Saturday, 18 May 2019

Daredevils of the Red Circle (serial, 1939)

Daredevils of the Red Circle is a 1939 Republic action-adventure-crime serial directed by John English and William Witney. Which means it’s probably going to be very good.

It turns out to be very good indeed, in fact one of the best of all the serials of its era, and an absolute must-see for serial fans.

Here's the link to my full review at Classic Movie Ramblings.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Au Pair Girls (1972)

There are countless film genres that were once reviled but have over the years amassed substantial cult followings. Sci-fi monster films of the 50s, the juvenile delinquent movies of the 50s, American sexploitation of the 60s, even eurosleaze movies of the 70s have their aficionados. Mainstream critics might still sneer at them but there are at least a handful of critics prepared to admit grudgingly, that they have a certain appeal. Books have been written about Russ Meyer, Doris Wishman and Jess Franco. It almost seems that any genre will eventually acquire a cult audience.

There is however one exception - the British sex comedies of the 70s. These films were loathed by critics at the time (party because they committed the unforgivable sin of being extremely popular with audiences) and they remain despised. Which is enough to pique my interest. Can any genre truly be that bad? We’re about to find out since I’m about to review a representative example, Au Pair Girls (AKA The Young Playmates), released in 1972 which makes it an early entry in the genre.

The first thing to note is that while this is not exactly a big-budget epic it’s also not a low-budget cheapie. And it was directed (and co-written) by Val Guest. Guest had a long and interesting career He’s best remembered for the Quatermass sci-fi/horror films (The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II) he made for Hammer in the mid-50s. In fact he was a respectable claim to being the man who put Hammer Films on the map. He was always a competent director. By the 70s the British film industry was in dire straits and sex comedies were among the few British movies actually making money at the box office. If you wanted to work you took what you could get so Val Guest made sex comedies.

The first thing you have to consider when judging any movie is - does it succeed on its own terms? The formula for Au Pair Girls is very simple. Combine lots of corny jokes with lots of naked women. Don’t bother looking for hidden political subtexts or philosophical musings on the human condition. Corny jokes and nude women are what Au Pair Girls promises and that’s what it delivers.

The humour is pretty much in the style of the Carry On movies. The cast includes some pretty formidable comic talents, people like Richard O’Sullivan (one of the biggest stars of British television in the 70s) and John le Mesurier.

The formula is actually quite similar to that of the American nudie-cuties of the very early 60s. A wafer-thin plot that is just sufficient to explain why there are lots of nude girls wandering about and plenty of unsophisticated humour. And, like the nudie-cuties, Au Pair Girls features lots of female nudity but nothing even approaching graphic sex. There’s a certain odd innocence about it.

It’s also rather good-natured. The girls are ditzy but the male characters are not much better. Nobody in the film is truly evil. Some are weak, some are self-indulgent, some are foolish. Most are trying their best despite being ill-equipped to deal with the real grown-up world.

This was a time when Swinging London was starting to lose its swing. It was becoming sleazy and tawdry rather than glamorous and the movie takes a slightly jaundiced view of the early 70s. The one character in the movie who really reflects the Swinging 60s fantasy, the rock star Ricky Strange, is the one character who could be described as an utterly worthless human being. He also reflects the dark side of the Sexual Revolution, sex as something cheap and nasty.

As for the plot, four au pair girls arrive in London. Christa is from Germany. She gets a glimpse of the glamorous world of rock’n’roll and she doesn’t like what she sees. Nan Lee is Chinese and finds that she is to be employed as a companion for a musically gifted but socially completely inept young man. They have a strange sort of love affair. Anita Sector (Astrid Frank) is Scandinavian and manages to end up in the harem of an Arab oil sheikh, which she decides is great fun. Randi (Gabrielle Drake) is also Scandinavian and gets entangled with Stephen (Richard O’Sullivan), the sex-starved son of a wealthy industrialist. Somehow whatever she does, no matter how innocent, she seems to end up without her clothes. The ending must have sent contemporary feminists into conniptions.

