Saturday, 16 April 2016
Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos / ‘Night of Open Sex’
As with many of Jess Franco’s early ‘80s productions under the ‘Golden Films’ banner, I believe this film only ever enjoyed a brief domestic release in Spain, and thus acquired no alternative / foreign release titles. The Spanish title is sometimes translated as "Night of Deviant Sex", but I'm unsure of the accuracy of this, so I'll go with the more literal (& less judgemental?) "Open Sex".
As graphic sexual content became an ever-more essential requisite for financing low budget filmmaking in Europe during the 1970s, any number of directors could be heard complaining about their artfully composed thrillers being ruined by gratuitous, producer-dictated sex scenes. Ever the outsider, Jess Franco by contrast is the only filmmaker I can think of who was more liable to ruin a perfectly good sex film by trying to turn it into a thriller, and with 1982’s ‘Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos’, he offers an enjoyably loopy example of that particular tendency.
Although ‘Los Noche..’ has a reputation as a bit of a fan favourite amongst devotees of Franco’s ‘Golden Films’ period, it is nonetheless liable to prove a tough gig for viewers expecting one of the director’s more artistically-inclined sex/horror pictures. In fact, it’s a pretty ramshackle affair even by the standards of his run-of-the-mill sexploitation quickies, differentiated from its peers largely by means of the fact that its plot-line is so sketchy and confused, even by the standards of Franco’s usual lackadaisical story-telling, that events soon become almost head-spinningly surreal,.
If you can recalibrate your expectations accordingly however and just take ‘Los Noches..’ as it comes, there is much here to enjoy. It appears to have been a pretty free-spirited, improvisational production that caught everybody in a good mood, and, leavened with regular injections of pure sleaze and random weirdness, it probably constitutes one of the better post-1975 exemplars of the director’s light-hearted, “zany shenanigans” kind of mode.
As such, ‘Los Noches..’ begins in a similar vein to some of the the looser and more charming films Franco made for Erwin Deitrich in the ‘70s (if you’ve seen ‘Midnight Party’ or ‘Die Sklavinnen’ (both 1976), you’ll have a pretty good idea where this one is pitched), with Lina Romay once again slipping into her default persona as a wildly promiscuous exhibitionist night-club performer, who this around time plies her trade at a late night hang-out called the “Mandala”.
One of those extraordinary joints that could only ever exist in the mind of Jess Franco, the “Mandala” represents a shining vision of a voyeur’s tragically unobtainable paradise, wherein mixed crowds of healthy, fresh-faced young people congregate to goggle at elaborately choreographed live sex acts, the girls and boys exchanging rowdy remarks and sipping beer as casually as if they were at a disco or a drive-in movie.
This whole opening section is super-cool actually, showcasing a distinctively weird chrome & neon aesthetic that recalls the warped mylar n’ glitter sci-fi stylings of 1975’s ‘Shining Sex’ (itself an unlikely precursor to the alienated ‘80s psychedelia of Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky (1982)), and this otherworldly vibe is only intensified by the smeared colours and visual fuzz of the VHS-sourced print viewed for this review. As disembodied, stocking-clad legs swing against abstract neon tubing on a black background accompanied by some kind of bizarre dance track that seems to mix a conga rhythm, acid house piano and sampled bird-tweets, Lina in rainbow print dress (that I’m sure I’ve seen in a few other movies) caresses the shining chrome chassis of a car and motorcycle, and Jess’s erotomaniac exploration of this new era’s enticing visual style becomes hallucinatory in the best possible way - a solid hit of primo Franco gear that succeeds in getting us nice and woozy for the cavalcade of seedy nonsense that follows.
(For even wilder Franco-goes-‘80s type thrills, a later nightclub sequence sees Lina arousing herself with a porno mag to the accompaniment of an alarmingly shrill new wave song that sounds like Spain’s answer to Plastic Bertrand… assuming that answer was “JAZZ-PROG MIDDLE EIGHT!”.)
Things take a slightly less jovial turn after the show, as Lina (let’s not even bother with a character name for her, shall we? – IT’S LINA) gets involved with a number of sinister characters whose motives (and indeed identities) initially remain obscure to us.
Accepting payment for a ‘job’ from a guy called Vicas, Lina accompanies him to a suburban house, where together they detain and torture a woman who is apparently the niece of someone known only as ‘The General’. All explanation vis-a-vis the reasons this is happening are basically left hanging, sacrificed in favour of a bracing bit of exploito-sleaze that sees the pair burning their victim’s vagina with what I assume to be some kind of heated curling tongs.
Grim stuff indeed, but don't worry folks – the combination of Franco’s characteristic failure to bother with any special effects and the actress’s corresponding failure to bother doing ‘pain’ render this incident far less of a shocker than it sounds on paper, despite the abundance of extreme close-ups. (As is repeatedly demonstrated in his post-1975 output, Franco was very much of the belief that there are NO narrative circumstances in which a gratuitous crotch zoom is inappropriate.)
