Nothing but the Night

Nothing but the Night, 1973. Dir. Peter Sasdy. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Well… here we are. I finally caught Covid. The vaccinations have taken the sting out of it, of course, but I’m still feeling exhausted and fed up. So anyway – what’s a guy to do, riven with the ‘Rona and blue as can be, except settle down in front of a Peter Cushing film? I may be enfeebled, and I may be feverish, but at least I can retire into the Lye-breh-reh, where I can be miserable in a cheap, silk smoking jacket with a tumbler of scotch, and lose myself in a creepy old film called ‘Nothing but the Night’. Which sounds organic if nothing else. Undiluted night. No additives. Just add headphones and play…

00:03 A Charlemagne Production. Which apparently was Christopher Lee’s company. (I’d have gone for Cape N’Vape Productions. Maybe Fangs 4 the Features)

00:17 A romantic, sea-themed overture. Swirling flutes, horns, violins. Waves crashing onto rocks. The only scary thing about it is that it’s a bit dark and you might slip.

00:22 ‘Nothing but the Night’, superimposed over water sloshing about in rock pools. Nothing but the Crabs, so far.

00:31 ‘Gwyneth Strong as Mary’. Why do they credit some actors with their character names and not others?

00:53 Now we’re inside a cave getting shots of the sea outside. So – is this a film about smuggling?

01:30 Favourite name – Peter Sasdy. It’s like you’re drunk and someone asks you what day it is and you say ‘Ahm no’shore mate… Sasdy, issit…?’

01:37 Opening scene : a Morris Minor parked up on a cliff with its lights on. The Morris Minor has got the lights on, not the cliff. Since when did you see a cliff with lights on? Really? Well this is NOT THAT FILM.

01:51 There’s a pensive woman in the car. I wonder if it’s Gwyneth Strong as Mary?

02:01 A gloved hand opens the door. Takes the handbrake off. The pensive woman carries on being pensive as the car rolls forward, plunges over the cliff and bursts into flames. Whether this is more a warning about pensivity or Morris Minors, I’m not sure.

02:35 Cut to: a man standing out on a balcony in London. He’s also pensive. You can tell by the way he has his hands either side of him. Close up on the sign outside the house: ‘Park Lane Clinic’. So maybe he’s just worried about how he’s going to pay the bill.

02:47 But… uh oh! It’s that gloved hand again. It creeps up behind him and pushes him off the balcony. When he lands on the pavement the camera goes red, so I’m guessing it’s not a happy landing.

03:03 Cut to: The painting of another pensive woman above a fireplace. The camera pulls back to reveal the subject of the painting sitting pensively in a fireside chair. (The artist got it just right). At least it doesn’t have a handbrake or a long drop, but I suppose there’s a risk of an ember jumping out and setting off her tweeds.

03:09 Oh dear. This time the gloved hand is a bit more direct and shoots her right in the pensive face.

03:12 Cut to: a coach on an outing from the orphanage. The kids are singing ‘ten green bottles’, swatting balloons about and generally carrying on in a stage-school display of brattishness that’s infinitely worse than being rolled off a cliff or shot in the face. The coach driver certainly thinks so. He grabs a Rothman’s out of his jacket pocket and says ‘Noisy Bastard Kids’ – which is what coach drivers used to say pretty routinely about most things back in the 70s. There are three other adults on the coach, but they don’t seem that bothered by the singing, so they’re either sedated or pensive or both.

04:23 Suddenly the coach driver goes up in flames and the coach crashes. Mind you, that’s preferable to even ONE more chorus of ten green bottles…

04:38 Cut to: the main bratty kid in a cot in a bratty kids hospital. She’s delirious, saying ‘Flames.. burning! like a torch…!’ Doctor Haynes is sitting nearby. ‘The coach didn’t catch fire!’ he says. ‘It must be her mind’s way of releasing the trauma of the crash…’ A nurse clutches her clipboard. She can only dream of such brilliant medical insights.

05:23 Doctor Haynes walks through a montage of hospital environments, all on different levels. It’s like the director paid to have access to a medical facility and wanted their money’s worth. Ten minutes in and we’re still only in the Fracture Clinic.

05:37 Eventually he goes through a door that says ‘Pathology Department: Sir Mark Ashley’.

05:41 Turns out, Peter Cushing is Sir Mark Ashley. He’s sitting fondling a test tube in an emphatically sciency way. Christopher Lee is also there, but at this point I’ve no idea who he is (other than Christopher Lee).

05:50 ‘This is Colonel Bingham’ says Sir Mark Ashley. ‘Peter Haynes… how d’you do?’ ‘How d’you do?’ etc. Now we’re all properly introduced we can crack on. Dr Haynes is worried about the girl. He thinks she needs psychotherapy (and maybe some acting lessons, possibly Ritalin). Sir Mark Ashley says that if the orphanage wants her back, there’s nothing they can do about it. But he does agree to go and see the girl (after he’s finished fussing about with his test tubes. I mean – he’s VERY sciency, this guy.) ‘Why are you so interested in the accidental death of a coach driver?’ he asks, standing by some excitable beakers.

07:12 Turns out, the Colonel is a semi-retired detective (technically his moustache is still active). The Colonel has a theory that the intention behind the flaming coach driver was to crash the bus and kill everyone on board, including three wealthy patrons from the Van Traylen Trust – the wealthy owners of the orphanage. ‘During the last nine months, three trustees have died,’ says the Colonel. (I know – we saw the whole thing). The Colonel shows Sir Mark some photos (before shots, thankfully). He worked with one of them during the war. In military intelligence (an oxymoron, but whatever). ‘Those deaths are connected, Mark – I’m sure of it’ he says. Acting honours in this scene go to the moustache.

09:00 Cut to: The hospital foyer. Diana Dors marches up to the porter’s desk and demands to see her kid, Gwyneth Strong as Mary.
‘No kid with that name ‘ere, madam,’ smiles the porter. ‘Are you sure you’ve come to the right place?’
‘If you think I’m leaving ‘ere without seeing my kid, mate – you’re mistaken!’
She raps the counter and marches off.
‘Ere! Just a minute! Stop her…!’

09:30 Meanwhile, Sir Mark has followed the Colonel out to the car park. I’m surprised he’s not jiggling some test tubes at the same time, being a full-on, sciency geezer, as you know.
‘Find out what you can’ says the Colonel. ‘Please…’ , accompanying it with a smile so wide and fake his moustache slides to the left. Sir Mark is won over, though. He watches the car drive off, then thrusts his hands into his lab coat pockets (which are deep and could hold a LOT of tubes).

09:45 Sir Mark walks back into the hospital just as Diana Dors is being chucked out by the porters.
‘Get off ah’t of it!’ she shouts. ‘Take your hands off me…’ And then hits the porter with her handbag with a sound effect like chucking a sandbag out of a window onto a furniture truck.

09:55 At the same time, Dr Haynes is back walking through the busy hospital. He meets the porters coming back in, who say that all the fuss was about Mrs Harb… ‘Mrs HARB?’ …. ‘That’s right, sir… Mrs HARB…’ (It’s the kind of surname you can’t help shouting). And so it goes on. Sir Mark looks on, bemused. Life outside a petri dish is really quite chaotic…

10:09 ‘But she’s the girl’s mother!’ shouts Dr Haynes, ‘… she had her name changed’. Which is significant, for some reason. He runs outside to catch Mrs HARB.

10:34 Close up: Mrs HARB in a phone box.
‘It’s about a missing kid,’ she says.
‘Putting you through,’ says the voice on the other end.
‘Newsdesk’ says another voice.
‘I wanna report a stolen child’ says Mrs HARB, her tone softening for some reason. But then she’s right back on it again. ‘She’s my kid and I want her back,’ she says, like it’s the fault of the woman who just answered. This is why I never want a job working with the public.

