Thought to be lost for almost 35 years, Nightmares Come at Night was probably of great interest to Franco fans when it was discovered in 2004. Shot in the middle of Franco's rise to infamy, and featuring his late first muse Soledad Miranda, it's an intriguing curiosity in theory. Sadly, viewed today, it's not a great film: it's experimental to the point of tedium, lacks a strong protagonist for the viewer to associate with (not necessarily relate to, but just someone to follow), and relies too heavily on gorgeous naked women without any intrigue or interest to go with them (yes, some of us need more than eye candy).
After an opening credit sequence made up of stills of the film's plentiful nude scenes, the viewer is thrown right into the action. Anna of Istria (Diana Lorys, The Awful Dr. Orlof) is hysterical, hounded by bizarre nightmares of birds. She lives with Cynthia Robins (Colette Giacobine), an icy blonde who dominates Anna's life, holding her hostage, emotionally speaking. She confesses some of her problems to Dr. Paul Lucas (Paul Muller), but he is unable to break the spell of her visions, which only become more violent as time goes on.
The primary problem with Nightmares Come at Night is that reading the Blu-Ray box copy for the film outlines a much clearer storyline for the film than the movie works up as late as 55 minutes into an 85-minute running time. There are at least two crucial plot points revealed in the summary that don't crop up in the actual movie until more than an hour in, if they're coherently conveyed at all. The primary reason for the confusion, in my opinion, is a distance between the viewer and Anna. She's already tormented when the film introduces her, so it's hard to feel as if we're watching her story, compared to a story with her in it.
OK, so maybe Nightmares Come at Night is meant to be more psychedelic or hypnotic than a straightfoward narrative. Sadly, the supposedly fantastic nightmare sequences aren't much to write home about either. One exceptionally long sequence shows Giacobine dancing with her anonymous blonde hunk boyfriend while Lorys lies on the couch, zoning out. Eventually, the couple make out on Lorys' lap, which wakes her up and inspires her to climb up on a table to dance. The scene does eventually build to something, but getting there is a real drag -- if there's a directorial subtext to the majority of what's going on before anything of note occurs, I confess it was lost on me.
Directorially, Franco makes some intriguing choices. In particular, the use of soft focus and the repeated inclusion of mirrors does effectively add to a nice dreamlike quality that would've been appreciated if the story was engaging. In terms of sensuality, however, I personally found Nightmares to be a bit of a dead fish too. Others may disagree, but without strong characters or a compelling story, all of the nudity (and there is lots and lots of nudity) doesn't mean anything. Giacobine is also not particularly good -- even in her tiny role, shacked up in a nearby house, Miranda is far more charismatic and exciting.
Nightmares Come at Night misses out on the usual theatrical poster art, no doubt thanks to the lack of a real release. Instead, a photo of Diana Lorys, draped across a bed with her blouse open, serves as the cover. An appropriate "'70s Horror" font has been chosen for the title treatment. The disc comes in a standard non-eco Blu-Ray case, and there is no booklet or insert, which is surprising for this series, but is true of all three new releases (maybe they've ditched them).
The Video and AUdio
Kino provides a 1.66:1 1080p AVC presentation of Nightmares Come at Night that both has its share of issues but also looks as good as the film likely ever will. Print damage is the main issue here, which varies greatly throughout the picture but is present in every scene. Dream sequences look the worst, often featuring the most damage, heaviest grain, and the worst black crush (one crucial moment is almost entirely ruined by impenetrable shadows). The rest of the film looks fine. In close-ups, there's plenty of excellent skin tecture and hair detail in close-ups. A hint of black crush plagues the non-dream sequences, but nothing serious. Colors are decent, despite a slight "vintage" fade, more visible in some shots than others.
French LPCM 2.0 audio is roughly in the same shape as the image. Music and sound effects sound adequate to me, but for 15 or 20 minutes, there's a slight distortion in the dialogue, creating a distracting tinny echo. Not an uncommon anomaly for foreign '70s horror movies where the dialogue was re-recorded, and especially for a film with this kind of troubled release history, and it could be a significant improvement over other DVD releases, but still, not an optimal audio experience. Luckily, a couple of extensive sequences with little or no dialogue occur in the middle of the film, and when the dialogue comes back, it sounds much clearer, with just a little softness around the edges. An English LPCM 2.0 dub is also included, as well as English subtitles.
"Eugenie's Nightmare of a Sex Charade" (20:12, HD) is a polished little making-of documentary, featuring interviews with the producer and several film historians, as well as an invaluable vintage interview with Franco. In addition to the usual production history of the film, this piece (like the commentary) focuses on contextualizing where the film belongs in Franco's professional career and the process with which it was financed, although this history is less detail-oriented than Lucas'. "Tribute to Jess", or, on the packaging, "Jess! Where Are You Now?" (8:24, HD) is the same tribute piece, featuring the participants from the documentary, that appeared on Redemption's The Awful Dr. Orlof disc, and is also included on A Virgin Among the Living Dead. Finally, "About the Master" (5:34, HD) is a short video piece narrated by Bret Wood, talking about the process of creating the HD master for this transfer. Although this might sound entirely technical, this is a great little piece that also covers some of the film history, through a study of the negative.
Like all three of Redemption's newest wave of Jess Franco Blu-Ray and DVD releases, Nightmares Come at Night includes an exhaustively researched audio commentary by Franco biographer and Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas. Lucas is one of the foremost experts on Franco's work -- he's probably forgotten more details about the production of the film and the people involved than the average film lover, even a Franco fan, will ever know. Here, the film's "lost" status is covered, and and Lucas tries to contextualize it artistically among Franco's work.
Trailers for The Awful Dr. Orlof, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, Female Vampire, Exorcism (aka Demoniac), and Oasis of the Zombies are also included. No trailer for Nightmares Come at Night is included -- none exist!
Nightmares Come at Night may have been a lost movie, but it's no gem -- despite the impressive effort Kino has put into this disc, even Franco-philes should probably rent this disc before considering a purchase.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.