Tuesday, November 25, 2014
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Nightmares Come at Night
It’s just not a successful Winter of Discontent without certain movies: you need a video nasty, you need a grubby revenge thriller, and – at some point, whatever you might think of the man and his almost uncatalogueable body of work – you need un film de Jess Franco.
In selecting a Jess Franco opus, questions need to be asked: do you favour his muse and career-long leading lady Lina Romay; do you opt for one of his many riffs on the work of the Marquis de Sade; or do you just pick something with a funky title?
Employing the latter, we find ourselves in the company of ‘Nightmares Come at Night’, a title which deserves some kind of award for stating the obvious. I almost wish it were part of a trilogy, followed by ‘Daydreams Occur in the Day’ and ‘Insomnia Happens When You Can’t Sleep’.
‘Nightmares Come at Night’ tells the story of Anna (Diana Lorys), a Zagreb-based stripper (the script repeatedly references the city, presumably to compensate for the budget not allowing any establishing shots) who comes into the orbit of the rich and seductive Cynthia (Colette Giacobine) who promises to groom her as a film star. This, predictably, never occurs and Anna finds herself confined to Cynthia’s mansion and treated as little more than a plaything. Worn down by Cynthia’s mind games and cruel treatment, Anna begins having vivid nightmares involving sex and death (what else? this is a Jesus Franco production, y’all). At this point Cynthia engages the services of Dr Paul Lucas (Paul Muller), who was variously referred to as “Dr Lucas”, “Dr Paul” and “Dr Peters” in the English dub that I watched. Still, one does simply expect continuity from Jess Franco.
Most of the film occurs in flashback as Anna narrates to Dr Lucas her history with Cynthia and the shadowy, half-forgotten act that might mean she’s a murderer. Meanwhile, a young couple – Andrea Montchal and Soledad Miranda – spy on Anna and Cynthia from a neighbouring property, spout portentous dialogue that suggests there’s something conspiratorial going on, and get naked a lot.
Ah yes, the raison d’etre of Franco’s entire output: nudity. Anna’s nightmares all full of it, and she awakens from them only for her diaphanous nightgown to fall open; Cynthia lounges around sans chemise most of the time; during one crucial flashback, Anna meets a couple at a nightclub, next thing they’re reconvened somewhere private, and – whaddaya know? – they all slip into something more disrobed.
All of which is enough is make a case for Franco as little more than a pornographer, but if you did that you’d have to throw the net just that bit wider and include Jean Rollin in that definition. And though Rollin’s raison d’etre was pretty much the same as Franco’s (only with a fetishistic obsession with grandfather clocks thrown into the bargain), Rollin at his best was a poet of surreal and dreamy eroticism.
Franco – with his love of off-kilter compositions, discontiguous narrative, and mise en scene as burlesque – often seems like the almost-Rollin. Perhaps the key difference is Rollin’s absolute focus on atmosphere where Franco instead rolls up his sleeves, gleefully rubs his hands together and really gets stuck into the sleaze. Which is just as well, since ‘Nightmares Come at Night’ boasts neither an interesting resolution to its half-baked mystery or a single notable performance: Lorys occasionally tries to emote, but mostly drifts through the film with a blank expression; Giacobine doesn’t for a moment suggest a femme fatale with a dominant enough personality to enslave and manipulate those around her; and Miranda – memorable in Franco’s ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ and ‘She Killed in Ecstasy’ – is left to flounder in a nothing role.
But ultimately, the tao of Franco can be summed up as “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that sleaze”. ‘Nightmares Come at Night’ got that sleaze. Plenty of it.