10:37 Close up : a mynah bird in a cage. I’m not absolutely sure it’s a mynah bird. A minor character, anyway (pause for painfully loud laughter and calls for the author to be given an immediate and significant wage increase). A journalist who’s as sharp-looking as the mynah bird, except in a hat, loiters by the cage. Eventually she turns to speak to Mrs HARB, who has changed into a blouse with more scallops and frills than the Great Barrier Reef, sitting in a cane chair, stroking a cat – in that order. (Diana Dors strikes me as the kind of actress who might need things laying out in order).
‘It was your paper what put me on to her’ says Mrs HARB. ‘Poor little Mary! You’ve gotta help me get her back.’ (The character notes for Mrs HARB are the same as the notes for her makeup – i.e. thick & glossy).
‘I can’t promise we’ll print the story,’ says the journalist, Joan Foster, who for some reason is dressed like a bullfighter.
‘What’s so special about Mary?’ says Joan. (exactly! see 00:31)
Mrs HARB spins round with a noise like someone throwing a dart.
‘You tight little hustler!’ she snaps.
‘I know about you!’ says Joan. ‘Ten years Broadmoor. Triple killing. That’s why they took your Mary away.’
Mrs HARB looks off into the distance. That comment landed.
(NOTE: I don’t think it could’ve been a mynah bird; if it was, it couldn’t possibly have resisted saying something at that point…)

11:55 Back in the path lab, Sir Mark is on the phone to Lord Fawnlee or Brownknee or Haw Haw or someone, a big player in the Van Traylen Trust, anyway. Dr Haynes sits on the desk like an executive toy. Lord Fawnlee says that despite Dr Haynes’ request to keep Gwyneth Strong as Mary in the hospital, they want her back in their own facility. All the formalities will be dealt with.’ He hangs up. Sir Mark looks concerned – so much so, the skin above his nose rucks up and his ears move in an inch.
He crashes out of the office and starts messing about with test tubes again – his go-to displacement activity. Dr Haynes follows him, and they have an incomprehensible argument that winds up with Sir Mark saying : ‘Peter – there are some journeys we have to make alone…’ – which I suppose is Sir Mark’s way of of saying ‘now f*** off and leave me to my sweet tubes of pure science.’ But Dr Haines doesn’t. ‘Come and witness the hypnosis session,’ he says.. erm… hypnotically. ‘Once you see it, you’ll be committed, too.’ Sir Mark squeezes a teat pipette and gives Dr Haines a tender look. ‘Hmm,’ he says.

14:36 Cut back to : Lord Fawnlee in an oak panelled waistcoat. ‘The minister always had a soft spot for the Van Traylen Trust,’ he says, signing some important documents then leaning back like his job is just to sign things and that’s it, lunch. I don’t know much about the Van Traylen Trust, other than they sponsor orphanages and have a poor life expectancy. But one thing I DO know is I don’t Trust them very much.

15:06 Sir Mark and the Colonel are talking about the post-mortem on the coach driver.
‘Anything particular?’ says the Colonel.
‘Working class’ says Sir Mark. (Not really).
‘Burns’ says Sir Mark. ‘On the face. Left hand side. Quite inexplicable.’
(I dunno. Depends which side he smoked his Rothmans).
The Colonel puts his glasses back on, along with his moustache.
‘The coach didn’t catch fire,’ says Sir Mark.
‘Shame the coach driver didn’t live long enough to talk,’ says the Colonel.
(I know what he’d have said, though: ‘Noisy Bastard Kids’)
Sir Mark thinks Gwyneth Strong as Mary knows something and it’ll all come out at the hypnosis, so book early. The Colonel smiles and slaps him on the back, thereby transferring the moustache and all moustache related duties to him.

16:14 Back in the boardroom, an argument is raging from end to end of a VERY long and expensive table lined with a million things to sign. Lord Formsworth wants Gwyneth Strong as Mary back in the orphanage; Joan wants her to go back to Mrs HARB, even though she recognises that Mrs HARB is brassy and common and quite possibly a psychopath.
‘You’re denying a flesh & blood relationship,’ she says.
‘Gwyneth Strong as Mary is such a sweet child,’ says the Lord, creepily.
‘This woman is a common prostitute and murderer!’ says the other guy in the room, someone I’ve resisted talking about till now because honestly it’s like drawing attention to a suit on a hanger. But he’s got more lines now – other than on the phone saying ‘Yes’ and ‘Thankyou’ – so I suppose I’d better drag him in. If he turns out to be the hand in the murdering glove I’ll have to go back and edit him in. God dammit.
(NOTE: Yes – he DOES turn out to be significant – so let his name be known… as… Dr Yeats).
‘To twist a cliche,’ says Dr Yeats, ‘Would you let Mrs HARB be a mother to your daughter?’
Huh? What cliche? What does he mean? I wish I’d never let him into this script!
Joan is as annoyed as I am and stands up to go.
‘I didn’t invent motherhood, Dr Yeats,’ says Joan.
Dr Fawnlee isn’t impressed. He won’t allow Gwyneth Strong as Mary to be disturbed.
His face is impressively squashy. I bet when Joan leaves, he’ll have to ask Dr Yeats to thumb it all back into place above the collar.

18:09 Back at the hospital. A psychedelic, twirling mobile above the cot where Gwyneth Strong as Mary is lying sparko. The hypno session is about to begin!
‘Mary…?’ whispers Dr Haynes. ‘Mary…I want you to tell me about the fire…’
‘No!’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary. ‘No! I don’t want to talk about it! Please!’
But she’s staring at the psycho mobile, and begins describing what happened. How the wind changed. It started in the hut. (Hut??) Cross the knocking pen. (What??) And steers stampeded. (Sorry – what?) The door was locked. She could smell burning. There’s a safe on the wall. A scatter gun? (What the hell, Gwyneth Strong as Mary?) She reads the inscription. The Lindsfield Corporation, Detroit. (Come again?) No-one helps. Then Dr Haynes snaps his fingers and she comes out of the trance. She smiles at Sir Mark, who is standing at the foot of the cot like an accountant who came into the wrong room and really only wanted the toilet. He attempts a smile back.
‘I want to go to Inver House’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary – which makes about as much sense as the rest of her account. What are they treating her with – LSD?
A nurse comes in with a note: there’s someone to see Dr Haynes. She makes a huge deal going back out through the curtains and drawing them behind her. That was probably the best of a dozen takes. Dr Haynes goes out in one – but then, he doesn’t close them behind him, which is more efficient, but a bit of a cheat.
‘Inver House is in Scotland, on the island of Balla, hundreds of miles away,’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary, helpfully.

20:50 Joan is talking to Dr Haynes.
‘Is it your policy to refuse to let a mother see her child?’ she says, from beneath a hat like a dustbin lid.
Dr Haynes says he wants to see Mrs HARB. Joan says she’ll arrange a meeting that afternoon – then waddles off. (Having a hat like a dustbin lid emphasises the waddling nicely, I have to say).

21:50 Joan is waiting outside Uxbridge tube station. She’s lost the hat (it’s not tube friendly). Dr Haynes walks up and shakes her hand.
‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ he says.
‘No. You’re ten minutes early!’ says Joan.
It’s going to be a long meeting.

They go into the market to have some tea.

They walk through a colonnaded market.
A flute plays.
(Does the director know this is happening? It’s like the actual filming has stopped and the actors are killing time).

They wander up to a tea counter.

There’s a guy in front of them. He has a walrus moustache and walrus expression.

‘Tea please, love,’ he says. He seems sad. Maybe he wanted his own film, a film fit for such a face. All he got was this walk-on part. Still – he’s doing a marvellous job. He takes his tea and sadly goes, leaving the way clear for Dr Haynes and Joan to have two teas, no sugar.

Cut to: Dr Haynes and Joan standing in front of an illuminated sign. The part that says Frozen Food points straight at Dr Haynes. Subliminal messaging there.

