A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

Color, 1984, 92m.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Lina Romay, Daniel Katz, Carmen Carrión, Albino Graziani
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) ) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Night Has a Thousand DesiresNight Has a Thousand DesiresAfter returning to Spain in its post-dictatorship, pro-sex and violence heyday at the start of the '80s, Jess Franco embarked on some major career and life changes that resulted in some of his least seen but wildest efforts. Soaked in gauzy Iberian sunlight and featuring very low budgets, Franco excelled with films like Cries of Pleasure, Black Boots Leather Whip, and this film. Night Has a Thousand Desires (Mil sexos tiene la noche) draws both its title and initial premise from peerless pulp writer Cornell Woolrich's Night Has a Thousand Eyes, about a doomed fake fortune teller who finds his very real, unexpected psychic visions portending actual deaths.

Here the psychic in question is The Great Irina (Romay, of course), whom we first see doing her act at a hotel bar presented by her manager Fabian (Katz). Among the audience is Lorna (Black Candles and Sexual Story of O's Carrión), who takes an unusual interest in Irina's abilities and seems to lure her into a string of murderous nightmares accompanied by ritualistic chanting. Soon it seems these homicidal reveries might actually be real with potential victims including Night Has a Thousand DesiresFabian's older rival and Irina's possible bed mate, Ahmed (Oasis of the Zombies' Graziani), culminating in a drug-fueled and ultimately violent foursome and additional dangerous seductions. Is Fabian turning Irina into his own personal assassin, or is something even stranger at play?

As should be obvious from the premise, this is really Lina's show all the way as she gets to drift through the gorgeous hotel locations and indulge in a variety of sexy, sinister scenarios. Any film that features a great Lina freak out scene has to be worth watching (see Lorna the Exorcist for perhaps the most terrifying example), and this features a couple of great ones including a real corker near the end. Despite the delirious "thousand sexes" promised by the film's literally translated title, it actually isn't as explicit as you'd expect. There's quite a bit of nudity, of course, with Romay (sporting more flattering baby fat than usual) getting the lion's share of it as one of her many cinematic Irinas, this one stretching her acting muscles as well. The film shares a very similar look, locations, and cast and Franco's Sexual Story of O, including a substantial role as well for that film's star, Mauro Rivera (who gets a couple of potent scenes) and would make a solid double feature with it. Franco also has fun indulging in some of his usual low-budget visual trickery, including some nifty effects during the "dream" sequences performed in camera to surprisingly jolting effect. Night Has a Thousand Desires

Night Has a Thousand DesiresNever released before in an English-friendly version (and only on DVD previously in Spain), Night Has a Thousand Desires (whose title might work better as Night Has a Thousand Sighs to preserve the pun) looks great on Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro with a fresh transfer off of the original camera negative. It's a very dark film (literally) at times, and this captures that quality well with its often intense color schemes popping out nicely. It's definitely enough to make you hope some more of Franco's films from the period get the similar treatment, and the Spanish mono audio with optional English subtitles also sounds great (featuring a mixture of older and new music by Daniel J. White, riffing in particular on Female Vampire). Of course it wouldn't be a proper Franco release these days without some sort of contribution from Stephen Thrower, author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco, in which he presents an eloquent 33-minute breakdown of the film both for its place in Franco's life (with his collaborations with Romay taking a romantic turn shortly before this) and its place as a key but lesser known entry in his filmography, using the Lorna and Irina characters in fascinating new ways. Also included is the original 24-minute Jess Franco episode of the great Eurotika! UK TV series, with the director himself and other participants (Nigel Wingrove, Peter Blumenstock, etc.) offering an intro to the challenging but immense rewards of his sprawling filmography. The usual Mondo Macabro promo reel closes out this essential release for any Franco fanatic.

Reviewed on December 20, 2016.