Nightmares Come At Night (1970)
By: Mr Intolerance on January 13, 2009  | 
Shriek Show (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 1.0, French DD 1.0. English Subtitles. 83 minutes
The Movie
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Soledad Miranda, Diana Lorys, Colette Giacobine, Paul Muller, Jack Taylor
Screenplay: Jess Franco
Country: France
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Jess Franco's films for me veer wildly from the very good (Female Vampire, Vampyros Lesbos, his countless adatations of the works of the Marquis de Sade) to the excruciatingly execrable (Devil Hunter). I've always found him to be an under-rated director, when he's on form of course, and I think that people do tend to judge him by his lesser works, or his more recent DTV efforts, which is hardly fair when trying to sum up his body of work. It's an impressive body of work by the way, clocking in at over 150 films. So anyway, whenever I sit down to watch a Franco film for the first time, I watch it with an open mind – although as the last one I watched was the afore-mentioned Devil Hunter, probably not as open a mind as I should have.

According to the brief essay that comes with the insert of this Shriek Show release (first time this film's ever been avaialble on video of any sort, apparently), Nightmares Come At Night was filmed in 1970, and was only ever seen in Belgium nearly three years after the film wrapped, which takes obscurity to a new and ridiculous height. Oh, and if you're confused by the names in the credit sequence (itself a montage of still shots from the film) and how they may not be the same as the ones I've listed, I've used the actors' real names, not their pseudonyms – Soledad Miranda is credited as Susan Korda, and Colette Giacobine is Colette Jack.

Anna (who may or may not be the Princess of Istria, and once was a stripper in Zagreb) is having bad dreams – very bad dreams, as it turns out. She wakes in fright (buck-nekkid, of course) believing that she had been sleeping with a dead man, and that her hands were covered in his blood. Cynthia, her gal-pal and room-mate, reassures her that it's all in her mind, although Anna doesn't seem too convinced. Anna's doctor, Dr Lucas, decides the best course of action is to prescribe tranqs. Something seems a little fishy about the whole situation, right from the get-go. And just because he can, Franco gives us our first bit of lesbian action around the ten minute mark. Wouldn't want the audience to get bored now, would we?

We've also had our first glimpse of Soledad Miranda – and guess what? She wasn't even on the shoot! That's right, apparently Franco went directly to his collection of off-cuts and stock footage, found some stuff he could use, and edited it into the film. And surprisingly – it works quite well. If I hadn't have read it, I wouldn't've known. Although in retrospect, it does seem a bit superfluous – but it does serve one purpose in terms of the plot towards the end of the film.

Now, I realise that Anna is a trifle perturbed at what's been happening to her, but her histrionic acting when having a bit of a tanty is such flagrant over-acting and downright scenery-gnashing that I'm sure that the other actors must have been worried about losing an arm. Anyway, Dr Lucas advises Anna to get away from Cynthia, and the girls' lesbian relationship isn't good for Anna, given Cynthia's rather aloof, icy demeanour (Anna's words, to paraphrase, but there's no real evidence to back that claim up, apart from her belief that Anna's dreams are only that – dreams). Then, seemingly turning on a dime, he tells Anna that she must talk with Cynthia – a dispirited Anna (probably all tuckered out because of all that "acting") agrees.

We haven't had a flashback yet, so here goes: we see Anna performing what is probably the most boring strip-tease in the world in her "second rate club in Zagreb". Her boss has told her to make it last all night, and to keep the punters interested. If they're interested in her act, they must all be zonked out on ketamine or mogadon, because her act seems to consist of lying on her back, waving her arm around languidly and smoking a cigarette, clothed. Not much of a strip-tease... It does reinforce one of Franco's trademark motifs, though, that of voyeurism; people watching things that are meant to be intimate is a recurring image in his work (even in one of the opening shots we see Cynthia observing Anna writhing about in the throes of a nightmare), one which I think reflects his interest in de Sade, who used a similar motif throughout his ouevre as well (you can even see that reflected in Pasolini's take on de Sade's Salo). It tends to make the intimate impersonal, embarrassing or even frightening. Of course, it's here in the club where she first sees Cynthia, and at least then the action on the stage becomes a little more interesting. However, the pacing of the film is the only thing becoming turgid.

