15 August, 2013


Nightmares Come at Night
 Cynthia and Anna in the hypnotic "Mirror Stage" matrix which defines their relationship and the film's plot.

The French psycho-analytic-theorist Jacques Lacan would probably appreciate the symbolic implications of this key image from Jess Franco's NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT in relation to his "Mirror Stage" theory of psychological development. And the film may be the director's most direct examination of psychological fantasy structures in the unconscious. A naive, almost child-like woman, who falls under the hypnotic spell of a manipulative adult, is used as a pawn in the final stage of  a crime. But this was, after all, an exploitation item designed for the adult film circuit which existed in Europe in the early 1970s, so we don't want to get too analytical, but Franco's obsession with mirror imagery goes all the way back to his earliest features (VAMPIRESAS 1930, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE) and the aberrant psyche of strange, seductive females is a recurring conceit in his massive filmography.

The women in the mirror are the submissive Anna (Diana Lorys) and the manipulative, sadistic Ice Queen Cynthia (Colette Giacobine), who in collaboration with Dr. Vicas (Paul Muller), involve Anna in a cover-up of an elaborate crime which they have committed. The cover-up involves the control of Anna's mind by Cynthia's hypnotic commands and drugs administered by Dr. Vicas, a conflicted psychiatrist who seems to sympathize with the hapless Anna. Cynthia seduces Anna, who will then be compelled to seduce and murder her and Vicas' partners in a jewel robbery, including Jack Taylor (SUCCUBUS), Soledad Miranda (VAMPYROS LESBOS) and Andre Montcall. Muller would play another conflicted father-figure who manipulates a similarly naive woman (Miranda) in Franco's subsequent film, EUGENIE DE SADE, also featuring Montcall. But NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT manages to come off as both conventional and Oneiric in a way only Jess Franco can manage.

The theme of mental domination by destructive forces of which the victim is not consciously aware, can be found in the director's  THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS (1962), MISS MUERTE aka THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, SUCCUBUS [NECRONOMICON], to name a few predecessors. The victims in the latter two are also erotic entertainers, and Franco uses the performer-voyeur matrix which is virtually the mainstay of his universe since his very first feature, TENEMOS 18 ANOS (1959). 

Anna (played with exquisite elan by Diana Lorys [the heroines of GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, RESEDENCIA PARA ESPIAS and a memorable player in THE BLOODY JUDGE]) performs her number in an ultra sleazy Zagreb strip joint which is constructed basically with a stage flat, a ragged couch, a plaster statue and a few chairs. She faces the camera, the audience, as she does her slowed down tease. One thinks immediately of David Lynch's The Slow Club. She's going slowly to get the audience to buy more drinks and not just get up and leave. One night she notices the alluring, but somehow sinister, Cynthia eyeing her from a corner table. So begins the plot which will not unravel until the film's very last image. One of Franco's best acted films, Lorys, Giacobine and Paul Muller could not be better, or better cast, in their complex roles. Franco uses mirror imagery to introduce each and to elaborate the plot and relationship arc. Captive birds flutter around the villa Cynthia like indicators of Anna's flights of fantasy. The sensuous, poetic narration of Josiane Gibert is highly evocative and pretty much guides the film to its conclusion.

This is a tragedy wrapped in a caper nestled within a sterling example of low budget late 1960s European erotica. The fact that the legendary Soledad Miranda is on hand as a criminal cohort who lounges around bare-assed in some inserts, which seem to have been shot around the time of EUGENIE DE SADE {note that Andres Monales [Montcall] also plays her lover in that film and is her partner here in the sleazy room with LIFE IS ALL SHIT emblazoned on the wall, has been the selling point of this title on past home video incarnations. Life is Shit may indeed be Jess Franco's message here and in much of his long, twisting filmography, there's even a song with that refrain heard in several of his later flms, written by his sometime collaborator, MANACOA FILES author and film historian Alain Petit.

As pointed out by Lucas Balbo in OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO this story was to be later remade as the inferior LOS OJOS SINIESTROS DEL DR. ORLOFF (1973). Yet another remake is  the rather extraordinary MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE (1981).

The thumping, eerie, sometimes rocking, sometimes abstract, jazzy, noirish Bruno Nicolai score is one of his best, and most experimental. The abrupt opening credits (credited to Nadia), made up of still images from the remainder of the film, is also highly effective.

Yet another must-have Blu-ray from REDEMPTION. Once again I must call attention to the excellent Tim Lucas commentary. I've heard many, many commentaries. They tend to be litanies of factoids and oft-told behind-the-scenes tales. Tim does something really refreshing, taking you by the hand and escorting you into the film, its style, tone and substance. He follows individual shots, appreciating Franco's oft-criticized zooms/pans/rack-focused explorations for what they are, a fearless filmmaker's personal hand writing on the spatial-temporal continuum which is a Jess Franco film. It's revealing and actually allowed me to upgrade and re examine the film from different perspectives. And yet another superb documentary from Daniel Gouyette, EUGENIE'S NIGHTMARE OF A SEX CHARADE, during which experts Alain Petit, Lucas Balbo and Jess Franco himself are allowed to expand on the context and import of this breakaway thriller. It also includes some fascinating info on Franco's lost experiment, SEX CHARADE. 

One of the most fascinating and appreciated features is a verbal-visual essay by producer Bret Wood detailing the cleaning up and reformatting of the disc after it was discovered that certain scenes were shot in different aspect ratios. It all looks very good on Blu-ray with focus and detail not seen on the previous DVD versions. Although the new detail sometimes reveal the inadequacies of the original lighting and camera work. But it's a terrific film and this is a very welcome Blu-ray upgrade. All this and more, much more. Kudos to REDEMPTION for putting Diana Lorys on the cover instead of Soledad Miranda. It's really HER film and she soars in it. Highly recommended!


1 comment:

K H Brown said...

Thought-provoking article. You might find it interesting to look at Gilles Deleuze's discussions of the actual, virtual and the mirror-image as a crystal-image circuit in Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Mirrors were also, of course, a key Welles trope.