‘Have you got any ideas about heredity? Or genetics?’ says Joan, maybe seeing if he’s potential father material. She sips her deliciously warming and obviously fictitious tea.
Dr Haynes thinks she’s only interested in sensationalist stories, so they finish their tea and leave, walking moodily back through the market. Not quite so flutey now, I notice.
Joan just wants to interview Gwyneth Strong as Mary and get the story; Dr Haynes is worried about the clinical aspects.
‘Yeeeeeess Doctor’ says Joan, sassily. Must be all that fake tannin, firing her up.

24:46 Cut to: Mrs HARB lighting a fag with a long taper – a sensible safety precaution, given the lacquer she has in her hair.
‘She was taken away from you when she was seven years old’ says Joan.
‘I was on the game, wasn’t I?’ says Mrs HARB, strutting around, jiggling her hips to illustrate. She’s wearing a ruffled blouse, black waistcoat, mini skirt and strappy sandals. I’m surprised she hasn’t got a piece of paper with her hourly rate pinned on her back.
‘The orphanage has taken very good care of her,’ says Joan.
‘Oh yeah? Is that why she’s sick in the head?’ says Mrs HARB.
Dr Haynes says he’ll try to set up a meeting with Gwyneth Strong as Mary.
‘If this is some kind of trick,’ says Mrs HARB, ‘…I’ll kill you.’
(I mean – say what you like about Mrs HARB, but you always know where you stand with her. And how much you owe.)

27:04 Later, Dr Haynes is showing Joan into his flat. You know what’s coming because there’s cool jazz playing.
‘Aren’t you afraid I’ll dirty up your antiseptic world,’ says Joan, coquettishly shrugging off her handbag while Dr Haynes hides the files on his desk. He knows what journalists are like.
‘Coffee?’ he says. ‘Biscuits?’
(I’m not sure but I think ‘Biscuits’ is seventies code for ‘Do you want sex?’).
He slouches (coquettishly) on the counter. Describes how Gwyneth Strong as Mary has a morbid fascination with fire. Then wanders over to Joan for biscuits.

29:26 Back in the Pathology Department, Sir Mark and the Colonel are off to see Gwyneth Strong as Mary. The Colonel is wearing a different moustache for some reason – thicker, darker, more lustrous. Sir Mark wants a sample but the Colonel isn’t having it.

29:40 Mrs HARB is in the corridor, wrestling with Gwyneth Strong as Mary – which isn’t a good look for either of them. Sir Mark and the Colonel break them up.
‘I’ll make you pay for what you’ve done to her!’ snarls Mrs HARB, before teetering off on heels, pushing past any extra who gets in her way. Storms outside and gets in a car that was already knackered in 1973, the decal of a snarling cat on the back.

31:20 Joan tells Sir Mark and the Colonel that Dr Haynes is still on the ward where he’d been introducing Mrs HARB to Gwyneth Strong as Mary. They hurry in there – and find him dead, a starry hatpin sticking out of his forehead.

31:54 The very next scene, Sir Mark and the Colonel are wandering into a fancy office, quite relaxed, talking about the Home Secretary, for some reason, and poor Dr Haynes’ death. It’s amazing how quickly they’ve gotten over the killing, but they’re healthcare professionals, I suppose. The Colonel is convinced Mrs HARB was implicated in all the other deaths.
‘They’ve taken Gwyneth Strong as Mary back to the orphanage…?’
‘She ought to be as safe there as anywhere,’ says the Colonel, brushing the velcro of his moustache back into life.

32:37 Cut to: an old car with a snarling cat decal on the back, smoking up the M1. Actually – it’s got a snarling cat decal on the bonnet, tool – probably in reverse, so you can tell what it is in the mirror. On the seat next to Mrs HARB is a newspaper with the headling: Gwyneth Strong as Mary: Is She Safe?

That’s a No, then.

33:02 Moody shots of the Isle of Balla, with the swirling, sea-themed orchestra we had at the beginning. (The isle is named after the rocks just off the coast – the Ballacks). A Rolls Royce pulls up outside Inver House, against a jaunty oboe rendition of ‘ten green bottles’ – which gives me worse flashbacks than Gwyneth Strong as Mary. As it pulls up, approximately one thousand children run out to meet it, stage-school ad-libbing like the noisy bastard kids they are.

33:38 Joan is breaking into Dr Haynes’ flat. Louche jazz is playing again, but there’s no time for biscuits (and anyway – Dr Haynes is in a morgue with a hatpin in his forehead, so probably not in the mood). No – what Joan wants is the files he hid from her that night. She lights a fag and plays the tape – Gwyneth Strong as Mary talking about ‘Vincent’ (who?) and how ‘it was my fault he died’. (what?)

I don’t even smoke and I need a fag.

36:00 Sir Mark and the Colonel get a print out from some kind of extraneous but nonetheless useful police official of the clues so far. Presumably straight from the scriptwriter’s office.
‘Accident? Or murder?’
‘Suppose the last surviving trustee inherits all the money?’
‘All the deaths are too blatant.’
‘Then there must be someone else…?’
‘I’ll arrange for an exhumation order immediately’

The investigation is proceeding at pace. Quite where, no-one knows. Probably the Ballacks.

36:32 Back to Craggy Island. Mrs HARB coming over on the ferry. Luckily the police are there to meet it. They’re probably looking for any car with a scary cat decal front and back. Mrs HARB leaves on foot. The ferryman goes up to her empty car and says to the policeman: ‘What about this?’
‘You must be joking. It’s a Rover 2000 we’re looking for, stolen from Glasgow’
‘What’ll I do with this, then? It hasn’t been claimed.’
‘Put it ashore and I’ll check…’
(Not worried the owner might have fallen overboard? Are they really that lax? Welcome to the ballacks… )

38:36 Gwyneth Strong as Mary is sitting in a chair at Inver House, reading. A teacher walks in with some biscuits. (And how sorry I am I set THAT particular idea up).
‘You can have your milk and biscuits and get a good night’s sleep!’ says the teacher.
One thing I notice about Gwyneth Strong as Mary, now she’s out of the hospital – her arms are really long. The kind of arms that wouldn’t look out of place on a giant spider crab. Good for pelicans or coconuts. Or eminent scientists.

39:50 Gwyneth Strong as Mary goes a bit vacant. She says the hot milk reminds her of the hospital. She becomes agitated, talking about her mum visiting – how she didn’t understand what she was saying – how she might have followed her to the island.
‘You’re quite safe here’ says the teacher.

Tell that to Hat Pin Haynes.

The teacher throws a rug over her and leaves.

42:17 But then Gwyneth Strong as Mary opens her eyes, sees the fire in the fireplace and gets flashbacks. Oops.

42:26 Mrs HARB is running around in the dark trying to make her way to Inver House.
The teacher is walking with another teacher in the grounds.
‘It’s her birthday tomorrow. We must make it a memorable one.’
It’s pretty memorable already. Gruesome hatpin murder. Psycho mum on the island. But whatever. A cake might be nice.

42:47 The Colonel is back in London giving Sir Mark some papers and instructions and a packed lunch to take up to the island. A police officer comes in and hands him a note: Mrs HARB’s car has been found on the ferry!
‘Then – she’s on the island!’ says Sir Mark.
‘Exactly!’ says the Colonel – military intelligence’s finest. He grabs his hat (more polite than grabbing somebody else’s, I suppose). They fly North. On BEA. Which stands for British Everywhere Airplanes, or something.

‘The Chief Constable is in charge. They won’t let her get near the orphanage,’ says the Colonel.
Sir Mark inspects his orange juice. He’s sure it’s concentrate.

44:08 Back on the island, Mrs HARB is hiding in some gorse, studying a map. Her hair is a mess – which is to say, one strand is swinging free.

45:00 A constable tells the Colonel and Sir Mark it’ll take a couple of hours to get to the island and the press conference that’s being held by the Chief. (NOTE: this constable is played by Michael Gambon in an early role. I KNEW it was worth seeing this film!)