The actresses were presumably chosen largely for their willingness to shed their clothes but they’re OK. Astrid Frank and Gabrielle Drake (well-known to cult TV fans for her rôle as the purple-wigged Lieutenant Ellis in UFO) are both charming and funny. Richard O’Sullivan gives us a performance which is pretty much a dry run for his rôle in the immensely successful Man About the House sitcom. In other words he’s very good.

The Screenbound DVD release has no extras aside from a trailer. The image quality is extremely good, the sound quality not so good but acceptable.

So is it worth seeing? The jokes turn out to be as corny as one might expect but it certainly has its amusing moments. As for the four au pair girls, they’re likeable and very pretty and constantly naked. There’s wall-to-wall naked female flesh including lots of frontal nudity. If you want anything more than that forget it but if’s a movie that does deliver exactly what it promises so on it’s own terms it’s a success. Recommended, if corny jokes and pretty nude girls are your thing.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Zoltan Hound of Dracula (1977)

Zoltan Hound of Dracula, also known by the much less fun title Dracula’s Dog, has a reputation for being pretty bad but pretty entertaining. We shall see.

It starts with a bunch of soldiers doing some blasting. From the uniforms I’m guessing they’re Russian or at least from behind the Iron Curtain somewhere. In fact from hints dropped later in the film it’s probably Romania. Apparently they were searching for a tomb and they’ve found it. It’s the Dracula family tomb.

One of the soldiers rather unwisely decides to have a look inside one of the coffins. The corpse has a stake through it. Now I don’t know about you but the last thing I’d do is to pull the stake out (this is the Dracula family tomb after all) but that’s exactly what this soldier does. The corpse comes to life, but it’s not exactly a vampire. It’s a dog. But it’s a vampire dog. The dog disposes of the soldier and then opens another casket and uses its teeth to pull out the stake in another corpse. This corpse is delighted to be reunited with his faithful dog.

The resident vampire expert, Inspector Branco (José Ferrer), knows what this is all about. The man is Dracula’s servant Veidt Smit and he’s a fractional lamia (a fancy way of saying he’s a half-vampire, a sort of Renfield type). Half-vampires can’t survive without their vampire master so Smit is now going to set off to find the last surviving member of the Dracula family who lives in L.A. somewhere. Oddly enough Inspector Branco and the soldiers, although they dutifully burn all the vampires corpses they’ve found, don’t bother hunting down Smit and his dog.

Psychologist Michael Drake and his family (wife Maria, son Steve and daughter Linda) and along with their two German Shepherd dogs are off on a camping trip. They don’t know that Michael Drake is actually Michael Dracula, last of the line of notorious vampires. They also don’t realise that they are about to be stalked by Smit and the hound Zoltan.

The camping trip goes badly for the Drake family. Things keep going wrong with dogs. Not just their dogs but other strange dogs. The Drakes are starting to get a bit scared, and then Inspector Branco turns up. He explains the family history to Michael. Veidt Smit will have to be destroyed but it will be necessary to use Michael as bait. This works a bit too well and soon Branco and Michael are besieged in a tiny cabin by Zoltan and his pack of vampire hounds. Zoltan might be a vampire but he’s still only one dog so the first thing he did was to start recruiting an army of canine vampires. There’s even a vampire puppy!

The plot doesn’t always make a great deal of sense, and Branco is not a very well equipped vampire hunter. He has a collection of sharpened stakes but that’s about it.

There’s some gore in this film. It was 1977 so that’s pretty much inevitable.

The idea of a vampiric dog is fairly dumb but at least they were smart enough to use a Doberman. Dobermans look scary at the best of times, even when they’re friendly. So with a few very simple special effects to make the eyes glow a Doberman can be made into at least a moderately convincing vampire dog, and without looking too silly. They’ve also made the fur of the vampirised dogs look slightly greyed-out, which looks quite effective.

Some of the dog attack scenes are pretty lame but others are surprisingly well done. The attack on the cabin comes close to being genuinely scary.

On a technical level this movie doesn’t look as ridiculous as you might expect because it wisely relies on simple tricks.

Of course you can’t get away from the fact the the whole premise of the movie is incredibly dumb. There must have been some temptation to make it a spoof but that temptation is resisted and the whole thing is taken very seriously. In some ways that makes it more enjoyably silly.

