THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA (1973) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Jess Franco
Severin Films

You’re in for one sweltering night when you pick up Severin’s Blu-ray/DVD combo of Jess Franco’s obscure THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA.

Eager to get away from rainy Paris, Marie-France (Alice Arno, COUNTESS PERVERSE) takes a position as a nurse in Greece to Linda, the paralyzed daughter (TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD’s Veronica Llimera) of writer Paul Radeck (Paul Muller, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD). What first seems the beginning of a gothic romance turns into a Freudian nightmare with nymphomaniacal virgin niece Olivia’s (Lina Romay, FEMALE VAMPIRE) intimations of family secrets and Radeck’s own reticence to discuss the cause of Linda’s paralysis (other than her being born of sin). Marie-France’s nights in the villa are disturbed by the sounds of Olivia’s constant masturbation, visits from mute peeping tom servant Abdul (Pierre Taylou, EXORCISM), and Radeck’s visits to a mysterious locked room. The explosion of Olivia’s sexual curiosity may expose most of the Radeck family secrets but will it tell us “who raped Linda?”

Although THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA is one of Franco’s earliest films in which Tim Lucas’ identification of Franconion ennui as the space where aberrant behavior begins is most palpably felt not just through the character of Olivia - who remarks "It's marvelous to live without a sense of time" - but also through Marie-France’s bored imagination which projects the “David Khunne” novels he is reading onto her situation. It’s pretty tame in its English version apart from some female frontal nudity, but it was originally shot as LES NUITS BRULANTES DE LINDA and featured one hardcore scene (the banana scene). This proved a hard sell for international audiences so the banana scene was removed and comic relief scenes were added with Richard Bigotini – an actor and assistant director who worked on a handful of Franco films from this period – who played the employment agency worker in the opening and closing sequences, but is revealed here to be a police officer ordered by “The Inspector” (Angelo Bassi, KISS ME KILLER) to spy on the Radeck villa – with the help of a nubile photojournalist (Catherine Lafferiere, CELESTINE) – to find out if Radeck murdered his wife ("it's always the same: naked girls and girls naked. It becomes monotonous!"). Of all of her major roles for Franco, Arno has the least to do here but ask questions for the audience (she has sex scenes in the French version at least), but the show really belongs to Romay and she really gets to strut her stuff front and center here for the first time (she was a secondary figure in the earlier films like THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF and HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN while CELESTINE was a more mannered sex comedy and they had yet to embark on FEMALE VAMPIRE). Muller is able to sleepwalk through much of his role without being upstaged by Romay (although with the number of Franco films being shot back-to-back, he may not have known what he was up against). Taylou’s guitar-strumming mute servant recalls EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION’s Augustin and anticipates similar figures in GEMIDOS DE PLACER and BROKEN DOLLS, as well as being one of the first instances where this character figures into the sex scenes (PLAISIR A TROIS as well as some later Franco films would have a female mute sex slave sometimes played by Romay).

In its softcore English version, THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA is intriguing and relatively well-made but rather tame for a Romay/Arno-era Franco film. The print itself bears the onscreen title BUT WHO RAPED LINDA?, a translation of the French softcore version; Severin’s title is a translation of the 1975 French hardcore issue’s release title. Comparison with the French hardcore version – released later with additional hardcore inserts – reveals that a couple scenes were reshot, lowering the nudity quotient but not actually doing away with it. When Marie-France meets Olivia in the French version, she is nude and sunbathing on the balcony while she is clothed and in her bedroom in the English version. When she wakes up Olivia from her nightmare in the French version, their discussion continues in the morning sunbathing by the pool while they continue their discussion that night over a cigarette in the English version (in a scene that looks like it was patterned after the visual style of Franco’s TENDER AND PERVERSE EMANUELLE). The French version includes some helpful dialogue not present in the English version about the forbidden room and Radeck’s refusal to have his wife declared dead. The hardcore version also adds shots of Romay masturbating in bed (she is only heard in the English version); but the film’s sex scenes also reveal that difference between the English version and the French hardcore version are not so cut and dried.

