Wednesday 19 September 2012

Mil Sexos Tiene La Noche

I don’t think this one was ever released in any English-speaking territories, but if (like whoever sub-titled my copy) we go the direct translation route, then it is my duty to inform you that today we’re going to be talking about a film called ‘Night Has 1,000 Sexes’.

And, much has I’d love to leave you to contemplate such titling decisions at your leisure, I’m afraid it’s also my duty to inform you that, thanks to a brief mix up whilst typing the Spanish title into imdb, I discovered that the notorious Spanish slasher movie ‘Pieces’ was first released in 1983 under the name ‘Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche’ (‘Night Has 1,000 Cries’), leading me to suspect that the producers of this entirely unconnected Franco film simply jumped on that name for a quick buck and a bit of a laugh. (And of course, the ‘Pieces’ title itself seems to owe a certain debt to ‘The Awful Dr. Orlof’s original Spanish title of ‘Gritos en la Noche’, so who knows – maybe Franco was just getting his own back in some obscure fashion.)

As with most of the films Franco made for ‘Golden Films Internacional’ during the ‘80s, it looks as if this one enjoyed a brief release in Spain before disappearing altogether, with none of the international repackaging that most of his earlier films were subject to. Who were those guys, and was it really in their best interests to pay Franco to make so many movies? Did these things actually play in theatres in Spain? Did anyone go to see them? All questions for us to ponder in the dark hours of the night (1,000 sexes notwithstanding).

A loose reworking of 1970’s already pretty loose ‘Nightmares Come At Night’, this quintessential Franco fable has Lina Romay playing a psychic living in the Costa Del Sol, where she demonstrates her powers in a (surprisingly non-erotic) cabaret act in collaboration with her husband, played by Daniel Katz (I guess Antonio Mayans must have been having a week off).

Of course it’s only a matter of time before she falls under the spell of a sinister witch – Carmen Carrion in the familiar Lorna/Princess Obongo role – who apparently possesses Lina’s body as she sleeps, sending her out as a kind of succubus to kill her enemies. Strained mental health, reality/fantasy confusion, pot smoking, sapphic groping and tormented naked writhing naturally ensues. Happy days.

Less explicit than many of Franco’s ‘80s films, ‘Mil Sexos..’ makes up for it by virtue of being far more stylish, hitting a rare peak of visual imagination and formal experimentation that often harks back to his dreamy ‘70s hey-day.

It would be ungallant of me to dwell on the fact that Lina looks a bit tired out in some of the film’s early scenes (and an absolutely appalling pair of baggy pyjamas doesn’t help), so we’ll skip over that and just say that she certainly regains her customary enthusiasm later on. Katz unfortunately is dead weight, and Carrion’s screen-time is minimal, but if there’s one thing Franco knows when he’s on form, it’s how to make something out of nothing, and some of the hazy, beautifully shot erotic dream sequences he pulls off here could probably have functioned with no human component whatsoever. A super slow-paced lesbian tryst at a pot party is also one of the film’s highlights - a great trance-like scene, with an underlying menace that’s distantly reminiscent of something outta ‘Blue Velvet’ or ‘Twin Peaks’, as Daniel White’s droning, echoplexed freak-out music hits hard, throwing animal cries and death-like moans into the mix for an atmosphere of implied psychic violence. 3/5


“What’s that you’re reading?”

“An old book: it’s called… Necronomicon.”

H.P. Lovecraft’s sanity-compromising tome makes a welcome return to the Franco-verse, although as usual the bits that we hear read aloud from it sound pretty distant from anything you’d expect to find within the scrawl of the Mad Arab. Naturally the book’s inclusion doesn’t really lead up to anything of particular interest, but although the central psychic domination / subconscious witchcraft motif isn’t explored half as powerfully here as it was in some of Franco’s better takes on this over-familiar subject matter (‘Macumba Sexual’ and the astonishing ‘Lorna the Exorcist’ spring to mind), the film’s unusually captivating technique ensures that things rarely drag, with the atmospheric barometer rarely dipping beneath the level of “thoroughly sinister”.

In fact several moments here are pretty damn spooky, with Franco using sudden focus switches and primitive stop motion trickery to create subliminal flashes of phantom figures – an idea which is used very well, in spite of its simplicity and potential corniness – whilst the ‘echo chamber coal mine’ vibes on the soundtrack just won’t let up. 3/5

Pulp Thrills:
Nothing doing. I mean, it’s the ‘80s, and I doubt the budget here even stretched to lunch money. 1/5

Altered States:
Definitely one of the best latter day expressions of Franco’s patented brand of oneiric Mediterranean psychedelia, ‘Mil Sexos..’ is extremely well photographed, dripping with casually freaked out visual splendour as Jess goes wild with some surprisingly experimental sequences.

In particular,  he seems obsessed with textures here, plunging us into patterns of dense foliage (of the floral rather than human variety, for once) as the characters explore a ruined, overgrown walled garden, and he really gets way out towards the end of the film, as the camera takes a lengthy psychedelic journey across a blood-splattered window, revelling in the Pollack-esque patterns smeared against the bright sun-light.

There’s also a brilliant scene in which Lina’s voiceover reads aloud from a pulp horror novel that was presumably lying around whilst they were filming, as the camera cuts between an extreme close-up of her lips and shots of the book’s lurid artwork, depicting a bloody knife clutched between another pair of lips.

All of these stand as great examples of the kind of accidental, improvisatory quasi-genius that Franco scatters through his better films – real otherly inspired bits of filmmaking that make his (admittedly understandable) reputation as a talentless exploito hack seem doubly unfair. 4/5

Shot in Malaga and Gran Canaria (thanks, imdb), ‘Mil Sexos..’ isn’t particularly big on outdoor locations, but it makes excellent use of Andalucía’s Moorish architecture, including an absolutely jaw-dropping tiled courtyard, assorted decorative wrought iron carvings and that aforementioned crumbling walled garden, whilst Franco frames some particularly fine shots around a corridor lined with some distinctive pastel-shaded stained glass windows, in the same ancient-looking building (some kinda lounge / hotel bar?) in which Lina & her husband perform their psychic act. As you might expect, waves crash hypnotically on the soundtrack, gulls call, and, despite the prevalence of interiors, sense of place is strong. 4/5

Along with the similarly themed ‘Macumba Sexual’, this is definitely one of the best ‘80s Francos I’ve seen thus far. Although clearly derivative of any number of his previous films, solid technique, pungent atmosphere and captivating visuals make it a good effort all round, and a GREAT one for its era.


Soukesian said...

I'm guessing the title is ultimately derived from "The Night has a Thousand Eyes", a novel by the brilliant and deeply odd crime writer Cornel Woolrich that was made into a highly regarded 1948 film noir.

Haven't seen the film or read Woolrich's book, but the plot does seem to involve a stage psychic developing real supernatural powers, so I wonder if Franco used a memory of the story as a jumping-off point.

Ben said...

Ah yes, good point! That never occurred to me... thanks for pointing it out.

Maybe someone suggested this film's title to Franco as a pun on the currently successful slasher movie, and, being a general pop culture obsessive, it sent him back to the Woolrich story (or the film) for inspiration..?

Or maybe not, but I love these networks of possible connections...