Reggie Nalder as Veidt Smit doesn’t bother to do much acting. He looks incredibly creepy and incredibly cadaverous and so he doesn’t need to do much. The rest of the cast can best be described as adequate. José Ferrer seems like he’s gritting his teeth and thinking about his pay cheque but he's a pro so his performance is OK.

The DVD version I have is a double-header (it’s paired with Hammer’s last horror movie To the Devil…A Daughter). Zoltan Hound of Dracula gets a fairly OK anamorphic transfer, with no extras.

Zoltan Hound of Dracula might perhaps have been more successful had it been done in an overly tongue-in-cheek way, but then again that might have been just too obvious. The fact that it’s done absolutely straight is morbidly fascinating. A bit more energy would not have gone amiss.

It’s not as much fun as the goofy premise might suggest but it’s still oddly enjoyable. Worth a look if you find it in a bargain bin.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Female Animal (1970)

Female Animal, released in 1970, is a bit of an oddity. It seems to be an Italian-Spanish softcore co-production but it isn’t. It’s an American film produced by American exploitation legend Jerry Gross. It’s one of the handful of films Gross directed himself. The credits will tell you that the movie was produced by Antonio Benvenuti and directed by Juan Carlo Grinella but it was definitely produced and directed by Gross. It was shot in New York City and on location in Puerto Rico.

The movie stars Arlene Tiger as sultry Mediterranean beauty Angelique, only Arlene Tiger was actually Arlene Sue Farber and she hailed from New York City. Pretty much everything in the credits is a lie.

Female Animal supposedly takes place on an island although I’m pretty sure the name of the island is never mentioned. It does try for a vaguely Mediterranean atmosphere, which gets intriguingly mixed up with an American sexploitation atmosphere.

Angelique is a poor peasant girl who lives with her very disapproving aunt. One day Angelique has some bad luck. She is riding her bicycle when she is almost run over by a big car. But it’s really good luck because she’s not hurt and the car belongs to the fabulously wealthy Count Medici and the count not only buys her a new bicycle he offers her a job in his palatial house. Or maybe it’s not good luck after all. The Count does make one condition. She must stay away from his ne’er do well son Alain.

Of course Angelique doesn’t listen. She never does.

The acting is mostly passable. Arlene Farber is actually very good. The most important thing she has to do is to make Angelique seem rather innocent and at the same time slightly cynical and more experienced than such a girl should be. She does this extremely well. Angelique is too calculating to be a conventional good girl heroine but not calculating enough to be a conventional bad girl. She thinks she knows what she’s doing and she does, up to a point. Beyond that point she is dangerously out of her depth.

Farber also looks extremely beautiful. Oh, and she takes her clothes off as well.

Angelique is not the only one to get out of her depth. The tense adversarial relationship between the Count and his spoilt rich son is getting badly out of hand and now they have something new to add fuel to the flames. They both want Angelique. It’s not just a romantic triangle since - the Count’s mistress adds further perilous complications.

Female Animal has some of the feel you associate with the sex psycho-melodramas that Joe Sarno was making at that time. And some of Sarno’s films of the late 60s were shot in Europe so it’s not unlikely that they were the reason Female Animal was made as a fake-European film. Given the huge success of Sarno’s 1968 Swedish-shot Inga it actually starts to sound like a plausible theory. The main difference is that Sarno was better at both the sex and the melodrama. Female Animal was also inspired by the 1968 Swedish Fanny Hill, also a big money-spinner.

The pacing is a problem. The plot is very straightforward but it needs to be moved along more quickly. Gross doesn’t quite succeed in building enough of a feeling of imminent catastrophe to keep the viewer interested.

This is a problem because the movie’s erotic content is rather sparse and rather tame. Apart from that there’s not really much nudity at all. Given Arlene Farber’s undeniable hotness this could certainly be seen as a flaw. It is basically a melodrama but it’s a melodrama centred on sex and it needs a lot more sexual heat.

The scene in the casino with The Count and his son as the players and Angelique as the stake is quite effective although it’s not quite clear why the usually ruthless control freak Count is suddenly showing such recklessness and poor judgment.

At this point you’re probably getting worried because I haven’t told you if this movie contains any go-go dancing. You can rest easy on that score. There is indeed go-go dancing. In fact Angelique herself does some of it.

