Les Cauchemars Naissent la Nuit
DIRECTED BY: Jess Franco
FEATURING: Diana Lorys, Colette Giacobine, Paul Muller, Soledad Miranda
PLOT: An exotic dancer in a psychologically abusive lesbian relationship thinks she’s going insane when she has vivid recurring nightmares in which she kills people.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The simmering erotic atmosphere of Nightmares is either tedious, or hypnotic, depending on your outlook; but either way, although there are some dreamy moments, it’s not good enough to make the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies on its merits, nor weird enough to warrant inclusion despite its flaws.
COMMENTS: It is bad enough to be constantly plagued by nightmares, but imagine—horrors!—if those nightmares were also directed by Jess Franco. They’d be poorly lit, out-of-focus, and go absolutely nowhere. This is the position poor Anna (voluptuous Diana Lorys) finds herself in. Not that her regular existence is vastly superior: even in her waking hours, she’s still trapped in a Jess Franco movie. Anna is in an unhealthy relationship with her Lady Svengali lesbian lover, Cynthia, who promises to make her a star but spends more time sleeping around and slapping her around than getting her gigs. Anna has nightmares where she kills men while birds fly around inside the house, then wakes up with actual blood on her hands. She thinks she’s going insane. She reveals her story to her psychiatrist in a long flashback that itself dissolves into more dream sequences. Whether its from intentional disorientation or merely sloppy scripting, the loopy storytelling of Nightmares does effectively create a situation where at times you aren’t sure whether the protagonist is dreaming, or whether what’s happening is supposed to be occurring in the present or in a flashback. Like a good bit of Franco’s oeuvre, Nightmares was made in a rush, and the movie frequently seems improvised. The short parts featuring cult actress Soledad Miranda were probably originally intended for a different film entirely (she watches the action from a window near Anna and Cynthia’s manor home and is never appears in the same frame as any of the principals). Franco’s directorial choices are frequently bizarre, and it’s often hard to locate the line between incompetence and experimentalism. For example, when Cynthia meets Anna for the first time, she proposes to make the stripper into a model: they carry on the conversation, but, because it is a flashback, Anna is simultaneously narrating the meeting in voiceover, recapping the conversation in real time as we listen to it. Later, while Anna and Cynthia are making love for the first time, Franco zooms in and out of focus seemingly at random, choosing to spend a lot of time on blurry closeups of the top of his actresses’ heads—it’s as if he’s suddenly handed the camera to a small child, or a monkey. At other times, his arty photography is more purposeful. When Anna and her psychiatrist talk in their car, he shoots the doctor from the side so his features appear normally, but films Anna head-on through a sunny windshield, so her visage is diffuse and otherworldly, as if she’s trapped in a separate reality. Nightmare‘s strangest sequence is, without a doubt, Anna’s narcotized, eight-minute striptease routine. She lies on a divan before a red backdrop next to a marble statue draped with white furs and very, very slowly removes her clothes while a tenor saxophonist plays Ornette Coleman licks over slightly out-of-tune piano chords (you know—strip club music). The strangely depraved atmosphere of this scene could believably have inspired David Lynch‘s “red room” sequences in “Twin Peaks,” although Lynch, of course, took that extra step of actually having things happen in his dream sequence. For an extra dollop of oddness, Franco announces this scene by having Anna explain that the cabaret owner had instructed her to “keep the audience’s attention for as long as possible with a strip that seemed to last forever.” In other words, not only is Franco padding his film, he’s brazenly rubbing his viewers’ noses in the fact that he’s padding the film. This slow-as-molasses, narratively confusing movie can be strangely hypnotic, if you’re in the right mood or very drunk, and there are nude women onscreen at almost all times, if that’s your thing. It seems obvious that Franco assumed that nudity would carry the movie and he could do pretty much whatever he wanted with the rest of it; the results are so peculiar that it’s unclear whether he was utterly indifferent about the effect he was creating, or completely enraptured by his own creativity.
Jess Franco directed nearly two hundred movies in his forty-five year career, most of them sleazy exploitation pieces, so it’s no surprise that almost all of them feel rushed. In 1970 alone he directed three other features besides this one, plus a forty-minute short. It may be hard to believe but, as bad as Nightmares is by any measure of conventional filmmaking, this movie is arguably Franco working at near the peak of his abilities.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“It all comes together in Franco’s characteristically dream-logic-beholden way, the plot holes and pacing bumps smoothed over by the film’s low-key eroticism and semi-surreal atmosphere.”–Casey Broadwater, Blu-ray.com