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.

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