Jess Franco's "Nightmares Come at Night" aka "Les Cauchemars naissant la nuit" is important for two reasons. First, it's a movie that sounds far more important when referred to by its French title. Two, the gorgeous Soledad Miranda of "Vampyros Lesbos" and "She Killed in Ecstasy" fame turns up in a very small part. Fans of this exquisite Spanish beauty will love to see her in another Franco film, even if she's only onscreen for a matter of one or two minutes despite receiving prominence on the DVD case. "Nightmares," it turns out, is a rather obscure effort from director Franco that disappeared for a number of years. Many feared this film lost until it recently resurfaced just in time for the DVD revolution. After sitting through the roughly eighty minute runtime of "Les Cauchemars naissant la nuit," I'm beginning to understand the reasons for its obscurity; it's not the sort of film that would endear itself to a large audience. In terms of plot and linear continuity, "Nightmares" will induce nightmares in viewers trying to make sense of the whole thing. If the viewer approaches the film understanding that atmosphere is the name of the game, Franco's film is far more enjoyable. I wished I'd known that going in.
Here's the synopsis as far as I could discern after a viewing of the film. A stage performer of some repute named Anna (Diana Lorys) falls under the spell of another beautiful gal named Cincia (Colette Jack). Perhaps their budding relationship has something to do with the way Anna manipulates that feather boa onstage. Who knows? Anyway, Cincia brings Anna back to her sumptuous home in order to get to know her better, but ominous things start to happen soon after their first meeting. Anna frequently falls into these odd spells in which violent hallucinations assume frighteningly real dimensions. These spells along with the fact that Anna seems like she's a prisoner in this house point to something sinister going on. A doctor that drops by the house from time to time to treat Anna for her weird fugues, Paul (Paul Muller), doesn't seem to help matters much. As the film progresses, it's obvious Cincia is keeping some grand scheme hidden from Anna, and that the same scheme likely involves two enigmatic figures keeping tabs on the house from a building across the way (one of whom is Soledad Miranda). Who are these people and why are they so interested in Cincia and Anna? Does Paul have something to do with Anna's spells? What's going on?
That's it as far as plot goes, folks. I could reveal the little subplot that feels thrown in just to explain Anna's extended hallucinations, but why spoil what little there is to understand here? I think it becomes fairly obvious early on that Franco's interests lie in creating a certain mood and style rather than worrying much about telling a coherent story. And considering he has beautiful women like Diana Lorys, Soledad Miranda, and Colette Jack on hand to help realize his vision, I say let the man do whatever he wants. The vast majority of the film deals with Anna's wacked out visions, which essentially means we watch her cavorting about the house or onstage in various stages of undress while a real funky jazz-type score thuds away in the background. Cincia isn't shy about prancing around her digs in her birthday suit, either. Whether she's entertaining Anna or meeting up with a mysterious boyfriend, Cincia's hostility to clothing comes through in spades. Come to think of it, even Soledad Miranda displays a shocking disdain for garments when we see her lounging on a mattress in the house next door to Cincia's abode. We owe Jess Franco a round of applause for making such an anti-clothing statement!
"Nightmares Come at Night," despite the title, isn't a horror film by any stretch of the imagination. There is a bit of violence on display from time to time--nothing too tough to sit through--which occurs when Anna starts remembering a few killings she committed during her endless fugues. I think it's important to draw a distinction between this film and Franco's more explicit horror films like "Faceless" because if you're looking for something with a lot of gore, you won't enjoy "Nightmares Come at Night." This is a movie more in line with "Vampyros Lesbos"--scads of symbols and style wrapped around an altered sense of reality. It's an arty flick in every sense of the word, although the abundant nudity, extremely low budget, and various "interactions," for lack of a better term, between Anna and Cincia definitely fall into the realm of classic Eurosleaze. I liked the movie and feel good about giving it a decent rating, but I'd have been mighty disappointed had I gone into this one convinced I was going to see another "Faceless."
Media Blasters gives us a great DVD presentation of the film. The transfer looks good, despite a few scratches, and extras abound. A lengthy interview with Jess Franco gives us some good insight into the man's vision of filmmaking as well as a few of his typical gripes. Trailers for other discs from Media Blasters, some liner notes, and a photo gallery round out the DVD. I recommend "Nightmares Come at Night," but not for the Jess Franco first timer. Start with another film first, possibly "Vampyros Lesbos" or "Faceless" or "Marquis de Sade's Justine" before dipping your toe into this picture. Those films will give you a good idea of Franco's range, or lack thereof in the case of some of these movies, and will provide you with the necessary fortitude to plumb the depths of this enigmatic flick. Good luck.