45:20 A construction site. One of the workers finds that the lock has been forced on the shed that keeps the explosives. ‘Bloody vandals!’ he says. They’ve taken explosives and detonators. Kids, eh?

46:12 The Chief is giving his press conference. (NOTE: This is Fulton Mackay! I bloody KNEW it was worth watching this film…). Joan stands up and asks if Gwyneth Strong as Mary is safe. Apparently she’s guarded by 12 of the island’s police officers, so yes, she’s safe. ‘Which leaves 7 men and a dog to search the island,’ says Joan – which gets a big laugh. When Sir Mark and the Colonel stride in, everything goes to hell.

‘This press conference is now ended!’ shouts the Colonel, his moustache barking.

49:00 Meanwhile, Mrs HARB is clambering over some rocks, hiding under a bridge, the usual fugitive memes. She’s carrying a bag – presumably full of explosives, although the way she’s slamming it about I wouldn’t rate her chances of making it through the day in one piece…although her hair would be fine, netted down from the top of a pine tree like a nest.

49:55 More jaunty Ten Green Bottle music as we see two policemen outside the gates of the orphanage looking in. The kids are playing ball, quite literally. They’re dressed like they’re in some kind of space cult: black polo shirts and trousers with strange disc patterns round the neck. It explains a great deal.

50:15 All the press are getting back on the ferry. That’s it. They’ve got their scoop. It’s back to the office for tea and biscuits. Joan is more reluctant, though. There’s more to all this, she thinks.

53:14 They all ride the ferry to some other bit of the island (not sure why they didn’t just drive?) On the ferry Joan tries to tell Sir Mark that she’d had biscuits with Dr Haynes and was responsible for his death (not the biscuits – the fact she arranged the meeting with Mrs HARB). He’s not that interested, and gets called away by the Colonel, who’s pointing out the Van Traylen personal launch going by. They’re all admiring how lovely it is and how nice for the children when it blows up.

54:12 Back ashore at the police station, Michael Gambon takes the call. ‘Ah ha’ he says. ‘Yes. I see.’ Then hangs up. ‘There were five trustees on the boat, but no children,’ he says. He has a theory. It might have something to do with the dynamite and detonators stolen from the local quarry. Sir Mark will help with the victims.
‘So long as I have this, I can manage,’ he says, swinging his lunch box.

The Colonel stands impassively by the window. His moustache looks like a padded coat hanger.

55:30 Cut to: Mrs HARB walking through more gorse. Of course. She’s making progress (I think).

55:40 Back at Inver House, the teacher rings the police to report a missing child. ‘A little boy’.
MIchael Gambon takes the details – in the same voice he used to take the details of the exploded boat. ‘Yep…Seven years old… yep… Sidney Moleson…tall for his age… fair haired… yep…. wears a dental brace…’

56:49 Hundreds of police are drafted in to search for the boy and for Mrs HARB. There’s even a helicopter (I wouldn’t be surprised to see a scary cat logo on it). Dogs that seem to bark at everyone, which isn’t helpful. A guy in a beanie hat swinging a stick back and forth even though he’s walking across open ground. I mean – talk about thorough.

57:33 Meanwhile, Mrs HARB is sprawled under some gorse, eating chocolate. She hears the helicopter and rolls to the side. Hardcore HARB!

57:50 Sir Mark is cutting up bits of gristle in the temporary mortuary. Not sure why. I’m not a pathologist, but I’m pretty sure whoever was on the boat died of being blown to bits. Wouldn’t he be better off helping with the search? But I don’t know. He’s the sciency one.

58:34 All the kids are still outside Inver House playing, skipping, improvising in that bratty stage school way. The headteacher refuses to have any police inside the house. It’ll upset the children she says. Fulton Mackay is furious, but his hands are tied. He seems a bit lost. It’s never normally this busy on Balla.

1:01:16 Dr Keats tries to fool Gwyneth Strong as Mary into thinking the police are only there to find out who killed some sheep on the other side of the island. They were worried it might be the orphanage dog. Gwyneth Strong as Mary doesn’t think it is. But she’s suspicious. Why would they send so many policemen to interview one dog? (Although the fact they’re sending ANYONE to interview a dog doesn’t strike her as odd).

1:02:08 Mrs HARB is getting closer (I think – it’s hard to say – gorse is tricky and doesn’t give much away).

1:02:42 Sir Mark is still busy putting fiddly, icky bits of shit into jars. He has an assistant with him, who struggles putting his JACKET on – but to be fair, he’s probably just exhausted from all the ick.
‘Well. At least death was instantaneous’ says Sir Mark (probably how he got the knighthood). He’s in his element, cramming shit into test tubes. Shredded trainer, that kind of thing.
Joan comes in.
They chat whilst Sir Mark de-bones some gristle.
He talks about the adequate security arrangements at the orphanage. It’s surrounded by gorse, if not policemen. What can happen?
Joan says she’ll go back to the hotel and fetch the tape so Sir Mark can have a listen.

1:05:04 Mrs HARB seems to be on gorse. Sorry, course.

1:05:45 Two clownish locals acting as part of the search team find the body of the missing boy, a star pattern carved in his forehead – the same star pattern as the hatpin that killed Dr Haynes. Quite what this means, I don’t know. I’m like Fulton Mackay, pacing around, ringing my hands. I’m still worried about the unclaimed car on the ferry, let alone all this.

1:06:07 Sir Mark and the Colonel are at Inver House telling the headteacher and others about the boy’s death. The patterns of stab wounds.
‘He was such a nice little boy. Friendly…’ says the headteacher, focusing on the wrong things.
‘It points to one thing – ritual murder,’ says Sir Mark.
It doesn’t help.

1:06:17 Cut to: someone peeling an apple. It’s Mrs HARB. She eats it off the blade of the knife, savouring it exactly like you’d imagine a fruit-loving psycho would. But hold on – turns out she’s in the grounds of Inver House, and all the kids are coming outside. They seem pretty happy-go-lucky, in a brattish, stage school kinda way. Maybe Mrs HARB is planning a ritual peeling.

1:07:03 Dr Yeats offers to show the Colonel the school grounds. ‘I’d like that very much,’ says the Colonel – not at all disturbed that there’s been a ritual killing, boat explosion etc. That’s military intelligence for you, I suppose. The bigger picture.

1:07:13 The kids are being shown round the garden, all of them improvising at once in a brattish, stage school kinda way. Dr Yeats still won’t allow police into the grounds because he doesn’t want to alarm the kids into making any further improvisations.
‘You’re patrolling outside the gates,’ he says. ‘And the other side is the sea. Come – I’ll show you.’
He leads the Colonel to the cliff edge.
‘Do the children have no idea?’ says the Colonel.
‘None!’ says Dr Yeats. ‘And tonight is a special treat: Gwyneth Strong as Mary’s bonfire night.’
With a guy to burn as well.
Which sounds like a threat, but whatever.

1:08:17 Joan is listening to the tape of Gwyneth Strong as Mary in a trance. Talking about what happened to Vincent (he died). Joan has a theory. She thinks Gwyneth Strong as Mary is channelling what happened to Mrs Van Traylen’s husband, Vincent – murdered, or something. That’s why Mrs Van Traylen always wore long gloves. Vincent was American. That’s why Gwyneth Strong as Mary was using American words like ‘steers’, ‘scatter gun’ and ‘kerosene’.
‘Could Mrs HARB be using her occult powers to destroy the trustees through the child?’
This is quite a theory. It’s probably why Joan works in journalism. And wears statement hats.

1:11:46 The Colonel is having dinner with Fulton Mackay. They’re discussing the island’s security arrangements, which is basically just flooding the place with police (except the orphanage, which won’t allow it). Meanwhile, Mrs HARB is squeezing through a broken gate into the school grounds. So not exactly ‘flooding’ the place, then?

