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.