Female Animal has an unexpected ending. Unexpected endings can be a good thing. In this case it’s a bad thing.

The Retro-Seduction Cinema DVD is a typical release from that outfit. The transfer is letterboxed and it’s adequate at best. There’s a certain amount of visible print damage. The transfer is not anamorphic but at least It’s letterboxed which is something.

This DVD dates from the period when Seduction Cinema had the idea of pairing classic 1960s sexploitation films in their Retro-Seduction Cinema line with contemporary Seduction Cinema softcore films on vaguely similar themes. What this mostly achieved in practice was to demonstrate how much more interesting the erotic movies of the 60s were. In this case you get Master’s Plaything which is best avoided unless you’re a very very keen Misty Mundae fan.

Female Animal doesn’t quite make it. Despite the heroic efforts of Arlene Farber it fails to ignite. Worth a look if you’re an Arlene Farber completist, if such a thing exists.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Hideout in the Sun (1960)

Hideout in the Sun was the first movie by sexploitation legend Doris Wishman. The film’s cinematographer Larry Wolk is listed in the credits as director although Wishman possibly took a hand in the directing as well. Wishman certainly produced the movie. The movie has some of the Wishman trademarks (lengthy shots of people’s feet, looped dialogue done with the actor’s backs to the camera to avoid the need for synchronisation) and Wishman was the driving force behind the production so it must count as a genuine Doris Wishman film. It started production as early as 1957 but it seems that she realised that the original footage was much too raunchy and did re-shoots the following year. It’s possible that none of the original version survives in the final release version.

It’s definitely a nudie-cutie, a genre that emerged when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that nudity as such was not obscene. Anything even remotely approaching sex on the other hand was still forbidden and most distributors considered it wise not to push things by including any full frontal nudity. The solution was the nudie-cutie, more often than not set in a nudist camp, with at best a wafer-thin lightweight plot serving as an excuse for the nudity and lots of gags to keep the tone light-hearted. The nudity had to be kept absolutely non-sexual.

Hideout in the Sun breaks many of these rules. It creates its own sub-genre, the nudie-cutie film noir. It not only has a plot, it’s a reasonably coherent plot, and it’s a genuine crime movie as well as a nudie-cutie. The plot is not just an excuse to get the characters to a nudist camp - the crime plot keeps going throughout the movie.

It differs from the roughies that started to appear a few years later in remaining light-hearted and innocent. How do you make a film noir light-hearted and innocent? It isn’t easy but this movie gives it a try.

This film takes another big risk. We get some shots of a naked girl in the opening credits sequence but for the first 25 minutes of the actual film there’s not a hint of naked flesh and the focus is entirely on the crime movie plot.

Another risk taken here is the inclusion of a love story. It’s a risk in the sense that if you have a man and a woman obviously falling madly in love and they’re both spending most of the movie naked you are entitled to wonder if they’re likely to start taking a less innocent interest in each other’s nakedness.

The crime plot concerns two armed robbers, Duke and Steve. Duke is the brains of the outfit and he’s a very hardboiled and possibly dangerous character. Steve is a nice guy who allowed himself to be talked into participating in the robbery even though he was never enthusiastic about it and he’s now seriously regretting it. The robbery goes smoothly but the well-planned getaway runs into problems. Duke and Steve kidnap Dorothy (Dolores Carlos) and steal a car and start looking for somewhere to hide out. When Duke discovers that Dorothy is on the staff of the Hibiscus Country Club he decides that would be a perfect place to lie low for a while.

What Dorothy neglects to tell them is that the Hibiscus Country Club is a nudist club.

Duke is not thrilled at all about this development. Steve on the other hand seems quite happy to shed his clothes and spend his time doing nudist camp stuff with Dorothy. And falling in love with her.

The crime plot is unexpected in a nudie-cutie but it’s not a bad idea. No matter how pretty the girls too much nude volleyball and nude archery can get wearying so Wishman keeps bringing us back to the crime plot.