The banana scene may have also had additional hardcore shots added to it in the French version, but the banana is not seen at all in the English version (the English version does include Linda’s scream which is left out of the hardcore assembly). During the first sex scene between Romay and Taylou, the outtakes include in the extras and the disc’s trailer feature what must be footage original to the scene of Romay stripping Taylou and Arno making an appearance before running away. This footage was cut from the English version but largely retained in the French version (apart from Arno’s appearance). When Radeck drags Abdul to the basement, the shots of him whipping the servant are cut entirely from the French version but retained in the English one. The scene of Olivia asking Abdul to get her the key to the forbidden room is extended in the French version as Olivia masturbates with the whip (which may be part of the original shoot since it lacks hardcore close-ups).

With the hardcore banana scene removed, Franco shot a scene in which Romay teases Abdul by fellating a banana. He runs away and she laughs but the next scene is their sex scene which is witnessed by Linda. The French version seems to have the original scene with Romay teasing Abdul with her naked body before they have sex (with plenty more hardcore inserts). The outtakes included on the disc feature what appears to be footage from the original version of the sex scene that appears in neither version (below the waste stripping of Abdul as he climbs on top of Olivia). The continuity of the French hardcore version of the scene is such that we do not have any indication that Linda has seen them as she does in the English version (motivating her subsequent actions). It is difficult to tell whether the two sex scenes with Romay and Arno have been added, but they go against the grain of Olivia’s sexual frustration (but I doubt Franco would sacrifice an opportunity for a lesbian sex scene to the demands of the story). The French hardcore version has a superior climax (no pun intended) with Romay reenacting the traumatic sex scene she witnessed as a child before cutting away directly to the final scene with Arno and Bigotini. The English version includes another added resolution before the aforementioned scene with Romay going a little axe-happy and Arno bringing in the authorities (I presume this is part of the reshoot since it features Bigotini on location whereas he appears to stay in Paris in the original).

For the longest time, the most accessible version of THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA to stateside viewers was a horrid-quality bootleg of the French hardcore version which featured not only hardcore inserts but also a few alternate scenes (when Marie-France first meets Olivia in the French version, she is sunbathing nude on the balcony but clothed and in her bedroom in the English version). A cropped English-dubbed softcore version turned up later under the title EROTIC DREAMS as a television recording from an adult channel called Eros (with phone sex line numbers scrolling across the bottom of the frame throughout). While the French version was letterboxed but still cropped, more accurately framed softcore versions turned up on videotape in Spain (as HABITACION PROHIBIDA with the actual onscreen title: BUT WHO RAPED LINDA) and Italy (as LA FELICITA NEL PECATO). The Stephen Thrower interview on the disc reveals that the only hardcore scene that was part of Franco’s original assembly was the banana scene. While Franco later added more hardcore footage to the version that would come to be known as LES NUIS BRULANTES DE LINDA, the soft version deleted the banana scene and added in comic relief scenes featuring Bigotini – who appeared in the opening as the agent who hired Marie-France for the position with the Radecks – and a photojournalist (Catherine Lafferiere, EXORCISM) who have come to Greece to spy on the Radecks from a neighboring villa to discover whether Radeck murdered his wife (Franco expert Robert Monell pointed out to me that the family’s surname is actually Steiner despite Muller’s character being called Radeck). Despite their villa being at a lower elevation, they seem to be able to see everything that happens

With typical ballyhoo, Severin claims that their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray (and 16:9 DVD) derives from a “35mm print discovered in a Barcelona bordello”; however, although the aforementioned three releases prove that Eurocine was in possession of a complete source for the softcore version, Severin apparently had to do some additional work on the materials provided to them by Eurocine to arrive at the current cut (which is not the original cut since it has the wraparounds, the Bigotini/Lafferiere footage, and deletes the banana scene). Like the masters Eurocine provided to Redemption – low contrast scans for color and contrast adjustment stateside – HD master has slightly grayish blacks but the colors are attractive. There is some occasional damage and scratching – more so during the first sex scene with Romay and Taylou – but it might be the best-looking of the stateside Franco Blu-rays thus far (although some of the HD-mastered DVD-only Franco titles of late might better it making the leap to the HD format). The dubbed dialogue on the English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track sounds a bit hollow and hissy, but the music sounds cleaner.