1:13:47 Sir Mark and Joan have gone to the mortuary. Sir Mark wants to see all the cerebral tissue of the bodies that were collected that morning. ‘It’s urgent’ he says.
The mortician hands him a slide – which doesn’t seem big enough to really cover ‘all the cerebral tissue’ – but mind you, it was a big explosion.
Sir Mark looks at it under a microscope. He’s in his element. The next best thing would be to strip naked and force himself into a giant test tube. Then have someone shake it.

1:14:20 Mrs HARB is commando-prostitute crawling with her bag of explosives across the school lawn. Then trots like someone desperate for the loo up the steps. Goes into the school through a window. A light goes on – she spins round, confronted – but by who? Whom? Who? Whatever.

1:15:50 The Colonel drives towards the school just as the fireworks are being set off for Gwyneth Strong as Mary’s party.

1:16:07 Sir Mark has examined all the brain tissue on the slide. Took about a minute.
‘There’s no doubt about it,’ he says. ’The trustees aboard that boat were dead before the explosion’.
The mortician lets another bomb drop. The medical officer at Inver House used to be someone Sir Mark worked with – Laura Tyrrell. Her speciality was biochemistry. Dr Yeats is a brain surgeon. Between them they’re cooking up some special kinda trouble.

1:17:47 The Colonel is increasingly freaked out by the fireworks – especially bearing in mind there’s a psycho on the loose with a bag of explosives. He runs towards the bonfire, the kids dancing round it dressed up as navy captains, teachers and so on, singing oranges and lemons in a brattish, stage school way. They get ready to cut the rope holding the guy in place – whose mask slips to reveal Mrs HARB!

‘I order you not to cut that rope!’ yells the Colonel.

The kids – especially Gwyneth Strong as Mary – laugh, and cut the rope. Mrs HARB crashes face down into the flames. Then the kids tie up the Colonel. For an island swamped with police, there’s precious little intervention at this point.

1:19:01 Sir Mark and Joan have gone round to see Fulton Mackay to persuade him to take some action. Fulton Mackay thinks it’s all ‘hocus pocus’.
Sir Mark explains his theory. The trustees are old and wealthy. They have tried to achieve immortality by experimenting with transference into the children. Or something. Joan plays the tape, to help him understand. Although – I’m not convinced it will.

1:20:06 The Colonel is trying to talk to the kids from where he’s tied up on the ground.
‘You burned your own mother alive!’ he says.
‘Yes,’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary. ‘She came here to plead her innocence. She knew too much.’
Stage school kids, eh?

1:20:46 ‘A total lifetime’s experience has been transferred to those children!’ says Sir Mark. Fulton Mackay is still struggling with this. And to be fair, if I hadn’t seen ‘Get Out!’, I would, too.

1:21:13 ‘You…are… Helen Van Traylen…!’ says the Colonel.
‘He knows! He knows!’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary as Helen Van Traylen.
The trustees aka children gather round. One of them seems to have smoke coming out of his head – which is either incredible acting , or because he’s standing in front of the bonfire.

The Colonel is tied up by the neck now, his arms out to the side, his moustache unstroked.
‘We can play a game. Tug of war,’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary.
They’re just about to pull him into the fire – but not before Gwyneth Strong as Mary handily confesses to all the killings she’d done, tying things up more quickly and comprehensively than the Colonel.

Sir Mark hovers overhead in a helicopter – which doesn’t help the fire, I’m afraid. It spreads out to catch hold of Gwyneth Strong as Mary’s dress.
She turns and curses their cruel god – then runs away and falls over the cliff.
Then all the other kids – realising the film’s up – line up on the cliff and throw themselves over, too (with surprisingly little fuss, given they’re from a stage school).

1:25:20 Sir Mark lands the helicopter and runs in with Joan, as the Colonel kneels on the ground and desperately struggles to reposition his moustache.

1:25:34 Close up on the ashes of the fire. Then a long shot of the waves, coastline etc. Cast list. Helpline numbers. And that’s it!

The End.

So what’ve I learned?

  1. If you MUST transfer your knowledge and experience into a kid to achieve everlasting life, don’t pick one that’s been to stage school.
  2. Coach driving is dangerous enough without smoking Rothmans.
  3. If you have one car left over on a car ferry, you’ve either got a passenger overboard or a psycho in the gorse.
  4. If someone offers you tea and biscuits, digestives are okay but say no to jammy dodgers.
  5. Try not to mix helicopters and bonfires. Especially near a cliff.

The City of the Dead

The City of the Dead, 1960. Dir. John Llewellyn Moxey. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

I didn’t know whether to go Sci-Fi or Horror today. In the end I opted for Horror, as it seemed to vibe more with the political situation in the UK at the moment, especially after Boris passed the vote of no confidence, by infernal magic or some such. If ever a place needed reconsecrating after devilish possession it’s the Houses of Parliament. But enough! No more politics! Let’s relax instead and see what fiendish treats lie in store as we press play on… ‘The City of the Dead’.

0:12 The opening soundtrack sounds like it’s played by the Orchestra of the Dead. Skeletons on timpani, devils on strings. A chorus of raggy arse crows singing cod Latin. The notes on the score probably read ‘Have a go at harmony but don’t worry if you don’t make it’. Lots of kettle drums, crazy piccolos over the top – classic ‘Death March Vibe’.

0:21 The background graphic to the opening credits is some geezer in a cloak. Cloaks ARE basically scary, though, especially if you have to go through a revolving door. It’s the same with dressing gowns (plus there’s the gape risk).

0:51 Great sideways shot of Death (for behold, it is HE), holding his bony hand out to the left, a voice off saying ‘Don’t worry, we can totally get that taken in for you…’ (kidding – ALTHOUGH YOU SHOULD NEVER KID ABOUT DEATH)

0:52 Favourite name: Continuity is handled by Splinters Deason.

1:05 Another sideways shot of Death (for it is HE) pointing at something with a bony finger. Maybe HE is at a deli. Maybe HE would like a half pound of honey glazed ham. On the bone.

1:11 Apparently ‘Jazz’ is by Ken Jones. Jazz? In the City of the Dead? (The City of the Wish You Were…)

1:28 Opening shot: a lit brazier (checks spelling). Lotsa mist and a raggy arse tree to go with the crows. A murmuration of villagers gathering for something ‘orrible, I guess.

1:50 Close up of the leader: a stern looking Puritan (was there ever any other type?). ‘Bring out Elizabeth Selwyn’ he says, sternly (so I was right about that). I’m guessing it’s not to reward her for services to the community.

2:05 There’s a lot of angry ‘Bring out the witch!’ etc from the crowd, but when it dies away one voice misses the cue and says ‘Bring her out…’ really quite tenderly, which is nice.

2:10 They bring her out. Close up on Elizabeth. Her hair’s all witchy but her make-up is perfect. The crowd is amazed (how does she get such perfect sculpting in basically a mud hut?), but then an old woman says ‘Witch! and they all get antsy and riled up again.

2:35 ‘Burn the Witch!’ says another woman. Original. There’s a crack of thunder. You see the pile of wood they’ve got ready. Oof. I think Elizabeth says ‘Shit no!’ but actually she’s saying ‘Jethro!’ the name of another constipated looking Puritan. The first Puritan confronts him. ‘Hast thou consorted with the witch?’ – which is awkward. ‘No’ he says, unconvincingly. But it’s good enough. ‘Burn the witch!’ says the Puritan. There’s a theme emerging.

3:30 It’s a struggle getting Elizabeth up on the faggots, but eventually she’s chained and ready. The crowd shouts unconvincingly. Close-up on Jethro who says ‘Help her, Lucifer..’

3:53 The first Puritan (I wish I knew his name – not that I think we could be friends – just because it would save a bit of time) – he recites the legal bit (which just goes to show you can’t trust the law). ‘We the people of Whitewood, Massachusetts … ‘ (and the only reason I typed THAT was to see if I could spell Massachusetts correctly… and I DID….first time!…. burn him, the witch!’’)