You might be thinking that this movie sounds worryingly like a real movie rather than a glorious exercise in Doris Wishman movie insanity and this is true to some extent. The two main plot-lines, the attempt of the robbers to escape the police dragnet and the love story, both get resolved in a relatively straightforward and successful manner. There’s even an action climax, set in the Miami Serpentarium, and it’s fairly effective. The plot would pass muster in the average crime B-feature of its era.

There was an art to shooting a nudie-cutie. The objective was to show every square inch of bare female flesh that you could get away with without allowing any glimpses of the pubic region. This movie follows that rule for the most part but does risk some brief flashes of pubic hair. And film-makers being an inventive lot they quickly came up with ways of sailing a bit closer to the wind. Ways like underwater swimming scenes, in which you could risk frontal nudity as long as the details were slightly obscured. This movie must be one of the earliest movies to try that trick.

The acting in a Doris Wishman film has to be judged by Doris Wishman film standards. The worse the acting the better, it all adds to the enjoyment. Greg Conrad chews the scenery as Duke. Earl Bauer as Steve just gazes adoringly at the wonderfulness that is the naked Dorothy. Dolores Carlos as Dorothy is pretty terrible but what you want from an actress in a nudie-cutie is not someone who can act but someone who is pretty and can be totally relaxed about being nude for most of the picture. And Dolores Carlos is definitely pretty and having been one of Bunny Yeager’s models she was presumably an old hand at taking her clothes off for the camera. In fact there are apparently quite a few Bunny Yeager models in the movie.

I should also mention the theme song (actually written for the movie by Wishman’s niece) which is kinda cute. None of Wishman’s movies can be described as conventionally good but I thought Hideout in the Sun was great fun, and not just for all the nude girls.

The Retro-Seduction Cinema DVD offers both a full-frame and a widescreen version of the movie. The correct aspect ratio is almost certainly 1.33:1. The transfer is pretty good. Sexploitation movies in pristine condition are a rarity. The colours look pretty good especially given that the movie was shot in Eastmancolor. There are lots of extras including a commentary track. There’s also another 27-minute nudist camp film of unknown origin. It’s a worthwhile inclusion because it shows just how awful such movies could be. Wishman at least understood that you cannot rely purely on nudity. You have to do other things as well to make a nudie movie entertaining. And Wishman clearly understood that nobody wants to see real nudists nude. They want to see beautiful young women nude, so she used glamour models. Postcards from a Nudist Camp, despite copious quantities of frontal nudity, is a whole lot less alluring than Hideout in the Sun.

Hideout in the Sun works as a nudie-cutie (it features lots of pretty girls without a stitch of clothing between the lot of them), as a crime movie it’s no worse than many of the cheaper 50s B-movies, as a love story it’s odd but touching. Dorothy’s a sweet kid and we want to see her happy, and Steve is a bad boy who hopes to find redemption from the noir nightmare world and Dorothy’s love is his best hope. It has everything that makes Wishman’s nudie-cuties so appealing and if you’ve loved movies like Blaze Starr Goes Nudist and the delightfully nutty Nude on the Moon you’ll be eager to see this one. If you haven’t encountered Wishman’s nudie-cuties before this one will give you a pretty fair idea of whether they’re for you. I thought Hideout in the Sun was great fun, and not just for all the nude girls.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Midnight Frolics (1949)

Midnight Frolics, made around 1949, is a burlesque movie. The burlesque movie is one of those odd and now incredibly obscure exploitation genres. It enjoyed a vogue in the 40s and 50s and then vanished without trace when other exploitation genres emerged that could show a great deal more skin.

Of course burlesque itself is an art form that is also long gone, somewhat ironically swept away by the sexual revolution. Everyone has heard of burlesque and most people they have at least a vague idea that it was synonymous with strip-tease. In fact strip-tease was merely one element of the classic burlesque show. A show would also feature singers, fully clothed musical routines and comics. It was kind of like vaudeville but with semi-naked ladies.

For those who wonder what an actual burlesque show was like there is no need to wonder. Quite a few burlesque shows were filmed and quite a few of these burlesque movies survive. Some can be found online or on public domain DVD releases but the quality is often dire. Fortunately Something Weird Video offered something much better - a two-disc set including six complete feature-length burlesque movies of the late 40s and early 50s, with very acceptable transfers.

