1 Hr., 36 Mins.
he Nightcomers (1971), a cinematic prequel to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898), features a perdurably sweaty Marlon Brando barely attempting an Irish accent and wearing his hair like he’s Mickey Rourke’s dad, which are distracting items when your aim’s atmospheric terror à la Hammer.
If you remember correctly, The Turn of the Screw, whose story was lavishly dramatized, in 1961, by Jack Clayton, was a Gothic horror tale that revolved around a governess who took a gig at a large
country estate. Shortly after arriving, though, she'd found both that the manor was likely haunted and that the children she'd be taking care of were pretty deranged. In the movie, much phantasmagoric hullabaloo came about courtesy of a pair of deceased characters, whose spirits refused to simply disintegrate into the ether.
Those lost souls belonged to Peter Quint, the family valet, and Miss Jessel, the nanny preceding The Turn of the Screw’s heroine. They were, based on the recollections of stuffy highers-up who preferred not to reveal too much at once, lovers whose relationship was sadomasochistic and combative. Both died, mysteriously but violently, just before Jessel’s successor came around.
The Nightcomers, which stars Brando as Quint and Stephanie Beacham as Jessel, details just what happened between these characters (and how it had an effect on the children they were taking care of) before the events depicted in the far ghostlier The Turn of the Screw. And it, initially intriguing, proves itself wholly unnecessary.
Brando is terrible and grossly licentious in it, sure, but that isn’t the only reason why the film’s close to unwatchable. The screenwriter, Michael Hastings, doesn’t devise a cogent narrative — it’s all exploitative filth with overwrought sprinklings of the mannerisms of the haute monde. And the director, Michael Winner, can’t recreate the sumptuous histrionics of Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body (1963), whose stylistics he’s clearly trying to compete with. There are lots of diaphoric, vaguely rapey sex scenes lensed as though they were artful to boot.
Perhaps if The Nightcomers didn’t seem pressed to prove anything in the ways abstractedly trashy yet inspired horror chintz pieces of the era, like Vampyros Lesbos (1970) or Twins of Evil (1971), did, maybe we’d get somewhere. But you’re obviously subtextually looking to come across as prestigious when you have an A-lister from days past headlining the marquee. Or when you’re trying to build off one of the greatest horror features ever made. At least Brando had The Godfather (1972) waiting for him. D+