The flashback continues with Anna making the metaphorical deal with the devil with Cynthia, who promises her all the usual things – wealth, fame, etc – and gets her to move into her house. Now, obviously she's not doing this out of the goodness of her heart, and she wants something in return. I just wish we could have gotten to it more quickly, because I was rapidly losing interest by this point. Now, I don't mind a bit of a slow burn, and most of Franco's films are rather deliberately paced, but this was really starting to test my patience – Anna's somnambulistic voiceovers were having a dulling influence on my attention span, too. Cynthia has an odd way of convincing people – firstly being all sweetness and light, and then belting them across the face. Anna's will crumbles: "Since then I think I am only existing through her and by her." Cue: nekkid leso make out session, just to make the point clear for the dummies, and to keep the raincoat brigade interested. Oh, and on that point, don't expect this to be some XXX hardcore loop, the sex is done the same way its done in every Franco film – there's no graphic stuff, but loads and loads of nekkid people rolling around in the nuddy. Particularly women, with other women. So while we might see it as a bit tame, it would have been quite strong fare back in the early 70s – I mean, look at how many Franco films were banned in this country alone, or the UK, for that matter. It's only recently that his movies have been made available in Australia (and not all the old ones from the banned list), and they're all still rated R18+ (well, except for the Fu Manchu ones – I was talking about the erotic ones however).

Anyway, since that encounter, the dreams began (and this interminable flashback continues), with Cynthia appearing in them, as we actually saw in the opening scene – we were shown, we didn't need to be told. Anna for some reason sees herself as Indian, and we see her rather inelegant attempt at adorning a sari (there's some nonsense in the script about living in "a strange world" - it's India, it's not that strange, it's not like she was going to live on Koozbain, for fuck's sake. Three chapters and we're still going with the flashback – this is even more padded out than the 20+ minute flashback in Ted V. Mikels' Strike Me Deadly. There's a very obvious idea that whatever Anna is experiencing is being orchestrated somehow by Cynthia, and Anna seems aware of it – so why the fuck hasn't she done anything about it?!

Four chapters in, and we're still in flashback land, with Anna's first meeting with Dr Lucas. Anna had a bad dream during the night and so Cynthia got the doc, who she's on first name basis with, to come on over to check Anna out – medically, you perverts – and Anna laughs the whole thing off. Cynthia sees this as a slight against her – an attempt to humiliate her in front of Doctor Lucas, and roundly chastises Anna, moving into imperious ice-queen mode. More scenery-chewing ensues.

I realise that part of the idea of Franco putting in the flashback is to give us a non-linear narrative, but by protracting it in such a fashion instead off breaking it up and inserting it into the film at different places, all that has actually happened is that we've been given a framed narrative instead. We're dropped in at the start of the film in media res, and then we're given all the backstory in one long linear fashion, which kind of defeats the purpose of the non-linear narrative, coming back to the present day at the end – providing the tail-end of the frame.

The scene shifts to the subplot involving Soledad Miranda's character, mercifully, who along with her gangster boyfriend (who's recently pulled a jewellery store heist and is waiting for the cash to turn up) are holed up in a deserted house and observing the goings on at Cynthia's place. Her entrance in this scene is particularly memorable, dressed in a black shawl that leaves nothing to the imagination, thigh high black leather boots, swigging from a bottle of St Raphael Martini. My kinda gal. The other two women in the film are attractive, but Miranda is absolutely magnetic – you can't take your eyes off her, and why the hell would you want to?

Aaaaaand – back to Anna, who escapes the house (not in any permanent way) with Dr Lucas without Cynthia noticing so that she can spend a day of normality in town. Of course she reverts immediately to paranoid delusional mode (chomp, chomp, chomp), the whole "Am I crazy?" routine which is becoming very tired, very quickly. She returns home to find Cynthia rolling about in the razz with some random fella who just seems to have appeared from outta nowhere – jealousy can be a terrible thing... The fella (Euro-trash regular Jack Taylor) pretty much puts his moves on Anna, and the next scene will seem a little familiar to you. I will say no more.

Finally, after approximately HALF of the film's 83 minute duration, we're out of flashback land, and gradually closing that framing narrative I was talking about, with our final act to go. It's time to find out what happens to the gangster and his girlfriend, what Cynthia's possibly nefarious schemes are, whether or not Dr Lucas is implicated in all of these shenanigans, and more importantly, who the murderer is (that much Anna isn't dreaming), and whether or not Anna is as crazy as a loon.

