A delirious exercise in horror y sexo, this pitch black Film Noir is one of Jess Franco’s most visually arresting entries from his early 1980s Spanish period. NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES aka MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE is one of the series of films he made for producer Emilio Larraga’s GOLDEN FILMS INTERNACIONAL S.A., based in Barcelona. These productions were low budget films covering a variety of genres, including an outstanding follow up to GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961), EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF, softcore romps like LAS ORGIAS INCONFESABLES DE EMMANUELLE, erotic crime-thrillers, BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO, and Sade adaptations, GEMIDOS DE PLACER (all 1982). There were also Poe adaptations EN BUSCA DEL DRAGON DORADO and even martial arts adventures LA SOMBRA DEL JUDOKA CONTRA EL DOCTOR WONG (both 1983). From Clasificasa S softcores to Kung Fu to children’s adventures, what locks all these films together, good, bad, or not completed, was that they are all 100 percent undiluted Jess Franco in terms of style, tone, music and content. They were not just simple jobs for hire, hack work done to pay the bills with little evidence of the director’s signature. They were films he wanted to make and he made them the way he wanted.
MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE is one of the high points of this series. Rich in oneiric atmosphere, an erotic Film Noir suffused with exotic imagery, enhanced by an eerie, resonant soundscape, it resonates in the mind long after a viewing. The plot may seem familiar to those who have seen Franco’s 1970 erotic thriller NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT. Irina, an emotionally vulnerable psychic (Lina Romay) murders a group of guests at a luxury hotel* while under the mental control of a ruthless criminal. The villain of this piece is Fabian (Daniel Katz, very ably voiced by long running Franco actor-collaborator, Antonio Mayans), the gigolo manager of Irina who travels from hotel to hotel with her, performing mind reading acts in nightclubs.
The action of the film is set over several days in a coastal resort (it was filmed on Spain’s Costa Del Sol and in Las Palmas, Canary Islands) during which Irina is mentally programmed by Fabian to seduce and murder a number of the hotel’s guests, all of whom are owed money by Fabian for assisting him in a criminal operation. It sounds like a pulp fiction set-up but is transformed into a weird psychodrama by focusing on the dysfunctional emotional ties between the co-dependent Irina (one of Lina Romay’s most intense and unpredictable performances) and the manipulative Fabian, who has much to hide from her and the rest of the world.
Irina is also being treated by a psychiatrist, played in a reserved manner by Franco himself, who will play a pivotal role in the twisting narrative. The plot is sketchy and interrupted by regular stalk, seduce and kill interludes as Irina, commanded by the disembodied voice (which sounds a lot like Jess Franco) of Fabian to isolate, seduce and eliminate his former partners. She uses an elaborate, curved blade with arcane imagery sculpted into the handle. The details of the setting are carefully studied by the director’s slowly tracking camera while the slow zoom shots into bright pools of blood oranges, lush emeralds and canary yellows immerse the viewer in the exotica by heightening the normal hues into sensuous eruptions of pure color. This is a gorgeous film.
There’s very little dialogue, the plot is illustrated by disorienting camera set-ups, frequent Dutch angles, and third degree lighting of the tropical settings which creates a series of shimmering hallucinations, an approximation of the environment as experienced by the mentally compelled Irina. Franco’s 1967 masterpiece NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS is also referenced in the character of Irina and the story of the Prince killed by Satan’s daughter, which is repeated here by Fabian. The viewer is given extended visits into Irina’s hermetically sealed consciousness, which is repeatedly invaded by Fabian’s commands. Encounters with mirrors and Irina’s ability in teleportation give the overall sense of a sinister alternate dimension in which she is trapped. At times the film recalls Hitchcock’s psychoanalytic thriller SPELLBOUND (1946), in which the imagery of surrealist painter Salvador Dali was used to unravel a murder mystery. Dali would also be directly referenced in Franco’s 1980 EUGENIE, HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION.
I had a chance to talk about this film with Jess Franco when I interviewed him in 2004, during the making of one of his digital films.* He remembered it as one of what he called his “black films”, by which he meant Film Noir, a genre which he loved perhaps more than any other. Especially the ones made in the 1940s by Robert Siodmak (THE KILLERS, PHANTOM LADY). He was surprised when I praised the film’s dense, toxic atmosphere and told me it was a very rushed and micro-budgeted film, made with little money but in complete freedom from producer interference. He noted that he was influenced by John Farrow’s 1948 similarly titled THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, which featured Edward G. Robinson and Gail Russell in the lead roles. He also acknowledged the strong influence of the crime fiction of Cornell Woolrich, on which the 1948 film was based. Franco was quite surprised that I singled MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE out for praise, thanking me and mentioning that it was one of many projects completed during a time of constant filming in absolute freedom. Ironically, the film did not make much of an impact on the Clasificada S market when released in March 1984. Hardcore had been legalized in Spain by that time and that drew the "S" clientele away from that previously reliable market.
Credited to Pablo Villa, the musical choices add another layer of fascination to the film. Irina’s sensual interludes are sometimes scored with Daniel J. White’s lovely melancholy main theme from Franco’s 1973 FEMALE VAMPIRE, while the murder sequences are scored with the jungle-voodoo cues heard in DEVIL HUNTER and MACUMBA SEXUAL (1980). The feverish drumming and native chanting (again sounding voiced by a synthesized Jess Franco) are very effective here. Bird calls, industrial sounds, electronica and the sounds of the nearby sea are always in the background, an almost subliminal presence lulling the viewing into a vaguely menacing audio environment. As in NECRONOMICON and EXORCISM and many other Franco films it opens with a performance which is not what it seems to be, acts which slowly or suddenly reveal hidden agendas. Performance and the role of the audience/viewer is the key matrix in Jess Franco’s best and most personal films.
MONDO MACABRO has given this entrancing film a deliciously detailed 2.35:1, 1080p transfer from the 35mm negative with Dolby Digital PCD 24fps mono audio which really provides overwhelming soundscapes to this 94 minute fever dream. At times the film has an almost 3D quality with the vivid hues, heated up sets and layered soundscapes reaching out to pull the viewer into this unique, disturbing world. Special features include newly created optional English subtitles (this is the film’s English friendly, as well as HD debut), a 30 minute interview about the film with Jess Franco author Steven Thrower, a vintage Eurotika! documentary on the director and a Mondo Macabro preview reel.
An overpowering visual and audio experience, this dreamlike thriller is in the style of classic Hitchcock and David Lynch. One of Jess Franco’s most delirious and sought after films finally makes its world Blu-ray debut from Mondo Macabro. Highly recommended
Thanks to Kris J. Nygaard-Gavin for making it possible for me to interview Jess Franco.
- Thanks to Nzoog for additional information used in this review.
- *The Arabic style villa which is the main setting, with its fantastic indoor decoration and elaborate fountain, is actually Bil-Bil Castle in Benalmádena, Málaga. This exotic structure also looks a lot like the villa of character played by Boris Karloff in the 1967 Spanish horror film, CAULDRON OF BLOOD.
(C) 2016 Robert Monell