait, what the hell?! Still, it did clear up the mystery, and turn what looked like a conspiracy thriller to more horror-flavoured entertainment of the sort audiences would expect to see the stars in.
This was the first, and indeed only, production of Lee's own Charlemagne company (so called because he claimed to be a direct descendant of that Emperor), which made the mistake of trying to wrongfoot the potential viewer who had been a fan of Cushing and Lee's Hammer team ups by keeping it to the constraints of a rather dour suspense piece, the sort of thing Pete Walker might have been doing if horror hadn't proved more lucrative in the seventies. Throw in Diana Dors as Anna Harb, mother of Mary and determined to get her back in spite of Anna's previous conviction for murder, and you had a work which was so keen on misdirection that it fumbled its big twist.
That was down to it arriving from out of nowhere, but in its way it was also the victim of bad luck, because the suspicious children idea it banked on for its shocks would prove massively successful in The Exorcist, which was released a few months later, by which time Nothing But the Night had been forgotten. Some have also marked a comparison between this and the ending of The Wicker Man, more of a cult hit but similarly hard to shake from the memory as the William Friedkin movie was, and it could be that Lee had recognised the power of the British effort (and his own self-confessed favourite role) and wished to translate it into a different project, one he produced himself.
As it was, this was judged to be minor stuff and relegated to occasional showings on telelvision, where it continued to make little impact, which you could understand but also feel a little sorry about, because to its credit it was unafraid to try something unusual in its mix of styles. Keith Barron showed up to put the Colonel on the trail of the trust who are up to no good, somehow even though they are dying off, but before he can even apologise for getting cramp he's out of the picture, leaving a mad dash to a Scottish island where Mary has been taken to attend the orphanage there, yet with Anna in hot pursuit, having told all and sundry that she'd like to kill them if they got in her way. Aptly enough, Strong would go on to appear in classic sitcom Only Fools and Horses as Cassandra, which also utilised a storyline about a possibly demonic child, but there were no laughs in her role here, well, apart from unintentional ones seeing how this wound up. File under interesting failure. Music by Malcolm Williamson.