Just one last thing about that observation motif I mentioned before – Miranda and boyfriend are using binoculars to observe Cynthia's house, the eye make-up on each of the female characters really accentuates their eyes (heavy black kohl eye-liner and mascara applied with a ten gallon drum), staring seems a de rigeur way for people to observe each other, and when they're not doing that, they're checking themselves out in mirrors – the purpose for which is observation, close ups on characters faces do tend to centre on the eyes (which I suppose is kind of natural – the nose is not the window of the soul...) - I really don't think I'm imagining that Franco wasn't intending this visual motif – it connects and disconnects people at the same time; eye-contact can be both intimate and intimidating, observing from a distance renders the subject vulnerable – you can see things that they may not want you to see; the best way to control people is to keep your eye on them – parts of each of these elements are present in the film. It seems to construct a level of paranoia, fear and unease reasonably effectively. In a movie that fails on a number of levels, it succeeds, using this motif, in constructing a tangible atmosphere, which to me is one of Jess Franco's strengths as a director.

I'm a little annoyed with Shriek Show in terms of how this film was marketed. When a movie has a huge image of Soledad Miranda on the front cover, and has her top-billed in the credits on the back cover, I expect to see her in more than a bit part. Exploitation huckstering at its most contemptible.
The movie is presented full frame, which is sure to be a bit of a turn-off for the techno-philes out there. The image itself varies oddly throughout the film. At times it looks very clear indeed, at others, it's a little soft, at others, it looks like it was shot through a sock. Mind you, seeing as how the print must have been moldering away in a cellar somewhere for over thirty years, I'm not complaining. There are some artefacts, some speckle and grain, but it's pretty minimal on the whole. Oh, and do not adjust your set while the dream sequences are on – it's meant to be a bit hazy.
Brought to you in glorious mono, you have your choice of an English language track, or a French language track with English subs, which is how I watched it the first time – I figured that if the credits were in French, then it should be watched in the original language. Matter of fact, I watched the English dub the second time around – it was Very Bad Indeed. Avoid it at all costs, the voice acting is absolutely awful to the point of physical pain. Oh, but the fact that we get the bonus of a Bruno Nicolai score is a good thing; it veers between expressionist craziness and fuzz-tone psychedelia, and takes in a few other genres on the way. In some regards, it's the best thing about this film.
Extra Features
As I mentioned above, there's a rather informative essay in the insert that accompanies the disc, by Lucas Balbo (co-author of Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco) – worth a read, should you buy the disc, but I think worth a read after watching the film. There's an interview with the always entertaining and ever-candid Jess Franco – one of the reasons I've always liked his work is that he always calls a spade a fuckin' shovel – there is absolutely no bullshit about the fella; up-front, frank and honest. This goes for about 22 minutes and says almost nothing about Nightmares Come At Night, basically. The majority of the interview is Franco's recollections of Soledad Miranda, which is fair enough, seeing as she is one of the major selling points of the film, despite the fact that she's barely in it. I would have liked more about the film, though, given it was thought for a long time to be a "lost" film – some history about it would have been nice. Uncle Jess seems a little more dithery than usual in this interview, certainly moreso than in the interviews on the recent Severin releases of Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter, where he seems much more acerbic, and they were shot three to four years after this one. Don't watch this before the film, as there's a massive plot spoiler. And there's the ubiquitous Photo Gallery – this one's even more redundant than usual, in that it's a slideshow you can't navigate, and that it's not a photo gallery of this film, it's a Soledad Miranda gallery – now that's some awesome eye-candy right there, but surely it's a bit of a slap in the face to the rest of the cast from the film? Especially since the first slide clearly states "Nightmares Come At Night". Trailers? We got 'em! Flesh For The Beast (if the trailer looks this bad, how awful must the movie be?! This is meant to entice me to part with my dollars?), Faceless (Jess Franco's riff on Eyes Without A Face – well, kinda), Two Orphan Vampires and Flesheater (Bill Hinzman milking his brief, yet iconic role in Night of the Living Dead for all it's worth – this film has the awesome alternate title Zombie Nosh!). Not the most comprehensive package, but certainly adequate.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
So, if you like heavy-handed symbolism, faux-metaphysical/existential dialogue, histrionic acting, boobs (but not in the Russ Meyer way), a plot that is just shy of coherence, soft core lesbian sex and above all, flashback scenes, then this film is definitely for you. If that description doesn't appeal, then run a mile from Nightmares Come At Night. I said before that Franco's films tend to polarise even his staunchest fans: this would be one of those films. It has some of the elements that made films like Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed In Ecstacy or Venus in Furs work, but not enough of them to breathe life into this carcass. A film once thought lost which probably should have stayed lost.

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