Director: Michael Winner
Screenplay: Michael Hastings
Starring: Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham, Thora Hurd, Harry Andrews, Verna Harvey
Running Time: 97 mins
BBFC Classification: 18
Ostensibly a prequel to The Innocents, which itself is based on Henry James’ classic gothic melodrama ‘The Turn of the Screw’, The Nightcomers sees director Michael Winner trying something a bit different, namely a period film about a sadomasochistic affair between an Irish manservant and the teacher/nanny of two privileged orphans.
Following the deaths of their parents, Flora and Miles are left in the care of repressed governess Miss Jessel (Beacham) and housekeeper Mrs Grose (Thora Hurd). However, it is the somewhat perverse and manipulative Peter Quint (Brando), the grounds man, who seems to have the most influence over the children in their parent’s on-going absence. In fact the children’s new guardian, a London-based uncle, refuses to tell them what has actually happened to their folks, he just continues to pay for their upkeep from afar.
Rather like the children under her care Miss Jessel finds herself enraptured by Quint’s charisma, but somewhat repulsed by his opinions and sexual proclivities, ones that he likes to practice out on her – including a bit of rather rough S & M oriented intercourse. When Miles accidentally witnesses some of this sexual horseplay he later attempts to recreate what he’s seen with his sister – a very disturbing scene for us to witness in this post Saville time! Next to the clear sexualisation of the children, the next most shocking thing was the size of Quint’s belt – it’s as wide as his ego.
In fact the children increasingly become obsessed with the somewhat strange romance between Quint and their teacher and want to see the two get together permanently. It’s this obsession that eventually leads the children from being fairly harmless pranksters to being dealers of death.
The Nightcomers is an unusual film that is still quite shocking, even today. It’s beautifully shot, with some great compositions, often involving the stunning Cambridgeshire countryside, where the film was shot.
The acting is top-notch and Marlon Brando comes across as both charming and frighteningly sadistic at the same time, although I wasn’t so sure about his Irish accent, although it’s passable! It was also good to see Thora Hird going head-to-head with the great man and holding her own nicely. Stephanie Beacham plays the young and naïve governess well, although I was rather unsure of her character’s motivations for much of the time. She’s obviously fascinated and sexually turned on by Quint, but I wasn’t sure about why she acted as she did some of the time. It’s probably me being a little thick though…
This is the sort of film that could only have been made in the decade that taste forgot – namely the seventies. Not only is there the weirdness with the kids, but also we have voodoo dolls and exploding toads coming into the fray! The film’s whole scenario feels like it’s enmeshed in its own weird, private world featuring witchcraft, animal cruelty and some rather kinky S & M. I also can’t imagine health and safety of the cast and crew was high on Winner’s agenda when he shot this movie judging by some of the predicaments the characters find themselves in, including young Miles going over a quarry cliff face hanging onto a kite!
The Nightcomers is worth seeing just because it’s such an odd film, the likes of which we’ll probably never see again – and perhaps with good reason!
The Nightcomers has been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are, to their credit, releasing lots of these rarer British film titles. If you’re listening Network, please bring out Don Sharp’s Witchcraft (1964), Val Guest’s Jigsaw (1962), Michael Apted’s The Squeeze and David Kent-Watson’s G.B.H, to name but a few British films that should get a rerelease.
The extras on the disc were a theatrical and teaser trailer, and a gallery comprising of 48 images, including four posters, one sporting the alternative title of ‘The Corruptor’.