Color, 1975, 80m.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Alice Arno, Lina Romay, Pierre Taylou, Paul Muller, Catherine Lafferière, James Harris, Monica Swinn
Severin (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
No one could set up a house of perversities like Jess Franco, and he's up to his old tricks again in The Hot Nights of Linda, whose title promises basic softcore thrills but conceals something a little more twisted. (The fact that the on screen title is But Who Raped Linda? should tell you something.)
Actually Linda isn't really the main character here, but for the record, she's an incapacitated young woman (played by Catherine Lafferière from Franco's Exorcism) at the mercy of her more strong-willed nymphomaniac cousin, Olivia (Lina Romay, of course). They live by the sea in an estate belonging to Olivia's debauched father (Paul Muller, ditto), where they live with simpleton stud manservant Abdul (Taylou). Enter Marie (Arno), who's hired on as a sort of live-in nurse/secretary but seems to spend most of her time sunbathing outside in a skimpy bathing suit. Her presence ignites a fire in Olivia, whose libido escalates as she tries to give some sexual shock treatment to her sister and brings some of the household's darkest secrets to light.
Though obviously more uninhibited than what you'd find in America, The Hot Nights of Linda (whose French title, Les nuits brûlantes de Linda, was often mistranslated as Brutal Nights of Linda on the gray market) is possibly the closest Franco ever came in tone and structure to Tennessee Williams, using twisted humor to create a confining psychological space where an outsider's presence causes a family to fragment into psychosexual chaos. Romay is a firecracker as always, and it's fun to see Arno in one of her few leading roles for Franco alongside her work in Countess Perverse and How to Seduce a Virgin. Though officially released in 1975, this was apparently shot back to back with those films based on the appearances of the actors, and Taylou even gets trussed up naked to a wall and abused in a scene later adapted into an additional scene with him and Romay for the hardcore version of Countess Perverse.
Of course, being a Franco film, there have been multiple versions of this title throughout Europe despite the fact that it was never given an American theatrical release. A hardcore sequence was originally shot for a version running 72 minutes, but this proved to be commercially unsuitable for many markets and a longer softcore edit was prepared, clocking in at 80 minutes. A third version for Italy contained a unique sex scene between Taylou and Swinn but was otherwise heavily edited, confusing things even further. Unfortunately video versions for all of these were absolutely dire, with blurry VHS copies suffering from murky quality, random edits, and brutal cropping of the original scope photography.
Considering its history, we can be thankful that Severin has managed to release what can really be termed to first watchable copy of this film ever issued on home video. The longer 80-minute cut is the primary one on their dual-format Blu-ray/DVD edition, featuring the English language track (which is about as valid as any of the others considering there was no primary language recorded on set). It's a solid dub overall, and finally the film can be appreciated for its rich aesthetic beauty including some scenes absent entirely from the more commonly circulated hardcore version (including a beautiful sequence with the two female leads smoking and chatting against in hallucinatory magenta lighting). The colors here are really beautiful, and while the film itself has a soft and cheap veneer that may be a by-product of whatever scope process was used here, it's a godsend for Franco fans to finally see it looking so good.
The late Franco is also represented twice in the special features, first in a featurette called "Hot Nights" in which he talks about preparing the multiple versions, shooting by the seaside, getting what he wanted out of Romay and Arno, and following his own naughty muse wherever it might take him. Then he and Lina team up for an additional video piece in which they talk (often with inscrutable accents) about their memories of shooting the film, a bittersweet little snapshot considering neither of them are with us any longer. A brief video clip of Franco receiving the Fantastic Fest Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 is included as well along with the English trailer and a lengthy reel of outtakes, which is primarily the extra Italian sex scene along with some additional alternate takes and bonus softcore shots. Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower is on hand to deliver another good dissection of a film from Franco's fertile early '70s period, including a nice appraisal of the film's key line about existing outside time as a sort of mantra for the filmmaker's entire career. He also elaborates on his insane but laudable Franco book project, which sounds like it should be quite spectacular when it sees the light of day. Also included in the first pressing (2,500 units) is a bonus third disc, a DVD containing the 72-minute "French Hard Banana Version," sourced from a very blurry SECAM VHS source with burned-in English subs. It doesn't look any better than your average bootleg copy, of course, but for the sake of completeness it's nice to have this particularly foul variant preserved for posterity.
Reviewed on October 8, 2013.