Jess Franco’s delirious 1984 thriller Night Has a Thousand Desires is now on Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro
On the back-end of Mondo Macabro‘s sumptuous new Blu-ray release of Spanish art/horror cinema-slinger Jess Franco‘s 1984 fever dream Night Has a Thousand Desires, there’s a snippet of an older interview in which Franco cites that many critics and audiences have decried his work as being amateur. To that, the filmmaker states, he is thankful. For in Franco’s mind, “amateurism” is what defines pure cinema and it’s Hollywood’s obsession with over-polishing that is slowly killing true filmmaking.
Here is a fillmaker who was always in his heart and soul a jazz musician and whose best work (and even worst work) exemplified the sort of attention-swirling sensuality and organized cacophony of sound and emotion that defines jazz. Franco himself has referred to his work as “first draft” filmmaking and like with all first drafts of anything, one must be forgiving of the rushed and often ill-conceived elements and focus solely on the moments of innovation and invention. And in every Franco movie, you will always find at least one of these moments of sublime wonder and primal vision.
Night Has a Thousand Desires however is one of his best films, certainly a highlight of his efforts in the 1980s, when the European exploitation film boom was cycling down and fewer and fewer of the sort of dreamy, erotically-charged head-trips that Franco traded in were being produced. It’s one of a handful of films made for Golden Films, the Spanish company that, after the death of the fascist dictator General Franco in the 1975, began catering to a country long denied sexual and sanguinary entertainment. Like other Golden Films pictures like lush Macumba Sexuale and the bonkers Mansion of the Living Dead, Night is softcore bordering on hard. But this is a far superior and visually appealing picture and it gives frequent Franco collaborator (and wife) Lina Romay a wide canvas to create one of her greatest roles, another woman named Irina (a trend that began with the pair’s first major film,1973’s Female Vampire) who once more finds herself in a state of sexual delirium. This incarnation of Irina however is a voluptuous mind-reader who is being used by her nightclub magician lover in a series of nightly routines where she scans patrons’ inner voices and wows the crowd. But when she returns home (and delightfully removes her clothes…’80s Lina Romay is a wonderfully curvy, slightly Rubenesque creature) she falls into a dream-state, imagining all manner of sweaty, sexually potent rituals. And then she wakes to find that people whose mind’s she has read… are dead.
Night Has a Thousand Desires is an acceptable point of entry for newbie Franco fans too, as it is beautifully photographed, gorgeously-scored (by Daniel White, who drags some of his Female Vampire cues back for this to supplement his new music), loaded to the popping point with sex and armed with some of Franco’s most fascinating moments of distraction. In one key dialogue scene, Franco gets bored of shooting the two-shot sequence, spies a stained-glass window behind his actors and, while the characters are still talking, simply zooms in tight on the window, just to stare at the glowing, beautiful blue hue. The movie is packed with these key voyeuristic moments. Because a serious love for Franco means that one is aware that sailboats on the horizon, a window or a vagina are all the same to him. He shoots what he wants to see in the moment he is in and that’s what we get. And we love him for it.
Mondo Macabro make this modestly (ahem) budgeted picture look like a million bucks, with rich colors and sharp details and marvelous skin tones. The film is in Spanish with optional English subtitles and features include the classic Franco episode of the Eurotika! series as well as an absolutely first rate on-camera video essay by experimental musician, author and Franco historian Stephen Thrower, who fascinatingly breaks down the picture and makes thoughtful observations about Franco’s creative process and the many reoccurring themes that appear in the film. It’s Franco film school, right there in one articulate shot.
A great release of a great film from the man who this writer continues to cite as cinema’s most important director. Maybe not best (whatever that means) but certainly most important.