Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Nightdreams (1981)

... aka: Night Dreams
... aka: Nightdreams #1

Directed by:
"F.X. Pope" (Francis Delia)

Nightdreams is that rare adult film that's well-made, imaginative and much better than it really needs to be; made during a time when a few renegade filmmakers out there were striving for respect and mainstream acceptance in a popular genre that most watch and enjoy but just as many won't admit to watching and enjoying. These guys were pretty much fighting a losing battle back then, but that doesn't mean their efforts should be forgotten now. As the credits roll over a black background we hear the sounds of a heart beating followed by a woman moaning. The sounds are coming from Mrs. Van Houten (Dorothy LeMay), who's suffering from some unnamed "erotic trauma" that appears to be frigidity. Your typical suburban housewife with two kids and an impotent husband who claims his wife's never had an orgasm, Mrs. Van Houten has been driven to deliria by desire by some experimental drug, is hooked up to electrodes and being observed and studied by a pair of doctors. The female doctor (Jennifer West) ponders, "I wonder what she's going through?" We shall soon see in a series of clever, bizarre, surreal and usually pretty dark hardcore vignettes.

Mrs. Van Houten's first fantasy takes us back to childhood and is set in a nursery. A grinning clown with a phallic nose he later puts to good use pops out of a jack-in-the-box and proceeds to pleasure her while the sounds of children laughing and an owl can be heard and flashes of a creepy mask light up the screen. Next up is an erotic all-girl romp in the desert where two cowgirls ("Monique" / Jacqueline Lorians and Danielle Martin) pleasure our heroine by campfire, which is set to Wall of Voodoo's great cover of "Ring of Fire." The music and lighting combine to make this scene downright hypnotic. It could well be the finest X-rated lesbian scene ever shot. She's next off to a smoky Middle Eastern den to take on two hash-smoking sheiks. From there, she envisions herself with a crazed man who gives birth to a baby though his zipper (!) The next setting is a public bathroom where she's interrupted admiring herself in front of a mirror by a masked intruder in a black/white mask who bends her over the toilet and has his way with her.

In what is perhaps the film's most memorable - certainly the most amusing - scene, Mrs. Van Houten imagines herself in a kitchen making breakfast when the Cream of Wheat box comes to life and a burnt piece of Wonder Bread dances and plays saxophone in the background while "Old Man River" plays on the soundtrack! Our heroine then takes a trip to hell to encounter a horny demon (Ken Starbuck) and a few of his followers before landing in heaven for a more romantic encounter with an angel. In between all of the sex scenes, the doctors discuss their test subject. The male doctor (Andrew Nichols) worries about Mrs. Van Houten's ability to handle so much pleasure, while the female basically tells him to butt out and just let her enjoy herself.

Nightdreams really gets it right for a change. It covers most of the bases a hardcore film should cover while managing to be entertaining, stylish and inventive. Genuine care has gone into the photography, the sound design, the lighting and the art direction to give each scene a distinctive mood to reflect the many facets of female sexual desire. Depending on the fantasy, Mrs. Van Houten is submissive or dominant, lustful or romantic, passive or aggressive. She's free to experiment with whatever or whomever she chooses without judgment; men or women, multiple partners, even inanimate objects... and her encounters run the gamut from dark and creepy to light and humorous. Lots of horror imagery has made its way into this one, which is why it's often classified as an adult horror film. The clown and demon makeups designs are great, and the fiery, smokey hell set is simple in construct yet very effective thanks to great use of a fog and red lighting.

Le May isn't the most talented or best-looking actress you'll see in one of these things, but she does try to actually give a performance and does whatever the director throws her way with enthusiasm, so you can't ask for much more than that. Kevin James (billed as "Kevin Jay"), who passed away from cancer in 1990 at age 35, was one of the better looking male porno stars of the time and gets to play four different roles (the clown, one of the sheiks, the bathroom assailant and the angel) here. The biggest surprise in the cast is an uncredited Michelle Bauer, who appears in the hell sequence chained up against a wall barking out orders. Bauer was a 1981 Penthouse model who appeared in numerous adult films in the 80s before becoming one of the most beloved horror Scream Queens of the 80s and 90s. To my knowledge, Bauer only actually performed an explicit sex scene on one occasion (1981's Bad Girls) and otherwise just appeared nude in these films (which is the case here).

There were multiple Nightdreams sequels, the first of which was made by the same director. Sayadian also co-wrote and produced (as "Rinse Dream") and worked on many of the sets (the "Jimmy Rigg" alias is likely him). The following year Sayadian would direct CAFE FLESH (1982), which starred Nichols and Bauer (using her "Pia Snow" alias) and is considered by many to be the greatest adult film of all time. The Mrs. Van Houten character also popped up in Sayadian's DR. CALIGARI (1988); an R-rated effort.



Anonymous said...

Stephen Sayadian gave a fairly recent interview where he said he was trying to get another film off the ground (http://twitchfilm.com/2013/09/etrange-2013-interview-stephen-sayadian-is-the-most-interesting-man-in-the-world-gallery.html#8)

Seems like a great guy, though I'm slightly annoyed that he says no one is making hardcore films in this vein anymore. While rare, they're out there, as some of the works of fellows like Thomas Zupko, Bruce LaBruce, and Jack the Zipper can attest. Plus there's one-off efforts like Sanatorium and Malice in Lalaland (both of which I believe were shot on 35mm).

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Thanks a lot for the link! Really a fascinating interview. I still need to watch Cafe Flesh and Dr. Caligari. I have both of them; just haven't gotten around to viewing them yet for some reason. I have high hopes for both, as Nightdreams is easily one of the best adult films I've ever seen.

The only one of those you mention in your second paragraph I've heard of is LaBruce. I saw Super 8 1/2 a long long time ago and it wasn't to my liking so I never bothered with anything else he did. I was thinking about giving Otto a try...

Anonymous said...

Admittedly, the only LaBruce film I've seen is L.A. Zombie, which was impressively gory, and kind of hilarious (which may or may not have been the intention). Also, zombies carry condoms. Who knew?

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Ha. I may have to check that out eventually.

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