4:32 The flames leap around Elizabeth. Another close-up on Jethro. ‘Help her, Oh Lucifer!’ The actor playing Jethro must be classically trained, because he relishes every word, working his bottom jaw enthusiastically from side to side in a juicy way, curling his lip up at the corner for added effect. A bit like a camel eating a date. He must’ve gone to RADA.

4:49 More thunder, and a big cloud rolls overhead. The villagers go quiet – probably thinking maybe they should’ve thrown a barbecue for the witch not throw her ON one. Elizabeth makes a speech, basically saying it’s a fair cop.

5:17 Jethro has his head tipped back in ecstasy, which means I can see some nice fillings in his molars. I bet he’s wearing a wrist watch, as well.

5:24 ‘Make this city an example of thy vengeance!’ says Elizabeth. So I’m guessing Whitewood ends up being Washington or something.

6:03 The villagers are all chorusing ‘Burn the Witch!’ but Elizabeth is just laughing. Not what you want at a public burning. That and rain.

6:09 She carries on laughing – a real smoker’s laugh.

6:10 Cut to: a close-up on Christopher Lee, who is Alan Driscoll, history professor. He’s wearing a suit so immaculate it looks like it’s made of sheet metal. ‘Burn Witch! Burn Witch!’ he says. But then the camera pulls back – he’s giving a tutorial to some students in his office. He looks great in that suit, I must say. And I don’t even particularly LIKE suits. Even his nose looks pressed.

6:44 In fact, he gets quite carried away describing the flames and the agonies etc, which no doubt explains why his tutorials are well attended. Nan Barlow, a gorgeous woman in the front row, strokes her chin thoughtfully (which is better than stroking someone else’s chin thoughtfully, I suppose). Why are public executions such a turn on? On the wall behind Prof Driscoll are the kind of ceremonial masks that if you woke up bound to a stake and saw them dancing round you, you wouldn’t think it was a good thing.

6:51 ‘Dig that crazy beat!’ says a hepcat sitting next Nan (what – you mean like the bread?). Alan glares at him. ‘That will be all for today,’ he says, sulkily. ‘I’ll bring some illustrations…’ says Alan. ‘I’ll bring some matches,’ says the hepcat, getting a big laugh. Alan’s glare increases ten percent (to one hundred and ten per cent).

7:09 ‘Maitland!’ snaps Alan. I wonder if he’ll zap him with magic, but he just expresses his disappointment in Bill’s behaviour. (Maybe a demon’ll get him later. I hope so. I like the name Maitland but I hate his cardigan).

7:38 Alan asks Nan to stay behind. He’s impressed with her papers or something. Nan says she wants to go to New England, stay in an old house and get some first hand experience of the whole Burn the Witch vibe. It sounds hot. Alan likes the sound of that – although he wonders what her brother Dick will think, being a Professor of Science and everything, and not especially into witches, or New England.

8:53 Cut to Dick, coming in to pick Nan up for lunch. Turns out Bill’s getting serious about Nan (a serious bread habit).

9:38 Alan gives Nan directions to Whitewood and a recommendation to a Mrs Newliss (which I think you’ll find is an anagram of Burn the Witch!) Her place is called Ravens Inn. Five Stars on Witch Advisor.

9:45 Dick comes into the office with the best line in the film so far: ‘What’s Whitewood?’ Say it four times, quickly. Congratulations. You’re a duck.

10:18 Nan has an argument with Dick (no easy way to type that). But that’s it – she’s going to Whitewood and that’s that.

10:57 Dick has an argument with Alan about whether magic is real or not. Alan seems to grow about three feet. ‘Dick – you’re just being difficult’ says Nan. ‘Did you ever meet a witch?’ says Dick. Alan looks shifty. Then he gets a book out and we get a whole lot of backstory about Elizabeth Selwyn coming back to life after the burning and a whole lot of murders taking place in New England. Case closed. Dick’s not convinced. ‘Send me a picture postcard of a witch!’ says Dick. ‘If possible – autographed!’ Alan gives him a smouldering look.

12:55 Cut to: Nan and Bill in a hepcat bar with jazz playing and everything, daddy-o. Bill doesn’t want her to go to New England but after two minutes with Bill I’d say New England wasn’t far enough.

13:42 Close up on Dick’s eye through a magnifying glass (no easy way to type that). Dick is talking to Bill about the whole Nan Going to New England thing. Dick seems to have relaxed a bit about it; Bill’s still slurring his words at the end like a wise guy working angles at the docks (typical science student). Nan comes in swinging a suitcase so easily it’s obviously empty (or she’s super strong). ‘All packed!’ she says. What with – air? Her hairstyle is amazing, though – like an early form of cycle helmet. She and Bill have a moment. She kisses his nose, then they go into a full-on clinch. It’s like watching someone smash two throw cushions together to beat out the dust.

14:47 Close up of Nan driving – jazz on the radio – jazz flute even. Diabolical. She pulls up at a gas station. It’s either very misty or she’s blown a gasket. She asks the old station attendant for directions to Whitewood. ‘Not many god fearing folk visit Whitewood these days,’ he says, encouragingly. But gives her directions anyway, then stares mournfully after her as she goes. All that and she didn’t even buy a paper…

16:08 Further up the road there’s a creepy man standing under the signpost to Whitewood. So of course Nan pulls over to chat. He is smartly dressed, with a deep voice and squashy kinda face. Maybe an accountant? But one that died a hundred years ago. So of course she agrees to give him a lift there.

16:52 ‘What is your mission in Whitewood?’ says the ghoul – sorry – hitchhiker. His name is Jethro. I thought I recognised that camel. Turns out he’s staying at the Ravens Inn, too, which is nice (in a diabolical kinda way).

17:28 Ravens Inn. Handy for the cemetery. Free parking. Bring your own crucifix.

18:04 Nan likes the look of the place. She seems oblivious. Jethro doesn’t say much, but what he does say seems to come from someplace miles underground. That’s RADA for you. Nan turns round to grab her suitcase; when she turns back, Jethro has gone. She doesn’t seem that fussed. Maybe it’s the hairdo gives her such confidence.

19:43 Interior, Ravens Inn. The kinda place you’d book for a hen party – if you were a zombie hen. Spooky clock. Spooky fireplace. Spooky candlesticks. Nice. There’s a plaque on the wall above reception: On this site was burned for witchcraft Elizabeth Selwyn. Or maybe that’s the WiFi code.

20:02 A woman touches Nan’s shoulder. The woman can’t talk, looks distressed. Nan is so sweet to her, just talks normally. ‘That will be all, Lottie!’ says a stern woman from the staircase. This is Mrs Newliss. The last time we saw Mrs Newliss she was being chained to a post surrounded by villagers shouting Burn the Witch! So she’s done well for herself. Mrs Newliss says the hotel’s full, but Nan mentions Alan, so Mrs N. says fine and shows her to the room. ‘The previous occupants have always been most agreeable,’ says Mrs N, turning down the sheets. Honestly? It looks like a cave with a four poster bed in the middle. Nan seems happy with it, though. Nan would be happy with a swamp. Anywhere that Bill wasn’t, basically.

21:55 Nan unpacks – a chiffon scarf and a photo of Bill. She puts the photo under her pillow – but then trips over a rug and finds a trapdoor. She puts the rug straight back. It’s just a trapdoor. In a room at the Ravens Inn. In a misty town no one goes to anymore. Shrug.

22:26 Meanwhile, Jethro and Mrs N are shoulder to shoulder staring nostalgically into the fire. ‘The festivities?’ says Jethro, chewing the words like so much straw. ‘I am prepared’ says Mrs N.

23:22 Nan goes for a stroll around town. In the dark. And the fog. But she walks as easy & breezy as if she’s in Central Park. Gotta love Nan. (You have to think they blew half the budget on a fog machine. Or is this really what it’s like in New England?)

