One of Jess Franco’s rarer titles – at least in any version that is halfway watchable – 1975 production The Hot Nights of Linda – or, as the on-screen title calls it, But Who Raped Linda? – is something of a curio, highlighting both the best and the worst of the great man’s work. On the one hand, it’s a rushed, messy film that makes little sense; on the other, it’s a delirious, warped effort that has no connection with reality or normality.
The titular Linda is, in fact, one of the least important characters in the film (and her hot nights – or rape for that matter – are pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things). The film initially revolves around Marie-France, played by statuesque and sexy Euro starlet Alice Arno, who takes a job in Greece as nurse / secretary to a particularly odd French family. There’s Linda (Veronica Llimera), a paraplegic since birth (and seemingly mute), who needs looking after, and Olivia (Lina Romay), her cousin who is physically fine (and how…) but somehow wrong in the head – although she claims to be a virgin, she has an obsession with sex and masturbation. So essentially, she’s a fourteen year old boy trapped in a woman’s body. Head of the household is the repressed Paul Muller, who has a dark secret, and also on hand is servant Abdul, who only seems able to communicate in grunts.
Marie-France’s duties rarely seem to stretch to much beyond sunbathing naked with Olivia, but nevertheless she starts to sense a dark atmosphere in the villa, which seems to be tied to Olivia’s missing mother. It soon turns out that daddy has issues and may well have offed his wife after catching her with a lover – an act witnessed by Olivia. This may be the reason why cop James Harris and Playboy photographer Monica Swinn are staking out the house, though the real reason for their presence is rather more prosaic – once Franco cut out the hardcore scenes originally shot for the film but then rejected by most markets, he needed to pad out the running time with additional scenes. These new sequences add a certain comic relief to the film that is not entirely successful. The original hardcore edition, running 8 minutes less than the 80 minute softcore cut is certainly eye-opening – and you’ll often be straining your eyes to see what is going on. Franco, oddly, has little affinity for hardcore – his close-ups are so close that it reduces the action to a series of ugly blurs.
As the story progresses, Arno’s character fades into the background and the Romay becomes the centre of attention, as she uses Abdul both sexually and to help her gain access to her mother’s room, where the memories flood back. She also sexually assaults Linda (the ‘rape’ of the title) – who eventually throws herself off a cliff – and attempts to seduce Marie-France, before a finale where incest, murder and madness all collide.
The Hot Nights of Linda has all the hallmarks of a rushed effort – Franco literally loses focus in some scenes, the dialogue is all over the place (as is the dubbing in this English language print – characters at times talk without opening their mouths, at others are several seconds out of sync), the pacing is terrible and the sex scenes are rather clumsy. And yet there’s a curious fascination that the film has. Every so often there is a moment of brilliance – a stunning shot of Arno and Romay smoking and talking in a doorway that is genuinely beautiful, a scene of Arno oiling up the sunbathing Romay that is as erotic as anything you’ll ever see (never let it be said that Lina Romay didn’t throw everything into her sex scenes – rarely has the screen been graced by someone so entirely, comfortably sexual). And the entire film drips with a weird, claustrophobic sense of madness. Many of Franco’s films feature decaying families, and this one is especially rotten. It’s this sense of deviance at the heart of the film that makes it interesting – this isn’t a horror movie by any means, but it certainly has the atmosphere of one.
The end result is far from Franco’s finest work, but it’s also rather more interesting than his most disposable films (and even they tend to have something about them – Franco has never made an entirely worthless movie). It’s perhaps not the film to use to introduce someone to his work, but for the ardent enthusiast, this will push many of the required buttons.