While Jess Franco was quite capable of making coherent well-plotted movies I personally find those to be his least interesting efforts. When he cast side the bonds of conventional narrative completely and produced movies that were like psychedelic fever dream cinematic versions of improvised jazz jam sessions – that’s when he really grabs me as a movie-maker. Movies like Venus in Furs, Succubus and Vampyros Lesbos. The problem with Nightmares Come at Night (Les Cauchemars naissent la nuit) is that it’s not quite one thing or the other. It has the nightmare illusions bleeding into reality sequences, but it’s a bit too straightforward. I enjoy his movies when I’m no more certain than the protagonists where reality ends and dreams begin. In this one the underlying reality is a little too obvious.
It also suffers from having the best of the three actresses in the movie, the late great Soledad Miranda, in a minor supporting role. This leaves Diana Lorys in the main role, to which she’s not really equal. Had this movie been made a few months later I don’t think there’s any doubt that Franco would have cast Miranda in the lead role, and it would unquestionably have been a far more successful film.
Lorys is Anna, a woman who’s been performing as an exotic dancer in a sleazy night-club. She becomes involved with a woman who has been attending her every show, and as their love affair progresses Anna begins having nightmares, nightmares filled with violent imagery and with herself in the role of a murderess. The nightmares soon come to seem to be all too real. Paul Muller is very impressive as her psychiatrist, subtly creepy but never going over the top.
It’s not a bad film, and it has its moments, but Franco seems to be holding himself back, not really allowing the dream logic to take over as it does in his best movies. The eroticism, despite copious amounts of nudity, doesn’t really happen either. Whereas a Soledad Miranda, or a Lina Romay, or a Janine Reynaud, would have ignited the screen in a role like this, Diana Lorys fails to light even a small fire. The movie does have an impressive and very effective score though, courtesy of Bruno Nicolai. I’m a huge fan of Franco, and I greatly admire even some of the Franco movies that everyone else seems to despise (like Female Vampire), but this one was definitely a little disappointing. And if you’re buying this to see what all the fuss was about regarding Soledad Miranda, be advised that her role really is very minor. You’re much better off picking up a copy of Vampyros Lesbos or Eugenie de Sade instead.