CAPSULE: NIGHTDREAMS (1981)

DIRECTED BY: F.X. Pope

FEATURING: Dorothy LeMay, Jennifer West, Andy Nichols

PLOT: Two scientists observe a woman’s erotic dreams.

Still from Nightdreams (1981)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As the first, and very nearly the only, movie to mix hardcore XXX action with dream logic, Nightdreams is a unique beast. As a curiosity piece it’s something to add to your bucket list, but once the novelty of surrealist porn wears off, Nightdreams is not really a great movie—and it’s worse erotica.

COMMENTS: There’s a reason plotted porn movies never took off. Narrative and intense titillation work against each other; each one is a distraction from the other. Even today, directors like who toy with adding explicit sex to their movies make sure that actual acts of penetration and gynecological detail last only for a few seconds, to keep their stories from drifting into a fap-fest. Surrealism and porn don’t really go well together, either; the weird feeling inspired when a cigarette-smoking fish head pops up in bed next to a lovely lady throws cold water on those sexytime cravings. Written by a young “Hustler” copy writer named Jerry Stahl and that magazine’s “Creative Director” (the two would continue their partnership on the XXX cult film Cafe Flesh and the softcore midnight movie Dr. Caligari), Nightdreams was made by smart people slumming in the gutter, anxious to do something erotically different a) to get themselves noticed and b) to keep from getting bored in the repetitive and formulaic world of porno. Of course, porn is repetitive and formulaic for a reason—its function is to expand viewers’ pants, not their intellectual horizons—so, while Nightdreams got some favorable notice in the scuzz press as some sort of prestige sleaze piece, it didn’t exactly found a subgenre of arthouse smut.

Nightdreams stars Dorothy LeMay as the woman whose sexual imagination is so outlandish it’s the subject of a research project by a pair of scientists in lab coats. Strawberry blond LeMay has a real-world, girl-next-door sexiness that’s refreshing compared to the plasticized glamor of today’s porn starlets, but, based on her line readings, an actress she is not. That’s okay, because she appears to enjoy the weird sex (so maybe she is a great actress, after all). Her fantasies involve sex with a Jack-in-the-box (accompanied by creepy anti-erotic laughter), a campfire threesome with two lithe cowgirls (while Wall of Voodoo sings a cool New Wave rendition of “Ring of Fire”), servicing a couple of hookah-smoking sheiks, meeting a man with a fetus in his pants, a pseudo-rape scene over a toilet, and rutting with the Devil in Hell, followed by a romantic coupling with an angelic stud in Paradise. The movie’s most memorable sequence, no doubt, is when Dorothy fellates a living rendition of a Cream of Wheat box while serenaded by a jazz version of “Old Man River.” Her head bobs back and forth to the music, and a piece of toast shows up to accompany the couple on sax. It’s an unusual sight, to say the least. Like most of Nightdreams‘ scenes, it’s too weird to be erotic, but too insistently porn-y to work as an art installation.

The Cream of Wheat scene is a trademark infringement that the Nabisco company would never condone, and I seriously doubt Johnny Cash would license the rights to “Ring of Fire” for a lesbian threesome scene, either. I suspect Nightdreams got away with these infringements because, in 1981, porn was still relatively taboo, and none of the copyright holders would admit to having seen the film.

The IMDB credits “F.X. Pope”  as Nightdreams‘ director, and lists this as an alias for TV and music video director Francis Delia (who has no other porn connections). However, IMDB also lists “F.X. Pope” as one of Sayadian’s pseudonyms—I had always assumed Sayadian was the director because of the style, and also because he indisputably directed the sequel Nightdreams 2.

Others who worked on Nightdreams include Fast Steppin’ Freddie, Zoot Suit and Pez D. Spencer.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…definitely the most unusual and unique porn flick I’ve ever seen… a series of weird, funny, sexy, surreal and twisted dreams.”–Goregirl, Goregirl’s Dungeon (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Andrew.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

7 thoughts on “CAPSULE: NIGHTDREAMS (1981)”

  1. I remember watching this for the first time thinking it was sci-fi, really enjoying the snappy electronic score, and being surprised to discover that it’s a dirty movie!

    As for the people who collaborated on the film, I think the most interesting fact, and the one which endears this movie to me all the more, is that it was written (OK, co-written) by Jerry Stahl, the scriptwriter from the old TV family series, Alf, author of the excellent I, Fatty about Fatty Arbuckle, and the subject of the movie, PERMANENT MIDNIGHT (1998).

    1. Stahl’s memoir of the same name (“Permanent Midnight”) is one of the best books about heroin addiction I’ve ever read. Stahl describes shooting up in the bathroom on the set of “Alf” and accidentally spraying blood all over the mirror. He only mentions Rinse Dream in passing, though, and hardly talks about any of his work in pornography.

  2. I misspoke above when I said I was expecting this to be a sci-fi. I was thinking of Cafe Flesh (1982).

    I always transpose these two films in my mind for some reason, as they’re both bizarre, yet a cut above the usual pornographic entries from the 1970’s and ’80’s. Hmmm, now I guess I should write up a review of Cafe Flesh. It definitely belongs on the site, and I’m surprised someone has not beat me to it.

    1. I wondered if you were thinking about Cafe Flesh. That’s more of a conventional narrative movie with hardcore sex scenes, whereas Nightdreams is a sequence of imaginatively staged sex scenes with no serious attempt at storytelling.

  3. I have been waiting for this review since 2010. It just goes to show how much work you put in to this website, keep it up because I love coming over here to check out great reviews about the wonders of weirdness. Thanks for the review!

  4. Holy god that Cowgirl scene, porn or not that was one of the trippiest things I think I’d ever seen in a movie till that point. Porno deconstructionist western musical? Dreamy…

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