Midnight Frolics is the first movie on disc one and it’s the only one I’ve watched so far.

Of course there is no plot at all. It’s just a filmed stage show (filmed at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles). There are lots of strip-tease artistes but there’s also plenty of the other characteristic burlesque acts.

The comedy routines are excruciatingly bad. I wasn’t surprised that there were plenty of dirty jokes but I was surprised that most of the jokes aren’t sexual jokes but rather crude toilet humour. Of the four or five comic turns there is one that has some amusing moments and it’s the clean parts of the routine that provide the only laughs.

There’s a girl singer who’s OK. There are several all-singing all-dancing big production numbers that involve absolutely no nudity or even any suggestion of such a thing. They’re just the kinds of production numbers you’d expect to see in an average B-movie musical of that era. They’re actually not too bad. And there’s a girl acrobat.

Of course what attracted customers to burlesque shows and burlesque movie was the prospect of seeing attractive ladies taking their clothes off. And this movie features lots of strippers. In the heyday of burlesque the girls usually did not strip naked (although I believe that when they played cities that were known for their relaxed approach to such matters they did on occasion strip fully naked). In this movie they don’t even go close to nakedness. Relatively substantial G-strings and bras is as far as they go. The secret to the success of the strip-tease artiste was her ability to make the audience think she was being much naughtier than she actually was. So if you think you’re going to see naked female flesh you’re going to be disappointed. This is stuff that would be considered only just raunchy enough to get a PG rating today!

It is interesting to see how the classical strip-tease act actually worked. Each girl’s routine is broken into three distinct segments. First she does a fully-clothed dance that is breathtakingly respectable. Mind you, in those days the strippers actually did know how to dance. She then leaves the stage and immediately returns and does her strip-tease. She then leaves the stage again and again immediately returns, this time to do another dance. This third stage is in all cases by far the most raunchy part of the act. They’re now scantily clad and they’re getting into bump and grind territory. These young ladies know how to shake those parts of the female anatomy that look good when they’re shaking. While it would still seem very tame compared to what strippers were getting up to a few decades later they do achieve a degree or eroticism that would have been fairly exciting at the time and actually seems quite attractive today for its ability to be sexually suggestive without being crude.

The star performer of this show is a young lady named Sunny Knight. She also incidentally is the one who ends up most scantily clad. I rather suspect that being allowed to reveal a lot more flesh may have been one of the privileges of stardom.

This is one of the six burlesque movies in Something Weird's Strip Strip Hooray two-disc set.

Midnight Frolics has a lot of historical cultural interest. It’s an intriguing glimpse of an extinct art form and it’s a reminder of an era when the emphasis was on sexiness rather than sex. Whether you’ll enjoy the movie depends entirely on how interested you are in burlesque.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Night Has a Thousand Desires (1984)

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Jess Franco film. I’m not entirely sure that eurosleaze is my thing any more. But I own a Blu-Ray copy of his 1984 opus Mil sexos tiene la noche (Night Has a Thousand Desires although a more literal translation would have been Night Has a Thousand Sexes) and it seemed silly not to watch it.

Night Has a Thousand Desires was inspired in part at least by the excellent 1948 film noir Night Has a Thousand Eyes which was in turn based on one of Cornell Woolrich's stories. Jess Franco was apparently a bit of a Cornell Woolrich fan, which given the darkness and the vicious little twists that characterise Woolrich’s work is not entirely surprising.

Franco was keeping himself pretty busy in 1984, directing nine(!) films that year. One of the reasons Franco had no problem making so many movies is that rather than find a location he liked and then make his film there he’d find a location he liked, make his film there, and then keep shooting until he’d made three or four movies. There was none of this nonsense of having movies languishing in the development stage for months or years - for Franco the development stage for a movie was the time it took to reload the camera after completing the previous movie. What makes Franco so fascinating and unique is that although inevitably some of the 200-plus movies he made were pretty bad it’s extraordinary just how many were at the very least interesting, and often rather good. There are dozens of Franco movies worth seeing.

