The appeal of a Jesus Franco movie isn’t easy to explain. A lot of cult movie fans are put off by the impro­vi­sa­tion­al nature of his work, not to men­tion the often pover­ty-row bud­gets and his “cheap & quick” approach to get­ting films in the can. Perhaps the best way to explain the appeal of his work is this: he was a film­mak­er in thrall to his fetish­es and he could let them run wild in front of the cam­era like few direc­tors would. If you can appre­ci­ate his dis­tinct­ly European type of deca­dence, you might be able to get into the head­space his sin­gu­lar­ly strange films occu­py.

The Hot Nights Of Linda is a pro­to­typ­i­cal dis­play of Franco’s min­i­mal­ist deca­dence. It begins with Marie-France (Alice Arno) leav­ing Paris to take a job as a nurse at a remove home in Greece. Her charge is Linda (Catherine Laferriere), a par­a­lyzed young wom­an with a child­like mind. However, Marie-France ends up spend­ing as much time with Olivia (Lina Romay), a vir­ginal but sex-obsessed nymphet who is Linda’s cous­in and an adopt­ed mem­ber of the house.

Meanwhile, the patri­arch (Paul Muller) of the clan is grap­pling with his own erotic/morbid pec­ca­dil­loes revolv­ing around Linda’s mys­te­ri­ous­ly depart­ed moth­er and a sleazy reporter-detec­tive duo is spy­ing on this over­heat­ed house from anoth­er home near­by, try­ing to col­lect some dirt on the fam­i­ly. Olivia’s bur­geon­ing sex­u­al­i­ty becomes the fuse that lights this pow­derkeg and it’s soon explod­ing in all man­ner of sexy and vio­lent ways.

If you expect a movie that plays its nar­ra­tive line out in a straight direc­tion, The Hot Nights Of Linda is not for you. The sto­ry­line has a thrown-togeth­er, mean­der­ing qual­i­ty: the source of Linda’s mal­adies is nev­er prop­er­ly explained, Marie-France is nev­er real­ly inte­grat­ed into the house’s psy­chodra­mas in a mean­ing­ful way and the sub­plot with the spy­ing duo nev­er pays off. There’s also a goofy, half-wit ser­vant char­ac­ter whose mum­bling and grunt­ing is like­ly to inspire fits of laugh­ter, even amongst those tak­ing the film seri­ous­ly.

However, com­plain­ing about such issues in a Franco film is real­ly beside the point. He’s more inter­est­ed in giv­ing his pet obses­sions a work­out: a fam­i­ly haunt­ed by secrets that tear them apart from with­in, incest, sadism, masochism and sex as a force that can be lib­er­at­ing and destruc­tive all at once. Surprisingly, he approach­es the­se heavy themes in a way that doesn’t offer a mes­sage or judge­ment. Indeed, his treat­ment of the­se con­cepts is odd­ly play­ful at times, includ­ing a cul-de-sac of an end­ing that you usu­al­ly see in come­dies. What mat­ters is the seedy yet styl­ish vibe as Franco cycles through his obses­sions in a way that keeps him amused.

The film also has a dream­like vibe to it that is cement­ed by the sin­cere yet styl­ized per­for­mances of its cast. Arno car­ries the first part of the film well, cut­ting a strik­ing, con­ti­nen­tal pro­file that leads us into the sto­ry. Laferriere con­veys the appro­pri­ate­ly fragili­ty as the baby-doll fetish object of the fam­i­ly, even if the sto­ry can nev­er quite fig­ure out what to do with her, and Eurotrash vet Muller is suit­ably brood­ing as the trou­bled dad.

However, the film belongs to Romay in her first real lead­ing role in a Franco film. She would become his muse for the remain­der of his career and it’s not hard to see why: she embraces her role as the ring­lead­er of the film’s indoor fire­works with great enthu­si­asm, watch­ing all her fel­low play­ers hun­gri­ly through her expres­sive eyes and throw­ing her­self into the sex with Method actor-style aban­don (note: there is a “hot­ter” alter­nate edit of the film with a bit of hard­core sex that Romay hap­pi­ly par­tic­i­pates in). Her work has a glee­ful, wan­ton qual­i­ty that sug­gests she’s liv­ing out her dreams being the Euro-under­ground cinema’s ver­sion of a sex object.

In short, The Hot Nights Of Linda, like the major­i­ty of Franco’s cin­e­mat­ic out­put, is a spe­cial­ty item for a very select audi­ence. However, if you’re will­ing to join that crowd, it offers an eye-open­ing, unique­ly fix­at­ed take on the usu­al soft­core shenani­gans.