One of Jess Franco’s lowest-budgeted films gets an HD makeover in Redemption Films’ Blu-ray of NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT.
Zagreb nightclub performer Anna de Istria (Diana Lorys, THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF) enters into an affair with icy blonde Cynthia (Colette Giacobine, NIGHT HAIR CHILD), moving into her house and surrendering her very own autonomy in an effort to retain Cynthia’s affection. Things degenerate in the space of three months as Anna’s sleep is disturbed by horrifying dreams in which she seduces and murders her suitors as Cynthia watches. When Anna wakes up with blood on her hands, she does not know if she is going mad or actually committing the crimes. Cynthia thinks she’s crazy, and it seems Anna can only confide in psychologist Dr. Paul Vicas (Paul Muller, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD); but even his kind words can’t comfort her when she meets one of her dream victims (Jack Taylor, COUNT DRACULA) in the flesh.
Up until his digital video days, Franco regarded NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT as his lowest-budgeted feature (with the funding coming from his own pocket). The film does show that all he really needed was a camera, a nice location of two, a few interesting props, and some imaginative (and exhibitionistic) actors to make a movie; and yet, it feels like a long missing link that answers certain questions about Franco’s filmography even as the circumstances of the film’s production and distribution raises others. Franco’s films aren’t necessarily known for strong storylines, but this film’s intimations of a story provide one of the best showcases for actors Lorys, Muller, and Taylor to really strut their stuff as actors rather than performers in lengthy sequences. Muller gets one of his more conflicted roles here (somewhere between I VAMPIRI and LADY FRANKENSTEIN) and Lorys’ is more than physically naked here. The late sequence between Taylor and Lorys, however brief compared to the her eight minute striptease earlier in the film, is truly magical; and it anticipates a similar turning point in the later FEMALE VAMPIRE (particularly as both hinge on the fate of Taylor’s character). In scenes that appear to almost come from another film, Soledad Miranda (THE SOUND OF HORROR) and Andre Montchall (her co-star in EUGENIE DE SADE and VAMPYROS LESBOS) spy on the goings-on at Cynthia’s villa. These bits are not actually from another film, but they were shot at the same time as EUGENIE DE SADE for inclusion here as a way of getting further exposure for Franco muse Miranda (Tim Lucas reveals on the commentary track that it was sort of an audition to convince Harry Alan Towers that Miranda could handle the role of Lucy in COUNT DRACULA which would be his last Towers collaboration). Bruno Nicolai’s experimental score is so wonderfully diverse that for the longest time it seemed as though the soundtrack was a compilation of Nicolai library tracks (like the cues that make up EUGENIE DE SADE) until it was released on CD by Digitmovies. Although the photography is credited to Jose Climent, the film was actually photographed by Franco and contains some gorgeous rough-hewn images.
Not distributed outside of Belgium, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT was a lost film until 2004 when a print was discovered by Eurocine and quickly snatched up by Media Blasters for their Shriek Show line (Shriek Show also announced Franco’s other lost film SEX CHARADE, but it never materialized and is still considered lost). The Shriek Show disc featured the film in a fullscreen PAL-converted transfer that was nevertheless the best game in town thanks to its English-subtitled French track (the UK disc only featured the horrid new English dub – based on a translation by Lucas Balbo at least but badly cast – which was an additional option on the US disc). Franco also appeared in a twenty-two minute interview in which he speaks little of the film but devotes a hefty chunk devoted to Miranda (it was German producer Artur Brauner who suggested the pseudonym Susan Korda for her nude ventures) including a moving account of how he learned of her death. Franco closes the interview out by saying his favorite Miranda roles were EUGENIE and SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY. Also welcome was a liner notes booklet by Tim Lucas.
Redemption Film’s 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded Blu-ray appears to be derived from the same print source (no surprise since it seems to be the only one in existence). Despite being a previously-lost film, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT appears to be the best-looking of the three concurrent Franco titles released by Redemption on Blu-ray (which also include THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF and A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD). On the commentary track, Lucas points out the delineation of the dream and waking sequences with increased grain (not unlike the dream sequences of SUCCUBUS); and, in this transfer, the difference is actually apparent. Also thankfully gone is the greenish tinge evident on the earlier transfer so skintones look healthier. Lory’s fishnet stockings during the striptease flashback evince no noise they did on the earlier transfer (the fine stripes of Muller’s suit do but only because the jitter from the film element and the movement of the car during these scenes). In the disc’s included “Visual Essay” (5:33) on the creation of the transfer, Redemption’s Bret Wood discusses the process of preparing the film for release. A low-contrast scan is made in Paris by Eurocine, and that is then sent stateside for color correction and dirt removal (rather than noise reduction).