In “Hot Nights of Jess” (16:17), Franco talks about mounting the project after discovering the Greek-style hotel locations in Alicante, as well as the desire to give Romay a bigger role. He compares Romay to Soledad Miranda, and reveals that model Alice Arno did not have enough faith in her acting (he avers that she was right for certain types of roles). He also calls Paul Muller “a little bit of a maniac” and has changed his mind about the addition of the “stupid characters” played by Bigotini and Lafferiere; he still think the characters and the scenes are stupid but sees that the overall tone of the film might have been too nasty without them. Romay makes an amusing cameo appearance to remind Franco of Veronica Llimera’s given name (this is a surprising, amusing, and touching moment because I at first thought this interview was shot after Romay died). Most amusing and touching is “Lina and Jess Discussing LINDA” (12:08) in which the actress and director take up part of the time trying to recall the order in which the films they made together that year were shot. Franco reveals that Romay first started moving behind the camera by cutting trailers of his films, while Romay is critical of her own performances in general but expresses her desire to keep making movies. The Fantasticfest Lifetime Achievement Award Presentation to Jess Franco (1:35) has Franco receiving a sword as a trophy.

Franco expert Stephen Thrower appears in a new interview (11:55) in which he discusses the film’s complicated shooting history and post-production (the original title was announced as LES CARESSES DES CHATTES or “Stroking the Pussy” but the French censors balked). The Thrower featurette also includes onscreen glimpses of the film’s alternate title cards including COME CLOSE, BLOND EMMANUELLE (Eurocine’s online catalog does list the film under the title SAVAGE GIRLS and the synopsis refers to the protagonist as Emmanuelle). Thrower also discusses the recurring names (Linda and Radeck), the themes of incest and the decaying family unit, as well as the other films that were shot at the same time by Franco using the same locations and actors (KISS ME KILLER and TENDER AND PERVERSE EMANUELLE). The film’s rare English-language trailer (4:03) – also under the BUT WHO RAPED LINDA? title – oddly features the French version of Romay’s introduction with English dubbing, and some more explicit but non-hardcore angles seen in the outtakes and the French hardcore version, and narration by Bigotini’s voice actor describing the film as “an implacable, realistic portrait”. A brief selection of black and white silent and color sound “Outtakes” (5:30) features the longer version of Olivia’s seduction of Abdul including shots scene in the trailer but not in the English version or the French hardcore cut (Arno’s brief appearance in the scene is completely missing from the feature version), as well as the shots of Olivia stripping Abdul during the second sex scene. These bits are in far better condition than in the French hardcore version and could have been re-integrated back into the English version if not for the additional work required on the soundtrack.

The first pressing of THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA features a bonus third DVD (the second being the DVD side of the combo) which features the aforementioned French hardcore version (78:58 compared to the English version’s 80:27, although the details above reveal that the difference is more than a minute or so of footage) – sourced from SECAM VHS – with new burnt-in English subtitles. The quality is only slightly less horrible than the bootleg DVD-Rs of this edition, and it does feature the replacement LES NUITS BRULANTES title card at the top of the print rather than as part of the title sequence itself (although the title card was missing completely from the DVD-R I’ve seen). The yellow English subtitle translation is burnt-in and is sometimes more literate than the English dub (although the exchange between Arno and Bigotini about "a question of morality" is funnier in the English version). The first pressing is already nearly exhausted, so interested parties might check with the stock available directly through Severin’s own website. (Eric Cotenas)