The Hot Nights of Linda/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
About half an hour into ‘The Hot Nights of Linda’ a deeply disturbed young woman named Olivia awakes from a recurrent and feverish dream which she describes as being “a horrible and beautiful thing at the same time". This statement might also be considered an accurate description of the cinematic legacy of the film’s director, Spanish exploitation auteur Jess Franco who died in 2013.
The film’s plot, the meagreness of which should not necessarily be considered a shortcoming, involves a young nurse named Marie-France who accepts a job caring for Linda, the invalid daughter of an eccentric recluse played by Franco film regular Paul Muller. Except it turns out that contrary to what others have been led to believe she might not be his daughter at all. Secrets and subterfuge abound within the family chateau where every character is haunted by the spectre of past transgressions. Also resident in the hilltop abode are repressed nymphomaniac (if such a thing is possible!) Olivia played by Franco’s enduring muse Lina Romay and a mostly mute man-servant who has a penchant for peeping on the mistresses of the manor. The household are a real bunch of oddballs however Muller’s haunted patriarch, the gibbering servant and the despondent but decadent offspring will appear familiar to anyone who has seen Franco’s delirious A Virgin Among the Living Dead for which this film makes an interesting companion piece if viewed side-by-side.
As a prelude to her trip to the castle Marie-France reads a book in bed that apparently predicts events to come and Franco employs this narrative device from Gothic literature to book-end the film’s central action. It soon becomes apparent however that her employment will involve very little in the way of traditional nursing unless you count rubbing sun tan oil into Olivia’s intimate areas while she sunbathes naked on the veranda. Forget Obamacare, this is the type of treatment you get from Francocare!
Considering the somewhat haphazard nature of much of the director’s output in the mid to late 1970s, and the fact that it was produced by cheapskate French production company Eurocine, it’s amazing that ‘The Hot Nights Of Linda’ looks as good as it does. It’s languidly paced but beautifully composed; the cinematography is always arresting and occasionally stunning. One particularly striking sequence sees Olivia and Marie-France framed in a hallway, lit red from behind, while plumes of cigarette smoke curl in the air between them. Another has Romay’s character, dressed in her step-mother’s night dress, dancing around the room where she was murdered. She places the needle of an antique gramophone on to a turntable that obviously doesn’t work however non-diegetic music starts to play; a familiar haunting tune issuing from within the young woman’s subconscious. For me this latter scene distils the essence of Franco’s cinema – the ambivalence of a technical deficit (the non-functioning prop) subverted into a brilliantly sophisticated narrative trick (the sudden non-diegetic score).
Visual and narrative doubling and duality persist throughout the film; twin characters, recurrent dreams and past events insinuating their repetition in the present with grim inevitability. Mirrors appear in many shots with figures in the foreground frequently doubled by their reflection in the distance while Franco’s restless zoom lens slides between the two. As with many of the director’s more personal projects any viewer with a passing familiarity with psychoanalysis will have a Freudian field day diagnosing the dementia on display particularly come the climax which finds Olivia and her father in a fatal tryst with her brandishing the knife that he used to kill his wife and her lover.
A cloying atmosphere of inevitability, inertia and fatality fills the film. The bright sunshine and clear seas outside only emphasize the claustrophobic gloom of the chateau where the occupants are trapped with their dark secrets and inexpressible desires. For Franco unhealthy, unexpressed sexuality translates into a kind of living death and it is perhaps this morbid emphasis on the frustration of desire that turns off viewers looking for the usual sexploitation cheap thrills. Sure enough there’s T n’ A on parade and without question Romay is the undisputed queen of sex cinema bed writhing, but the pervasive atmosphere is one of sickness not sexiness.
One of an extraordinary eleven films shot by Franco in 1973 (although not released until’75), and like the equally morbid and melancholy Female Vampire, ‘The Hot Nights of Linda’ also exists in a hard-core version that features more explicit sex scenes. While he usually had no hand in creating these extraneous additions to his more lyrical work this was an instance when Franco lensed the fucking footage himself.
Jess Franco’s films tend to fall into two broad categories; the fascinating and the frustrating. Frequently they manage to be both simultaneously and perhaps it is the formal antagonism between the two characteristics that compels the more intrepid cult film archaeologist to repeatedly return to his work even after the disappointment of diminishing returns. That’s what I keep telling myself each time I cough up cash for yet another one of his fucked-up flicks anyway. If you’re a Franco virgin then this probably isn’t a good place to drop your drawers however viewers already attuned to the director’s peculiar oeuvre are sure to find themselves more fascinated than frustrated by ‘The Hot Nights of Linda’.