24:10 Nan goes into the ruined church – or tries to. The Reverend Russell blocks her way with a crucifix, and says he’ll defend the church whilst he still has breath in his body. So I’m guessing the souvenir shop’s probably closed. ‘And whooooo are yooooo?’ hoots the Reverend. ‘I am Nan Barlow,’ says Nan. (what – you mean like the bread?). The Reverend says an awful lot for a reclusive vicar – including how the Devil has ruled Whitewood for 300 years yadda yadda. Through it all I’m just wondering where he gets his groceries? Maybe they deliver. Just extortionate prices. And never any garlic.

25:36 Finally the Reverend backs away into the darkness saying ‘Leave! Leave Whitewood before it is too late…!’ I’m worried that he’s walking backwards and might fall over with an embarrassing crash – but no. He’s done this so many times he’s pretty good at it.

26:11 Various villagers stand around in the mist staring at her. Any other person would be checking out of the Ravens Inn right away, but I think Nan is wondering if they’ll let her extend her stay to three weeks instead of two. Gotta love Nan!

26:26 She goes into an antique bookstore. There’s a young woman in a white shirt at the counter. This is Patricia. She gives Nan a summary of who she is and what she’s doing there (although she might actually be accidentally reading her character notes). Turns out Patricia is the granddaughter of the crazy Reverend. Nan says she was very scared, but she doesn’t look at all scared, so I’m wondering about the casting director at this point.

27:58 Nan asks if Pat has anything on witches. Pat says they’ve got a whole section (I bet) and goes off to get some books. Nan looks at a painting – Elizabeth Selwyn getting toasted like a marshmallow. Basically the set designer’s storyboard from the opening scenes. Pat hands Nan a big book – My First Book of Witches or something – then asks her about the lovely locket she’s wearing around her wrist. ‘It’s quite old’ says Nan, vaguely. ‘You’re very lucky,’ says Pat, who’s probably read a book about lockets.

29:04 Nan is in her room reading the witch book and taking notes. Suddenly she hears odd singing coming from somewhere. Under the floor? A folk club? She remembers the trapdoor under the rug. Don’t do it, Nan!

30:18 Nan goes to fetch Mrs N to ask about the subterranean folk club and the trapdoor. But by the time Mrs N comes in the music has stopped. She says there’s nothing under the trapdoor but earth. Nan looks vaguely confused, but only vaguely. She’s probably wondering if she could stay a couple of months…?

31:08 Cut to: couples doing a smoochy dance in the foyer of the Ravens Inn (they weren’t there a second ago, so…). The music is jazz, of course. The Devil’s choice. Lottie the mute maid hurries through. She’s bringing fresh towels for Nan – but then tries to write a warning. Mrs N. stops her, though. Nan reads from a parchment she found in the witch book, basically explaining what’s going to happen to her in the second half of the film when the clock strikes thirteen. Mrs N. stares down at her approvingly.

34:31 The music picks up tempo. Nan glances outside, decides to join the dancing. She takes off her dressing gown – revealing a corset, stockings and suspenders. Typical grad student research wear. She puts on a blouse and skirt – but when she finally makes it out to the lobby the music has stopped and everyone’s gone. There’s a big calendar thing on the wall above reception: Feb 1 – Candlemas Eve, the ceremony she’d read about in the parchment. C’mon, Nan – wake up!

35:59 When Nan goes back to her room she opens her sock drawer and finds a dead starling with a pin through it. That’s odd. Normally it’s a sprig of lavender. She goes to find Mrs Newliss to complain, but Mrs N has disappeared, too. The grandfather clock strikes the quarter hour. The folk club under the floorboards starts up again. None of this was in the Ravens Inn promo.

36:59 The window blind unexpectedly scrolls up. Nan notices that the pull on it is actually a trapdoor key. She’s thinking about that when she sees a bunch of monks walking through the mist, singing what sounds like ‘Nannnn’ – but might be cod Latin. She opens the trapdoor, goes down some creepy steps. Gets grabbed by the monks, which is never a nice experience. Dragged into the main chamber where Mrs N, Jethro and their chums are standing round a big flat table looking expectantly in her direction. The clock starts to chime – counting down to thirteen. Mrs N produces a big knife. Even now Nan must be thinking she’d actually quite like to move here, maybe start another bookshop. ‘Thirteen!’ The knife comes down…

39:42 … into a birthday cake! A party back at the university. Which at first glance looks worse than the party in the catacombs. Dick is busy tucking into the cake when Sue (shrug) asks him if he has any idea what happened to Nan. Bill comes to the door. He’s worried about Nan. He hasn’t had a letter in two weeks. ‘She’s probably working on her paper’ says Dick. He seems pretty calm – but maybe he’s going into a food coma after all that cake.

41:50 Dick tries to put a call through to the Ravens Inn. ‘There’s no such place!’ he says to Bill. Then he calls the police.

42:20 Pat the bookseller has gone to the Ravens Inn to get her book back. Mrs Newliss says Nan left in a hurry. On the way out, Lottie manages to slip Nan’s locket into Pat’s hand.

42:58 Outside the Inn, Pat runs into a sheriff out looking for Nan (what – you mean like the bread?) Pat tells the sheriff that she hasn’t seen Nan in two weeks (what – you mean like the bread…). She shows the sheriff the book on witches. He laughs. ‘College kids!’ Then he says ‘Come on, Charlie!’ and at first I think it must be a dog, but no – Charlie is another Sheriff. They both go into the Inn. In the Inn. Into it. Erm…

43:56 Pat looks at the locket. Looks at the book. Reads a note in the book. Puts two and two together… and does nothing.

44:36 The police ring Dick and Bill. They say Nan checked out two weeks ago. Those two could totally work for the MET. ‘I don’t get it,’ says Dick. He gives Bill some old books to read, and says he’s going to pay a visit to a colleague.

44:55 Prof Driscoll is manhandling a dove in a cage. He’s wearing a ceremonial cloak, so it doesn’t look great for the dove. ‘Oh Lord – accept this sacrifice’ he says, then shivs the dove. The sound of a doorbell. Maybe it was a clockwork dove? No – it WAS a doorbell. Prof Driscoll washes his hands in water that gushes from the mouth of a hideous gargoyle, which is nice. Then lets Dick in. (I don’t care, I’m not changing that).

46:50 Dick and the Prof have a drink and talk about the whole Nan Gone thing. Turns out Prof Driscoll was born in Whitewood. He says he’s sure she’s fine, but Dick says he’s going to retrace every step she took. (I don’t really want to see that gas station again, though. Or the church. Or the Inn. I feel like bailing at this point, but Dick is made of sterner stuff).

47:50 Meanwhile, Bill is flicking through a book on witches and sees a drawing of someone getting stabbed in the head. So HE starts to worry about Nan.

48:18 The doorbell rings again. (I’m afraid it really is looking bad for that dove). It’s Pat – she wants to see Prof Driscoll. Dick leaves; Prof Driscoll shows Pat into the drawing room. ‘Drink…?’
They swap stories about Whitewood. Pat says she has something she wants to return to Nan’s family. The professor gives her Dick’s address. Pat goes there, hands over the locket to Dick and Bill. Bill is frowning so much his forehead almost covers his eyes. Life’s normally pretty difficult for Bill, but this…? Meanwhile, Dick absently plays with a letter knife. Pat also gives them a note she found in the witch book – notepaper from Prof Driscoll. They all start to join the dots. Candlemas Eve – Bill read about it in one of Nan’s books. He shows them the picture of the woman getting stabbed in the head.

52:19 Close up of Pat driving back to Whitewood. Misty again. Jethro emerges from the gloom and forces her to stop. Jethro says he recognises her as the Reverend’s granddaughter. She says she hasn’t seen him before; Jethro says it’s a special privilege. (Definitely has that RADA strut, this guy). When they pull up in Whitewood, she looks to her side and he’s gone. She hurries into the bookshop – maybe to get How To book on ghosts.

