Color, 1980, 97m.
Directed by Roger Vadim
Starring Cindy Pickett, Barry Primus, Joanna Cassidy, Paul Jenkins, Gene Davis
Seven7 (DVD) (France R2 PAL), Dutch Film Works (Holland R2 PAL)
Director Roger Vadim crafted some pretty nutty depictions of human sexuality over the years ranging from the futuristic camp erotica of Barbarella to the jaw-dropping cheerleader/serial killer fantasy Pretty Maids All in a Row, but few can hold a candle to the unbridled lunacy of Night Games. Ever want to see the mother from Ferris Bueller's Day Off doing naked exercises in a see-through negligee, have freak-out rape flashbacks, and have fantasy sex with a guy in a giant red fluffy bird costume? Well, here you go.
After moving from New York to Beverly Hills to become a housewife, Valerie St. John (Pickett) spends her days shopping, avoiding therapy sessions, and jogging on the beach with her best friend, the single and promiscuous Julie (Blade Runner's Cassidy). Her husband Jason (Primus, mining similar ground here as his earlier role in Autopsy) is miffed that she can't enjoy sex and freaks out when he walks up behind her, all due to a childhood molestation. He delicately handles the situation by noting "You weren't the first woman to be raped, and you won't be the last" before hightailing off to London in frustration, leaving Valerie alone to go bonkers after she finds the housekeeper and handyman rutting in the living room. Soon she's all alone and going through a series of sexual reveries and nightmares that force her to confront her trauma once and for all.
Much weirder than your average '80s skin flick, this will never be thought of as a traditionally good film (the script, after all, is pretty terrible), but the fantasy scenes are pulled off with a great deal of dreamy panache. Furthermore, skin fans will appreciate the heaping helpings of nudity from Pickett and Cassidy, with the twosome's langorous skinnydipping and sunbathing sessions allowing Vadim's camera to zone out on their derrieres for minutes at a time. The supporting cast also features a few surprises, chief among them Gene Davis (brother of the late Brad), who was also spinning out one liners like "He gives the best beatings six ways from Sunday" the same year as a lipstick-wearing hustler in Cruising. (Three years later he was playing a nudist slasher in 10 to Midnight, but that's another story.) His participation here is just as peculiar, including some of the aforementioned fantasy sequences after Pickett tosses his lecherous character out of the house as well as a pivotal part in the unlikely "shock treatment' finale.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the film is its rhapsodic music score by the late John Barry, who delivers everything from a wistful piano motif for Pickett's character to surging symphonic erotica that feels like a trial run for his work on Body Heat the next year. It's a pretty astonishing piece of work, and if you're lucky enough to track down the soundtrack, it seriously contains tracks with titles like "The Wet Spot," "The Lesbian Tango," and "Phantom of the Orgasm." Interestingly, this was actually Barry's second score for a film co-funded by Raymond Chow of Hong Kong-based studio Golden Harvest, following his work on the Bruce Lee vehicle Game of Death. Anyway, the American rights were picked up by Avco Embassy, who couldn't draw in many viewers in theaters but made a small fortune by landing this puppy on video shelves everywhere for years to come.
Unfortunately this film pretty much dropped off the face of the earth after its '80s VHS run, though a really dire, dupey DVD did surface in Holland with loads of splices and odd bits of footage missing. The 2011 French DVD had to be an improvement regardless, though it's best to still keep expectations in check. The open matte presentation (preceded by a logo for Fortune Star, interestingly enough) is definitely a few notches over the blurry videotape source used for the prior DVD, though the print used has obviously seen better days as it's loaded with debris and doesn't exactly boast the most robust colors. Matted off on a widescreen TV, the framing at least approximates the theatrical experience (though it also wipes out a few minor additional slivers of bare flesh); it's your call which way to go. The mono English track is the only audio option, and optional French subtitles are also included. No extras of any kind. This will certainly do for now, but hopefully a better film source will make its way to home video at some point so fans of seriously surrealistic erotica can rediscover this one on better behavior.