Thursday, 13 September 2012

Nightmares Come At Night

1970, France, Directed by Jess Franco
Colour, Running Time: 84 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Hardgore; Video: 1.33:1, Audio: DD Mono

We take a moment to peer into the insane world of that Spanish auteur/madman (depending on who's judging...) Jess Franco, the director who’s created movies that even some of his ardent fans hate the sight of. Amidst an excessive proliferation of creative output there have been a few nails hit and some may consider it worth wading through the excrement to find them. Alternatively you may let us poor, tormented reviewers do it for you… A popular nightclub dancer’s act of strange and slow-paced erotica lures the eye of an eccentric mademoiselle and the na├»ve woman is enticed back to a house where she is almost held willing captive for some period of time, the metaphoric bars being the promise of fame/fortune, etc. During this time she repeatedly finds herself experiencing lucid dreaming, progressively confusing what’s actually happening around her with what’s possibly pure imaginative fantasy. The dreams take on a sadistic and increasingly sexual tone as the woman’s perceptions distort and sanity begins to crumble. Is she losing her mind or is there something more calculating going on with her mistress or the strange people across the street who peer at her from behind closed windows?
The aura of Nightmares… is appropriately dreamlike and surreal, as in many of Franco’s better works. Whether intentional or not, the misty look of the image accommodates the uncanny nature of the material aptly, and our perception of what’s really going on is blurred with efficacy until closer to the conclusion. The crowning creative achievement, however, is Bruno Nicolai’s necessarily schizophrenic score, swiftly alternating at the drop of a hat between psychedelic jazz (a musical genre which I believe Franco loved) and the haunting whining of strings - he understands what Franco was trying to capture on film and accentuates it. The soundtrack is an integral part of the beauty to be found here. Conversely Franco’s cinematic techniques can be quite irritating at times: his compositions seem to be largely random, and that damned zoom lens (a staple of many of his works) should have been banned. Strangely these once despised camera techniques oddly foreshadow some of the methods adopted by today's mainstream epileptic cameramen... For the most part the underlying story can be seen as a feeble excuse for consistent softcore pornography as the females relentlessly stroll around either naked or titillatingly exposed to varying degrees - it’s actually quite steamy and makes for comfortable entertainment on a couple of levels. Unfortunately the narrative is undermined by an attempt in the final act to authenticate the preceding events by returning the story to earth, thereby dissolving the mysterious ambience that had been built up. Franco drops the ball here and a shame it is because he inadvertently or otherwise had something quite ethereal and sexy on his hands up until that point. It is nevertheless essential viewing for Franco fans and those who might enjoy seventies eroticism or surreal fantasy. Everyone else may be driven mad.

Hardgore’s DVD would appear to be a convert of the earlier Shriek Show release, containing similar specifications and extras. The film has its original title over the credits (La Cauchemars Naissent la Nuit) but alas the audio is presented in awful dubbed English. The SS disc contained a French language option in addition to the English, so this alone makes it a clear winner. The Hardgore is well stocked aside from that sad omission: a twenty three minute featurette on the Eurocine production company, originators of many a terrible movie alongside a few minor gems too - quite a few clips of rare pieces are included. This is followed by a twenty four minute interview with an aging but jovial Jess Franco, though I found his thick accent hard to follow at times. A fake trailer for Nightmares… is also present alongside a large number of trailers for other Hardgore releases, some of them worth watching, some of them need to be avoided but this at least gives you an idea which of their other discs might suit your tastes. I really can’t stand some of the modern shot-on-video timewasters showcased in this trailer section, on the other hand a few of the pre-nineties movies (The Boneyard and Creepozoids for example) bring back memories and I may try to pick them up. Taking Hardgore’s DVD (admittedly nicely designed) cover art into consideration, much is made of Soledad Miranda’s involvement in Nightmares Come At Night but it should be noted the ill-fated beauty only has a small role, though she does get quite a portion of the extras devoted to her one way or another, and her costumes on screen in the movie itself are on the rather hot side… Nightmares… is an erotically-charged exploration of surrealism with expository flaws that could have been avoided, and aside from a soft, non-progressive image and English-only audio, it gives Hardgore their best DVD I’ve yet seen (thanks more so to US-based Media Blasters).

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