53:40 Cut to: Jethro and Mrs N staring into the fire again. These two are flame buddies, old time. They talk about how pretty Pat is. ‘Tomorrow? The witches’ sabbath…’

54:36 Bill and Dick get into separate cars and drive off, watched by Prof Driscoll at the window. The music sounds like something from a detective movie – vibraphone, double bass. It’s like the editor got bored and spliced in some other scenes. I like it though.

54:47 Close up on Dick driving, jaunty jazz music. The car rocks about like he’s driving over melons or waterbeds or something. The stage crew must’ve been getting bored, too. It’s misty, of course. He pulls up at the gas station (damn!) The attendant says he saw Nan (what – you mean like the bread?) but never again. He told the police. Dick drives on. The attendant watches him go – probably annoyed that so many people stop to ask him directions and no-one buys any gas.

55:43 Jesus Christ! Now BILL pulls up at the gas station! Asks the attendant directions. Bill thanks him and drives on. I’m sure the attendant says something under his breath. Goes back inside his cabin. Takes his overalls off – to reveal a corset, stockings and suspenders….

56:18 Driving on through the mist, Bill swerves to avoid a witch being burned at the stake. Crashes into a tree. The car catches fire but he manages to climb out. Falls unconscious in a shrub (which isn’t a sentence I thought I’d be typing today)

56:52 Meanwhile, Dick pulls up in Whitewood. Goes into the Raven Inn. Lottie is tidying up; Mrs Newliss is writing in a ledger. Dick insists on being put in the same room as his sister. He quizzes Mrs N about the disappearance, but apart from flinching when he says ‘witchcraft’ she doesn’t give much away.

59:20 Dick goes to see the Reverend. This time the Rev comes out onto the porch (maybe he thought Dick was Deliveroo). But then after looking annoyed, the Rev goes back in. Dick walks across the misty square. The townspeople stop to stare at him. He’s a man of science but this shit is creeping him out. He goes to see Pat at the bookshop.

1:01:01 Dick sits down with the My Little Book of Witches Nan borrowed.

1:01:40 Meanwhile, Lottie is in Dick’s room trying to write a note. Mrs Newliss & Jethro sense that something’s going on. They creep into the room. Jethro strangles Lottie. Poor Lottie. She didn’t get any lines, couldn’t even write any. I hope the on set catering was good, because otherwise…

1:02:23 Dick slams the witch book shut. He’s so angry he chews his fingers (which is better than chewing someone else’s fingers…). The blind Reverend makes an entrance. Marches over to a chair and starts a very long monologue about the ‘evil that besets this village…. a pact with the devil… worship him and do his works…yadda yadda yadda’. Dick stares at him, dazed. It’s like an acting masterclass. The best HE could manage was eat cake naturalistically (but maybe he really was hungry when they shot that scene). Dick hurries back to the Ravens Inn – but not before you get a frisson of something between Pat and him, which just goes to show – there’s never a circumstance so evil and misty and devilish you mightn’t meet that special someone.

1:05:34 Pat goes to fetch a spoon from the drawer but finds a dead bird with an arrow through it instead. ‘Look on the front door!’ says the Reverend. A sprig of woodbine! ‘Shut the door! Shut the door!’ says the Reverend. But then changes his mind. ‘We must leave here immediately…’
Pat runs out to start the car. It WON’T start! The Reverend stands on the porch. ‘Phone Barlow!’ he says. Pat grabs the phone to ring the Ravens Inn (I thought it wasn’t listed…?). Mrs Newliss answers. Hand to phone to Dick. Just as he starts talking to Pat she screams: ‘Please help me!’
He runs out. Mrs Newliss laughs her gorgeous smoky laugh.

1:07:08 Dick runs back round to the bookshop. There’s no-one there – until he opens a cupboard and the Reverend falls out. ‘The witches! The witches! The witches – have – Patricia!’ he gasps. Dick puts him in a chair. ‘Destroy them!’ says the Reverend. Dick asks him how. ‘The shadow of the cross! I adjure thee … yadda yadda .. ‘ then he dies. Dick doesn’t waste any time on CPR. It’s no kind of life for the Reverend in Whitewood, staying in for deliveries, no congregation etc. Dick runs back outside. Gets grabbed by Bill, who immediately collapses again. Dick carries him to his car – Dick’s car, not Bill’s – Bill’s car crashed into a tree and burst into flames. There’s a big thunderstorm coming. Dick has found a revolver somewhere. (Mind you, it’s America. They probably sell assault rifles in the bookstore).

1:08:10 He sees a line of monks going across the graveyard. In the mist, of course, but at least they can hold on to each other’s tassels. They disappear into a mausoleum and Dick can’t follow. He sees a gravestone with Prof Driscoll’s name on it – ‘burned as a witch’. Does some frantic, Parkour running back to the Ravens Inn to make a phone call. But the phone’s dead! He hears singing from down below. Finds the trapdoor. Goes down. Explores with his torch a bit. A door mysteriously slides up. He goes through. Finds a necklace that belonged to Nan. Gets freaked out by a rubber spider (same). Feels for a light switch – finds dead Lottie instead! Gasp! Bursts through into the singing chamber – shouts ‘Pat!’ when he sees her struggling on the slab. Prof Driscoll emerges from the shadows. Dick shoots him – no good. Throws the revolver at them (which is actually a little better, for some reason), grabs Pat and together they run up some other steps, out into the graveyard, where a load of other monks are waiting with pointy fingernails to grab them. ‘Dick!’ shouts Pat.

1:13:17 Mrs Newliss gets ready with the blade, ready to dice Pat on the thirteenth toll of the graveyard clock (every graveyard has a clock – didn’t you know?). Dick wrestles with the monks, but monks are stronger than Dick (I know how that sounds, but what can I do?)

1:13:33 Meanwhile, Bill has come round, staggered out of the car and is heading for the graveyard. What HE can do at this late hour is anyone’s guess, but he’s a science student, so…

1:14:10 ‘Maitland! Get the shadow of a cross!’ shouts Dick. Bill tries to pull one up, but Mrs N chucks the dagger into his back. Pat screams. The bell starts tolling (every graveyard has a bell, didn’t you know?). Bill slides down the cross and dies. I suppose now Mrs N must go and retrieve the knife, so that might soak up some time, especially as she threw it pretty hard. She might have a spare, though, being three hundred years old and used to this sort of thing.

1:14:39 But no. Bill is still alive. His arm comes up. (Car crash? Knife in the spine? Nothing’ll keep Bill down). Whilst Bill struggles to haul up the cross, Prof Driscoll hands Mrs N a penknife. Not as dramatic, but it’ll do. ‘Wait for the hour of thirteen..!’ says the Prof.

1:15:13 Bill holds up the cross – which seems to act as a kind of flamethrower. He staggers forwards, burning up the monks one by one. (I’m slightly worried about the health & safety aspects of this shoot, lots of burning monks flailing around everywhere. I’m guessing the mist was probably fire extinguishers at this point, though).

1:16:27 Bill dies. ‘I’ve got a score to settle with Mrs Newliss’ says Dick, dumping Bill and running off.

1:16:40 Pat and Bill run into the Ravens Inn. There’s a cloaked figure behind reception. Bill goes over to have a closer look….

1:16:56 Pat screams – a big one – fists either side of her face. Even Bill gasps. Because Mrs Newliss is dead – burned up, just like she was three hundred years ago.

Fade to cod Latin chanting, closing credits scrolling up beneath the big pointy finger of Death.

And that’s it!

The End.

So what’ve I learned?

  1. New England’s beautiful but avoid Candlemas Eve.
  2. If you’re gonna ask directions at a remote gas station, at least buy a Diet Coke or some Gummy Bears. I mean – jeez…
  3. RADA is expensive. Get the same effect by filling your mouth with plums and closing your eyes halfway.
  4. If you really think someone’s a witch with devilish powers, don’t provoke ‘em. Better to give them a job in hospitality.
  5. Christopher Lee was amazing in this but Peter Cushing would have been better. They could’ve talked through their options in the LYE-BREH-REH.