THE NIGHTCOMERS (1971) Reviews and overview

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‘Two children. Two adults. One unspeakable crime.’

The Nightcomers is a 1971 British horror film directed by Michael Winner (The Sentinel; Scream for Help) from a screenplay by Michael Hastings (Tales of Unease TV series). The plot is set up as a ‘prequel’ to the events that occur in The Turn of the Screw, the ghost story novella by Henry James previously adapted as the 1961 film The Innocents.

The movie stars Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham (The Ballad of Tam Lin; Dracula A.D. 1972; House of Mortal Sin), Thora Hird, Harry Andrews and Anna Palk.

Kino Lorber Studio Classics is releasing The Nightcomers on Blu-ray and DVD in the USA on May 7, 2019, with the following special features:

Audio commentary by director Michael Winner
Introduction by director Michael Winner
Theatrical teaser
Theatrical trailer


Recently orphaned, Flora and Miles are abandoned by their new guardian (Harry Andrews) and entrusted to the care of housekeeper Mrs Grose (Thora Hird), governess Miss Jessel (Stephanie Beacham), and Peter Quint (Marlon Brando), the former valet and now gardener.

With only these three adults for company, the children live an isolated life in the sprawling country manor estate. The children are particularly fascinated by Peter Quint due to his eclectic knowledge and engaging stories, and willingness to entertain them. With this captive audience, Quint doses out his strange philosophies on love and death.

Miss Jessel, also falls under Peter’s spell, and despite her repulsion the two embark on a sadomasochistic love affair. Flora and Miles become fascinated with this relationship, and help Quint and Jessel to escape the interference of disapproving Mrs. Grose. The children begin spying on Quint and Jessel’s violent trysts and mimic what they see, including the acts of bondage, culminating in Miles nearly pushing Flora off a building to her death…


” …Brando speaks in a syrupy Irish brogue that sounds like a baseball game heard from two rooms away and switches out actual acting for mugging and fussing with props. It’s to Brando’s advantage that the character doesn’t care about anyone or anything but however that tendency may suit the actor’s caprice, it doesn’t make for compelling drama […] Beacham (who was all of 23 when she made this) is pretty good in the role but looks seasick throughout.” Arbogast on Film

“The Nightcomers is pretty poor, really. Winner does a good job with the scenery (every shot looks gorgeous – all misty and wintery), but because it’s a prequel to the scary goings-on of The Turn of the Screw, it just sort of ends. Plus you get Brando doing a boring and unnecessary bit of improv to camera (as has been noted elsewhere, it’s like Winner didn’t dare tell him to shut up) which kills the whole thing stone dead.”
British Horror Films

” …its ultimate mediocrity results from a rather bland screenplay, which dabbles in sensationalism and doesn’t really become tense until the final act. Some might blame the direction of Michael Winner, who, despite his critics and a number of admitted failures, has turned out a number of entertaining films. There’s also too much dependency on the zoom lens, even though the film does have some very impressive camera shots, lighting schemes and handsome period locations…” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In

The Nightcomers is lax and sloppy, over-using zoom lenses and arbitrary in its camera angles. The big manor house looks like what it is, a rented property that can only be seen from a couple of angles; dull day and night exterior establishing shots are Winner’s only method for showing the passage of time […] poor Stephanie Beacham is manhandled and mauled in a way that would please dirty old men. Ashamed of his extra weight, Brando remains modestly covered.” Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant

“On its own terms, this is an interesting and disturbing film that plays much better if you can forget the pretense of its being a prequel. Frankly, there are enough deviations between this film and the original that merely changing the characters’ names and making a few tweaks in the script would have taken away the onus of this being a run up rather than its own story.” Tom Becker, DVD Verdict

” …the script wastes a lot of time retreading the same themes and covering the same ground (for example, the theme of hate and love being two sides of the same coin is constantly and annoyingly resurrected). I suspect that the story was devised to give Brando as much screen time as possible.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

The Nightcomers is ploddingly dreary and unatmospheric in tone – technically, it is not even a horror story at all. The responsibility for this can largely be placed at the hands of Michael Winner […] Instead of Henry James’s psychological subtleties, Michael Winner substitutes a lurid fascination.” Richard Scheib, Moria

” …were the talents of Mr. Winner and Mr. Hastings somewhat less lumpy, The Nightcomers might have been a rather interesting movie, if only for the performance of Marlon Brando, which is, in a phrase James used, “a succession of flights and drops.” There are times when this still extraordinary actor, as Quint, seems to be in another film entirely…” Vincent Candy, The New York Times, February 16, 1972


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“All right, there are times when Winner indulges Brando – who would argue with him? – as we didn’t need part of the running time taken up with a rambling shaggy dog story about a horse, and it’s not exactly sparkling entertainment, but it does have a queasiness you don’t often get with old dark house mysteries that works in its favour.” Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

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Michael Winner pictured on set with Brando, presumably shooting the finale of the film.

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Cast and characters:

Marlon Brando … Peter Quint
Stephanie Beacham … Miss Jessel
Thora Hird … Mrs Grose
Harry Andrews … Master of the House
Verna Harvey … Flora
Christopher Ellis … Miles
Anna Palk … New Governess

Filming locations:

Sawston Hall, a 16th century Tudor manor house in Sawston, Cambridgeshire, England


Well-known restaurant and food critic Michael Winner died on January 21st 2013. He had experienced a run of ill-health since eating a bad oyster on holiday in Barbados in 2007. He later picked up the E coli virus from a steak tartare, and was hospitalised eight times in the last few months of his life.

Other horror films directed by Winner were The Sentinel (1977) and Scream for Help (1984), although he obviously remains best known for the Death Wish series of vigilante films starring Charles Bronson.

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