Most of the film was shot with the full frame exposed, but the Miranda/Montchal scenes were shot with a 1.66:1 hardmatte which determined the chosen framing. While the film works at 1.66:1, the full aperture would have been preferable since hairlines are constantly cropped (particularly Muller’s). Interestingly, Wood points out that the final “film noir” scene between Muller and Jacobine was also shot with the 1.66:1 matte suggesting it was a reshot ending (and that the more moving scene between Muller and Lorys prior to that might represent the original ending. Wood also suggests that the source might be an answer print, and points out a scratch that remains in the same place throughout the entirety of the film (it is also present in the earlier SD PAL master). The French LPCM 2.0 mono track is pretty much the only way to go with this one. The English dub (also LPCM 2.0) was newly created and has even worse voice casting than some of Eurocine’s 1980s productions (since the music and effects track was not available, the volume of the music lowers whenever there is a scene with both music and dialogue like Anna’s narrated dream sequences).
The film can also be viewed with a commentary by Tim Lucas. He traces the film’s theme of mind control THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER, and DIABOLICAL DR. Z to SUCCUBUS and Franco’s later Golden Films Spanish remake of NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT titled MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE. He also compares Nicolai’s score to later experimental works by Robert Fripp (a comparison he notes was first made by Audio Watchdog writer Douglas Winter), and cites the usage of the Franco-penned theme “Blues del Tejade” (and charts its usage in several other Franco films). He states that Jack Taylor has no memory of making the film despite giving one of his best performances (and it is certainly one of Taylor’s most engaging for a Franco film).
"Eugenie's Nightmare of a Sex Charade" (20:13) features archival interview footage with Franco (not from the interview that appeared on the Shriek Show release) in conversation with Alain Petit. Petit first came across a print of Franco’s NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT in the seventies when he saw a reel sitting in the office of Robert de Nesle (producer of Franco’s COUNTESS PERVERSE, LORNA THE EXORCIST, THE DEMONS, and his “monster rally” films). De Nesle wanted to distribute the film but Franco could not supply him with a certificate or origin, so he could not legally release it. When the producer’s daughter closed down the business years later, his inventory went to the Cinémathèque Française. Petit approached Daniel Lesoeur about obtaining the rights to the film, mentioning that it was partially shot in the Lesoeur family’s country home (the finale was shot in their kitchen). Lesoeur describes how they had not heard from Franco for some time after his early French works – the periods when he was working in Germany with producers Pier A. Caminnecci and Adrian Hoven followed by his collaborations with Harry Alan Towers – until he came to them with NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT. The documentary seems to be one of the first – at least in English – to elaborate on the participation of Karl Heinz Mannchen, a German production manager who first worked with Franco on SUCCUBUS. He moved to Spain and represented German film in that country where he resumed his working relationship with Franco on this film. Franco wanted to the film to be a German/Spanish co-production but everything had already been filmed in Spain (with the later Soledad Miranda scenes and the new final scene with Muller and Giacobine shot in France), but it became a Spanish/ Liechtenstein co-production by way of Belgian producer Guy Gibert – who wanted to be more hands-on – getting funding from that country (whose roster of films is almost entirely Jess Franco works), the tax breaks of which were already been exploited by Harry Alan Towers.
The participants – including writer Lucas Balbo – devote a nice stretch to an appreciation of Diana Lorys. Of the elusive SEX CHARADE – which featured a rare appearance by Maria Rohm without the participation of her producer husband Towers – Franco describes it as having a similar structure to his later Spanish film SEX IS CRAZY. Jean-Pierre Bouxyou recalls coming across an advertisement for the “ghost film” in Belgium and attending a screening, which turned out to be a mix of footage from the Franco film (or “a” Franco film) mixed with outtakes or footage from other films. On the commentary track, Tim Lucas says he has heard rumors that the whereabouts of the film are indeed known, but one now wonders if it might be the version Bouxyou described. The disc also includes Daniel Gouyette’s “Homage to Jess Franco” (8:24), the same piece featured on the Redemption discs of A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD and NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT, in which Franco collaborators and critics muse on what the recently departed director is doing on another plane of existence. The disc also includes trailers for THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, FEMALE VAMPIRE, EXORCISM/DEMONIAC and OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES. (Eric Cotenas)
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