Director: Jesús Franco
Screenplay: Jesús Franco and Josyane Gibert
Cast: Diana Lorys as Anna de Istria; Paul Muller as Dr. Paul Lucas; Colette Giacobine as Cynthia Robins; Jack Taylor as Cynthia's Lover; Andrea Montchal as the Neighbour; Soledad Miranda as the Neighbour's Girlfriend
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #150
Synopsis: Anna (Diana Lorys) was once an erotic dancer until she met Cynthia (Colette Giacobine), living together in a romantic relationship. Now however she blacks out repeatedly and swears she's killed people. Cynthia is now more callous to her and only a doctor Paul Lucas (Paul Muller) is remotely sympathetic to her plight. Is she going mad?
In the world of Jesus Franco, there is frequent repetition. The plot of his Liechtenstein production here would repeated over into Voodoo Passion (1977), a Swiss production which effectively re-imagines I Walked With a Zombie (1943) by way of softcore. The quality of individual films can be erratic for a director as prolific as him, particularly with his habit at this period of his career to make multiple films a year and even have multiple productions at once running. But Franco shouldn't be dismissed as lazy for reusing characters and plots. He was erratic in his output but not lazy, the jazz connoisseur clearly someone once you see many of his films prone to taking motifs and constantly playing them out over and over like a jazz musician plays notes in a certain order over and over, twisting and distorting them into new contexts. This is definitely a good context to appreciate Nightmares Come at Night as, one of his lesser known films, its entire value for a viewer is tapping into that hypnotic repeating rhythm its built around.
Genre seems arbitrary with this film in particular, as it itself feels like the extreme distillation of horror, crime and erotica to the point it's hard to argue what genre itself is specifically barring a Franco film. Not a cheap comment to make as Franco, for any questions raised of his artistic virtues, was an auteurist figure whose films you can never confused for any other. The plot for Nightmares Come at Night is thankfully a minimalistic one, helping Franco to an advantage as it's a small scale psychodrama featuring only three main characters and a handful of side cast. One where the exposition usually found in other examples of this Euro-genre cinema have been purposely removed. The result is built around the viewer's emotional reactions like the best of Franco's cinema, felt rather than with his lesser works trying to be more conventional and were tedious as a result. Here it's a semi-conscious daydream which is his trademark.
As much of this was due to the circumstances Franco found himself under. Eurociné, who produced this, made exceptionally low budget quickies and managed to find a director in Franco who built his idiosyncratic style from the extremely low budgets and short production times he usually worked with. Their style could easily led to a half remembered recording in a dream diary - especially with their trope of reoccurring actors, tendency to recycle plots and use of the same of locations to represent different sets - before Franco morphs the plot here into his own phantom time and pace. Its apt that our lead, the raven haired Diana Lorys, was once an erotic dancer whose act had to last an entire night's show, stripping in nanosecond narcoleptic pace, the film around her following suit in a deliberately slow, teased out structure of a very simplistic plot. Teasing, even if sex and nudity is rife throughout, playing with the viewer for a long period of time and only giving you your desired plot conclusion immediately at the end, abruptly, forcing you to experience the film within its own sense of plotting.
It's also worth asking how much of Franco's style is as much like the ingestion of classic Hollywood cinema distilled into these elliptical, haze ingested experiences. For a man who is as notorious for his camera panning in and out of the most intimate areas of his actresses' physical forms, he started in the late fifties and early sixties originally making comedies to musicals in Spain before his first horror films. It also doesn't take into consideration, as his attitudes to women as beautiful and powerful has been reappraised by critics and fans, how much all his actresses at least in the early seventies work feel like they've stepped out from cinema of the past. Colette Giacobine in particular is effectively a bisexual blonde femme fatale, whose eyes are used in appropriate and reoccurring fashion by Franco, as editing compacts time outside of chronology, as if she's a witch with supernatural control over Diana Lorys. This is not even invoking Soledad Miranda, in a minor role as part of a pair of neighbours eyeing up the Anna/Cynthia home, at least for a chance for Miranda to drift onto screen in her full beauty. Even if his sexuality could be outright lurid, and he eventually made pornographic movies, his work is a lot more sensual and arguably glamorous than what one finds in more explicit modern erotica, because even at his grottiest there's always the lusciousness of the clothes chosen, the appearances and manner his actresses act in, how he's an equal opportunist for male and female nudity. And especially for his music, as in Franco's world he still scores this material to a Bruno Nicolai work and tinges everything with a dreamlike tone. It's actually his more "respectable" films, when they tried too much to also be more accessible, which feel the most dated in their sexuality and tacky.
The real reason I'm drawn to this film and feel in love with it is this emphasis as a mood piece than a plot. There's no explanation to the cause of Anna's apparent loss of reality. Money? Revenge? Unknown, as is why Miranda and her beau is eyeing up the events from a nearby home with any particular interest. And yet that in itself doesn't detract from this state of dreamt reality but emphasises it, where one strings together a rational series of events but the exact details are merely perceived than understood. The haziness even excuses what could've become dubious in any other context, Lorys dressing in faux Indian dress with a bindi spot on her forehead, stripping a lot of immediate danger of having that for the style within a film which is utterly disconnected from reality. The entire film plays out in an isolated world where, even when taken out into the countryside, the world outside is completely separated, the events and aesthetic inside a decadence fed from the feverish nature with Anna's home of numerous mirrors and corridors. Suddenly falling in love with a man (Jack Taylor) who she just saw having sex with Cynthia is not irrational in this film but playing within an unnatural reality, where the film stops to let the two have a philosophical flirtation that bonds them together even if it's only happened over a few minutes and will end in tragedy.
Abstract Spectrum: Fantastique/Hypnagogic/Mindbender/Psychotronic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium
With Franco, his work feels like an obsession with pulling pulp cinema down into a state of threshold consciousness and sleep, which is not a pretentious statement to make when one sees the films he was making in this period like Vampyros Lesbos (1971). What might feel like a minor work compared to the heavyweights in Franco's career at this time doesn't diminish my love for Nightmares Come at Night. The title is perfect for explaining what to expect, so deceptively simple with its almost absurd obviousness in its English form, but tricks you with its oblique phrasing of how oblique and sensual it's obvious plot will actually go.