Jess Franco’s 1976 The Night of the Assassins (La Noche de los asesinos, also released as Night of the Skull) is a movie that becomes a lot more enjoyable once the penny drops and you figure out what he’s trying to do. Superficially it looks like Uncle Jess attempting a giallo but done in an odd period style. In fact it’s an Edgar Wallace krimi. Franco is quite fond of such movies and had already done a couple, most notably The Devil Came from Akasava.
And if you accept that as being his intention then The Night of the Assassins is rather enjoyable. It has most of the characteristics that made the German Wallace krimis so much fun. It has the outlandish and absurdly over-complicated plot, it has the settings that are so unconvincing and so completely wrong that they become fascinatingly surreal, it has very theatrical murders, and it has the same mix of mystery and comedy. Franco adds a little more horror to the mix, but horror was an element in some of the more memorable krimis anyway.
An English lord living in Louisiana is murdered. The reading of the will offers the opportunity to bring together (rather in the style of a 1930s Hollywood old dark house movie) a collection of relatives and hangers-on, all of whom distrust one another and all of whom seem quite capable of murder. More murders follow, and the murders conform to a pattern corresponding to a quotation from the Book of Apocalypse that the deceased lord was fond of. So there is murder by earth, by wind, by water and by fire. And (another indication that we’re dealing with a krimi here) the case is being investigated by a famous detective from Scotland Yard, with Scotland Yard’s jurisdiction apparently extending as far as Louisiana.
I think the idea of this movie as a tribute to the krimis also explains the surprising lack of gore for a eurohorror movie of this period. In fact there’s no gore at all. This lack of gore isn’t a problem - Franco still manages to come up with a couple of the most chilling scenes he ever filmed. The murder by earth is superbly done.
The actors (including Franco himself) all seem to be having a great time. There’s virtually no nudity at all. Even Lina Romay remains fully dressed for almost the entire film. I almost didn’t recognise her with her clothes on! It’s worth pointing out that the Tartan DVD gives us the Spanish release of the movie, so (being a Franco film) it’s quite possible that versions released elsewhere in Europe were somewhat spicier. Maribel Hidalgo is marvellous as the crazed and vicious widow of the deceased Lord Archibald.
The best of Jess Franco’s movies in my opinion are the ones where he gives both the trippiness and the sleaze full rein. The Night of the Assassins is Franco Lite, but it’s still entertaining and it has a rather engaging oddness about it.