In this case the locations he’d found were in the Canary Islands and on the Costa del Sol. Franco really was remarkably good at picking great locations that were not the locations most people would have chosen for the types of films he made. This is a guy who was happy to use stark modernist locations as a setting for a gothic horror movie about vampires. Naturally a vampire who lives in a modernist house is not going to spend her time lying about in coffins - in fact she spends much of her leisure time sunbathing. It sounds like a recipe for movie disaster but the result, Vampyros Lesbos, is one of his best films. Night Has a Thousand Desires makes great use of its locations, especially a very kind of palace near Malaga which looks both Moorish and oddly modernist in its starkness.

This film of course stars Lina Romay. She plays Irina, who earns a living doing a mind-reading act in clubs with her partner Fabián (Daniel Katz). The strangeness starts when the clairvoyant powers start to be kind of real. But this is a Jess Franco movie and the haziness of the line between fantasy and reality and the impossibility of being sure which side of that line you’re on was one of his favourite themes. In this case Irina has so much trouble with reality and dreams bleeding into each other that she is driven to madness.

Franco adds another layer to the dream/reality problem because in his films there isn’t really any reality. They don’t even pretend to take place in what most people think of as the real world - they take place in a kind of alternate reality, Jess Franco World, in which reality is a sort of dream. And of course since movies are not reality anyway a character in a Franco movie that finds himself or herself losing touch with reality is actually a frightening number of steps away from reality. This is the kind of thing that Franco fans love in his movies and Night Has a Thousand Desires is one of his best explorations of such ideas.

This movie also allows Franco to focus on another of his favourite subjects, Lina Romay’s va-jay-jay. Having said that this film is actually not especially graphic. There’s a lot nudity and sex but it’s all strictly softcore. That’s a good thing on balance. Romay could be plenty sexy without having to resort to anything explicit.

And while there’s violence it’s also relatively restrained by Franco standards. In fact it’s restrained by 1980s standards in general. It’s the emotional impact of the violence that matters.

The original 1948 Night Has a Thousand Eyes includes hints that something actually supernatural might be occurring so for that reason among others it’s perhaps not a true film noir. Whether Franco’s film includes supernatural or paranormal events is possibly open to debate given that much of the film is either dream sequences or it’s dreams that might be real or reality that might be dreams. Despite all this, and despite the sun-drenched setting, Night Has a Thousand Desires does have definite film noir touches.

And it is a crime movie.

Jess Franco plays a small but important rôle as Irina’s psychiatrist.

Like most of the Franco-Romay movies this one is dominated by Franco’s extravagant style and Miss Romay’s performance. You will be stunned to learn that she spends much of the film without her clothes on. I know, I was shocked as well. Of course the thing about Lina Romay is that her performances tended to get better once she took her clothes off. Being naked seemed to inspire her. And the things she did best as an actress were usually related in some way to her character’s sexuality. This movie is Romay at her best, on par with her performances in Female Vampire and Doriana Gray.

Franco gets some pretty disturbing shots of Romay’s eyes. She gets to do some over-the-top mad stuff but it’s those shots of her eyes that really tell the story.

The music is even more disorienting than usual for a Franco movie and while that sort of thing sometimes irritates me I have to admit that here it works.

The plot is not really complicated but the important thing to keep sight of is that even when the movie seems to be drifting into arty surrealist territory the plot is still there and it matters. The style and the mood are much more important of course but in this case there’s something a bit rare in Franco’s filmography - the plot does get resolved in a realistic and straightforward manner in the end. But of course it all happens in Jess Franco World where reality is untrustworthy and elusive so is it actually resolved?

The pacing is languorous. OK, at times it’s a bit too slow but I’m inclined to think that’s deliberate. Franco wants to mesmerise us. He wants us to be a mesmerised as Irina is. This is a psychedelic film without any psychedelia. Which makes it more disturbingly psychedelic since there are no cues to help the viewer or the characters to judge the level of unreality with which they’re dealing.

Night Has a Thousand Desires is a pretty good 80s Franco movie. Both Franco in his directing and Romay in her acting are very much playing to their strengths. This was the kind of thing they could do well, even on an almost non-existent budget.

Mondo Macabro’s Blu-Ray includes some extras and the transfer is mostly good although I’m not entirely convinced that a good DVD transfer wouldn’t have looked just as good. If you’re a Franco or a Lina Romay fan this one is highly recommended.