Commanded by Vicas, Lina next pays a visit to ‘The General’ (who we are told is ‘wounded’), posing as the kidnapped niece in order to extract some mysterious ‘secrets’ from him before he pops his clogs. Suffice to say, ‘The General’ is a skinny guy who lives in a modest top floor apartment, so presumably he’s not supposed to be THAT General, in case you were wondering. (We will later learn that he is concealing the whereabouts of a stash of Nazi gold however… but it will take a while for you to figure that one on first viewing.)
You might be wondering why The General won’t notice that his visitor is in fact an entirely different person from his niece, but it’s ok – Uncle Jess is one step ahead of you there. It turns out you see that The General hasn’t seen his niece since she was a child. Sorted. Although, this might in turn lead us to wonder why Vicas & Lina thought the estranged niece might know her Uncle’s top secret secrets, and also why The General would entrust his treasure trove to a woman he’s never even met. Also, The General does have an adult photograph of his niece, which for some reason he asks Lina to complete by returning her stolen torn half of it to his possession, so presumably he already knows what she looks like…. but ENOUGH. When you find yourself wasting this many words nit-picking the plotting of a Jess Franco sex comedy, it’s time to move on.
After questioning Lina re: which side of the river she was born on in Istanbul, The General does eventually see through her ill-judged rouse, thus forcing her to immediately kill him, after which she makes off with some books from his library, within which some words which will reveal the the location of his treasure have apparently been underlined.
If you’re thinking that featuring a treasure-hoarding, Nazi-affiliated character named ‘The General’ who is suffering from non-specific ‘wounds’ and promptly dies would seem to carry some fairly obvious additional baggage for viewers in Spain in the early 1980s, well, you probably have a point. But if (Jess) Franco did indeed intend to add the slightest hint of satire or social commentary to ‘Los Noches..’, that opportunity was never followed through, and, like just about every other aspect of this film’s shamelessly nonsensical plotting, the whole “General” angle just melts away like butter in a frying pan.
Meanwhile, after Lina has completed her show at the Mandala the following evening, Antonio Mayans turns up playing one ‘Al Crosby’. Looking rather groovy in this instance with a swinger’s ‘tache, a nifty Hawaiian shirt and sucking on an ever-present half-smoked cheroot, Antonio wastes no time in sapping Lina with a gun butt and spiriting her away to (where else?) an Alicante sea-front hotel, where he ties her up, vigorously questions her about all that mystifying plot stuff I outlined above, and rapes her.
Apparently though, rape functions as a pretty good ice-breaker in the bizarro world of ‘Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos’, as we cut immediately to the sight of Lina and Antonio chilling out in deck chairs post-coitus, having seemingly put aside their differences and become best buddies, ready to begin planning their next move vis-à-vis the recovery of the General’s treasure.
Further happy-go-lucky outrages ensue, as Crosby stabs Vicas at the Mandala, and Lina is kidnapped by a debauched, voyeuristic couple who are also after the secrets of the general’s books. A predictably sleazy interrogation / rescue scene ensues, before the remainder of the movie settles down into a comfortable pattern that sees Lina and Antonio alternately shagging and utilising mind-bogglingly invisible logic to decode the clues that will lead them to the gold (at several points, they heroically manage to do both at the same time).
Picking words seemingly at random from the books pilfered from The General, the pair end up with several lengthy strings of Dadaist nonsense (“night / to / open / sound / gold / between / thickness / pointing / at / music”, “what / descent / blood / hearts”, etc). Hiding out in the repurposed home of a Count (who, played by Franco himself, can occasionally be seen tied up in the next room where he shouts things like “Rascals! Communists! You can’t do this to a Count!”, etc), our heroes lounge about arbitrarily repeating this gobbledygook to each other for so long that the scene almost begins to resemble some kind of Dadaist parody or exercise in deliberate tedium, reaching a crescendo of absurdity when, after listlessly roaming just about everywhere else within reach, Franco’s bored camera gives up all pretense of artistry and just zooms straight in on Lina’s naked ass, as the meaningless recitations continue (“blood / the descent / blood”).
Through means that remain inscrutable to us mere mortals, Antonio uses these “clues” to pinpoint the location of the treasure to an area of the coast known locally as “the old god’s finger”, for which the couple immediately depart. There, over beautiful shots of white sunshine glimmering on the waters of the bay, they keep pointing at the books and incessantly repeating variations on “old and finger… the old finger… finger…old..”, as well as indulging in some banter about the fingers of female saints, the sense of which was clearly rather beyond the ken of the person who fan-subbed my copy of the film.
By this point, I’m fairly sure Franco was using this word-game malarkey for deliberate comic effect, creating weird audio/visual juxtapositions that almost resemble some goofball version of William Burroughs and Anthony Balch’s famed cut-up films (“lukewarm night of open sex… fingers pointing at the heart of the descent..” exclaims Antonio’s voiceover, as the camera scans down off a hotel balcony across a non-descript patch of scrubland), and this disorientating vibe only intensifies once Lina and Antonio use their intriguingly holistic methodology to finally pinpoint the location of The General’s gold, which, joy of joys, is concealed within the closest thing to a James Bond villain lair that a 1983 Jess Franco film could afford.
