For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the process of reviewing 126 cinematic melodramas. Embracing the Melodrama Part Two started in 1927 with a look at Sunrise and now, 33 reviews later, we’ve finally reached the 70s. And what else can I say about that other than to exclaim, “Yay!”
Seriously, a lot of good films were released in the 1970s.
We begin the 70s by taking a look at a film from the iconic and (to some people) infamous Spanish director Jess Franco. Over the course of 54 years, director Jesus Franco Manera was credited with directing 203 films. In all probability, the workaholic Franco directed a lot more than he’s been credited with. As I wrote about Franco in my previous review of Female Vampire: “Among critics, Franco is usually either dismissed as a total hack (and/or pervert) or embraced as the living embodiment of the auteur theory. Though no one’s quite sure how many films Franco has directed, Franco himself has estimated that he’s directed more than 200 films and, for the most part, he has financed and distributed them all on his own. Franco has worked in every genre from thriller to comedy to hardcore pornography, but he is probably best known for directing low-budget, occasionally atmospheric erotic horror films.”
Now, I have to admit that I feel a little guilty about using a paragraph from an old review in a new review. (And, as you may have noticed, I reviewed Female Vampire before Franco passed away in 2013.) But, then again, it feels somewhat appropriate because Franco was famous for and unapologetic about taking bits and pieces of old and unfinished films and inserting them into new films. That’s certainly the case with his 1970 film Nightmares Come At Night.
Nightmares Come At Night opens with Anna (Diana Lorys) living in an atmospheric mansion with her lover, Cynthia (Colette Giacobine). Anna is haunted by frequent nightmares where she sees herself killing strange men with a spear. Cynthia arranges for Anna to talk to an enigmatic doctor (Paul Muller). Anna tells the doctor about how she was once a famous erotic dancer until she met Cynthia. At this point, we get several lengthy flashbacks of Anna dancing in an oddly desolate club, all of which adds to the film’s ennui-drenched atmosphere.
Talking to the doctor doesn’t do Anna much good and she continues to have her nightmares except now the nightmares also seem to feature men giving lengthy monologues. It soon becomes obvious that the neurotic Anna is being held as a virtual prisoner in the house by the dominating Cynthia.
(It’s a bit like a Lifetime movie, except everyone’s naked for 85% of the film’s running time.)
Meanwhile, we occasionally get shots of two people staring out of an unrelated window. Eventually, we realize that they’re supposed to be Cynthia’s neighbors. One of them is played by Franco’s frequent muse, Soledad Miranda. (Miranda would tragically die in an automobile accident in 1970.) Anyone who is familiar with Franco’s work will immediately notice that Miranda’s look in Nightmares was later duplicated by Lina Romay in Female Vampire. The neighbors are obsessed with Anna. As the film progresses, we discover that, when not looking out the window, they spend most of their time lying on a filthy mattress. At one point, the camera zooms in for a close-up of the graffiti that’s been written on the wall over the mattress.
LIFE IS ALL SHIT, it reads.
To a certain extent, it’s pointless to say that Nightmares Come At Night is a disjointed film because almost all of Franco’s films were disjointed. That’s actually what gave even the weakest of his films an odd and memorably dreamlike feel. But Nightmares Come At Night is even more disjointed than usual. That’s because Nightmares Come At Night was made out of a mix of footage shot for other films. The scenes with Soledad Miranda were for an earlier, unfinished film. Those scenes were combined with the footage of Anna, Cynthia, and the doctor. The end result is a film that doesn’t necessarily much sense but you still have to admire Franco’s refusal to let any footage go to waste.
Ultimately, as with so many Franco films, Nightmares Come At Night is less about plot and all about atmosphere. This is a film that is full of ennui and existential decadence. It’s not one of Franco’s best films but, much like last year’s underrated California Scheming, it’s a bit of a minor existential classic when taken on its own terms.
(Please note: the trailer below is mildly NSFW. Watch at your own risk.)