13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Nightcomers (DVD)
The famous prequel to "The Innocents" is finally available on DVD, but sadly it could never come close to the subtle perfection of that classic. Still, it's still an interesting film. Starring Marlon Brando and Stephanie Beacham, it imagines a possible scenario that may have been played out between Quint and Miss Jessell (who are already dead at the start of the action in the original novel, "The Turn Of The Screw"), and the two children who interact with them. A new governess is left with the psychological mess they left behind in the minds of these children, and that is the role played by Deborah Kerr in the 1960 classic, but it forms just the tail end of the film we have here.
First of all, Marlon Brando does a good job as the gardener/handyman. He portrays just the right amount of latent brutality and sex appeal to convince you that a prim governess could fall under his spell. I'm no Brando expert, and it may be that he is just playing himself, but it works...my only quibble is his rather thickly laid-on Irish accent which sounds a bit too forced to totally convince. Stephanie Beacham also fares well as the governess, although her character is sketched in far less detail. The two children are played rather woodenly, but to be fair they (and the rest of the cast) are hampered by a pretty hideous script which thinks it is approximating the style of talking in England in Victorian times, with lots of "pray tell me" and "you scoundrel" type of dialogue, and nobody ever uses contractions, which sounds extremely affected. Another main problem with the movie is that it is... well, just a bit low on events. Winner goes a bit overboard on the symbolism with shots of dolls without eyes, small animals dead or dying, or childhood toys found covered in maggots (gasp!). It's almost like he's copied his ideas from "The Innocents", (recalling a great scene when a cockroach crawls out of the mouth of a cherub statue), but he doesn't really need to do this as there is no mystery about how and why the children are acting in the way that they do, whereas in "The Innocents" we are trying to ascertain what is true and what is imagined. Here, it's all quite obvious.
Obviously filmed on location in Britain in the early 1970's (I know it's a period setting, but that golden age of British horror movies - the time of the famous Hammer Horror style - is unmistakeable!), the film is certainly beautiful to look at. The action is set in lush forests and gardens, as well as the impressively period looking country mansion. Highlights are of course based around much corset ripping and a certain amount of sado-masochistic goings on between the two adults, all of which is spied upon by the two charges, ultimately corrupting them with a twisted view of the relationship between love and death, as much as an interest in kinky thrills. Interestingly, the two children seem an awful lot older in this film than they actually turned out to be in "The Innocents", but I suppose having them as pre-teens would have made too much of the material un-filmable.
There's no supernatural element at all (as the cast are all still alive in this movie!), so it's just a dark romp through sordid and sexy goings on at a country estate, culminating in two deaths, and two very messed-up children. And of course, because of "The Innocents", everybody knows that there can only be one ending, so there's no surprises there. It tries to be shocking (children copying the perversions of adults-gasp!) but it really plays that aspect pretty safe. But again, it does look lovely - there's no substitute for filming in location on a gorgeous British country estate. And the sight of Stephanie Beacham when the dead body of Miss Jessell is discovered is one of the more bizarre images in period horror cinema - you won't forget that shot!
Sadly, due to the coarseness in handling the overall idea, it is mostly a rather uninvolving story, but director Michael Winner goes into it all with gusto, so it's an interesting one none the less.
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Initial post: Sep 30, 2013 9:47:05 PM PDT
Thank you for an interesting review of a rather uninteresting movie. Whatever its merits or lack thereof, it's well to remember that "The Nightcomers" is not, nor does it make claim to be, a "prequel to 'The Innocents'" (1961). It may be termed a "prequel" to the Henry James' novella "The Turn of the Screw" (1898), but that's hardly the same thing especially considering that James work is truly "famous" and had already been adapted for the stage and screen prior to the "The Innocents" (which, itself, takes notable liberties with James' text).
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