Whilst I think we’re supposed to believe that this complex is located inside a tower-like coastal rock formation, the interiors, if I’m not mistaken, are all filmed within the legendary Ricardo Bofill buildings near Calpe, as featured in ‘Countess Perverse’, She Killed in Ecstasy and numerous other Franco faves. Prominent use is made here of the blood-red, cubist lego-brick staircases that will be familiar to most Franco followers, shot in such a way as make them seem a vertiginous descent into some expressionistic subterranean nightmare.
That these ominous stairways lead only to a mod-ishly decorated sea view apartment (possibly a re-dressed version of some of the interiors seen a decade earlier in ‘She Killed in Ecstasy’ and Vampyros Lesbos, possibly not) may be seen as a disappointment by some viewers, but I’m sure you and I both know that mod-ishly decorated sea view apartments are where EVERYTHING leads as far as Jess Franco is concerned, so what the hey.
Suffice to say, this film’s closing act features Lina sitting down in hot pants to play Franz Liszt’s ‘Liebestraum’ on a pianoforte over-dubbed with a weird, drony synthesizer tone, blocks of wood wrapped in gold paper masquerading as gold bars, reverse cowgirl coitus interruptus and an entirely appropriate “shrug n’ a smile” happy ending that somehow succeeds in providing us with a satisfactory resolution to all this abject nonsense.
As far as ‘Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos’s prospects as a thriller, a comedy and a piece of narrative cinema goes, that’s about your lot, which means it’s probably time to discuss the sexy stuff, which is plentiful, and, if-you-like-that-sort-of-thing, pretty good. Although heading towards the end of the era in which she took on these full-on erotic roles, ‘Los Noche..’ captures Lina at the peak of her wanton powers, and fans of her ‘70s work will need no further encouragement to check this one out, I’m sure.
Working at their preferred “hard soft” level of explicitness, Jess and Lina are certainly firing on all cylinders during the nightclub sequences in the first half of the film, with a lesbian encounter with an unidentified actress proving a particularly steamy highlight, accompanied by a delirious bit of Italian-style library music that could have come straight from the early ‘70s. Viewers watching in raincoat mode might be annoyed by Franco’s ridiculous habit of having his cast members simulate oral sex by waggling their tongues somewhere in the general vicinity of their partner’s undercarriage, but once again – such silliness is an established motif, and all part of the fun for the director’s fans.
One of the things that to my mind renders Franco’s sex films a lot more enjoyable than those of many of his contemporaries is his tendency to use performers who clearly enjoy acting out this sort of material on camera (Lina herself being the most prominent example of course), and to foster what to all appearances must have been a pretty comfortable atmosphere for them to strut their stuff within, giving his sex scenes an upbeat, inclusive sort of flavor that side-steps the alienating sense of exploitative coercion that so often afflicts cinematic smut (which is somewhat ironic given the strongly Sadean nature of the scenarios Franco often had his casts act out, but that’s a digression for another day).
This can very much be seen in ‘Los Noche..’ during the “private” sex scenes (mainly between Lina and Antonio) which are almost entirely played for laughs, and as such work very well in ribald sort of manner, with running jokes about Lina over-excitedly yelling “my Tarzan!” at her various partners, and about Antonio never taking off his beloved Hawaiian shirt. Somehow it all just seems so.. natural and good natured, it would be difficult for anyone other than a thorough-going prude to really object too strenuously.
Reading back through the plot synopsis above, some readers might well wish to question my repeated use of phrases like “light hearted” and “good natured” to describe a movie that is apparently filled with rape, Nazi-ism and genital torture, but what can I say… jaded from the harder exploitation pictures he’d been making in the late ‘70s, Franco somehow manages to present this potentially offensive material in such a casual, off-hand sort of manner that it just slips by without really making much impression at all.
Like the patently un-real gore effects that frequently turn up in his horror films, Franco-sleaze always has a theatrical, fantasy-land sort of quality about it – he knows he’s just sticking this stuff in to add a ‘shocking’, commercially saleable aspect to the production, and he knows that you know it too. He may enjoy the imagery of sadism, but he realises no one really wants to see realistic pain and suffering when they’re chilling with a blue movie, so what the hell, let’s just have some fun with it, y’know?
Such is the philosophy that defines much of Franco’s work at the end of the day, and, with ‘Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos’, this easy-going goofery perhaps reaches its apex. Between the ‘really good ones’ and the‘really bad ones’ in his mammoth filmography lie the ‘fun ones’, and here we have a fine example of the way that even the most seemingly trivial items in the director’s catalogue can become deliriously enjoyable experiences, full of odd sparks of invention, random diversions and sheer lunacy that you will encounter nowhere else in cinema.
Pulp Thrills: 2/5
Altered States: 3/5
Sight Seeing: 3/5