Nancy (Jean Jennings), our titular virgin, suffers from terrible nightmares –sexual nightmares. Propositioned at poolside by her boyfriend, Danny (Wade Nichols), she betrays tremendous anxiety in relation to physical intimacy, and despite the best efforts of her parents (Zebedy Colt and Gloria Leonard), the nocturnal terrors continue unabated: her boyfriend, naked and predatory, pursues her though a field and takes her atop a motorcycle; her father, bathed in red light and laughing maniacally, fornicates with an anonymous vixen (Terri Hall) in full-view of his daughter. Indeed, things become so bad that Nancy is scared to sleep and those around her are scared she’ll do herself physical harm.
In antiquity dreams were thought of as originating from another world – at different times, from the divine or the demonic, but in Virgin Dreams, writer/director Zebedy Colt is clearly working with a more modern conception. According to Freud, dreams are the manifestation of conflict between the conscious and unconscious mind. From this perspective, the rampant carnality of our young virgin’s dreams makes perfect sense. Indeed, the resolution of the narrative – in which the waking Nancy finally acts on the impulses her dreams have revealed – is less than revelatory. Not that I’m suggesting the nocturnal hallucinations we witness should be read as literal wish-fulfilment – for a start, several of them involve her parents – but it’s clear that “our little puritan” is haunted by urges repressed during the day.
The skill with which this is executed is all the more remarkable in light of Zebedy Colt’s previous directorial efforts. In 1975 he’d helmed Farmer’s Daughters and Sharon (the latter also starred Jean Jennings), both of which are of historical interest but look decidedly low-rent by comparison. Here he delivers a film that manages to be captivating from start to finish and bares comparison with more celebrated efforts such as Through the Looking Glass. In addition to the obvious visual allure, the carefully-chosen soundtrack is also worthy of note; the first dream sequence is scored with ethereal music that recalls the films of the silent era; thereafter, as the dreams assume of more menacing tone, the realm of the unconscious is marked by the thunderous sounds of progressive-rock, and the swooping orchestration is confined to the waking world. I wouldn’t want to make any great claims with regards to the acting but, ultimately, this is much more of a stylistic exercise than it is a character study.
In a film packed full of memorable images, the dream sequences are especially impressive. The first features Nancy’s parents and explicates a metaphor that will recur throughout. Her father opens his flies and pulls out a flower; the fellatio that follows is juxtaposed with slow-motion footage of his wife holding a flower in her mouth, and his subsequent ejaculation is punctuated with similarly stylised footage of her blowing petals into the ether. Blasphemous as it sounds, the scene actually calls to mind the cinematic excursions of Salvador Dali. Later on, Nancy finds herself confronted with life-sized paintings of naked men; she moves from one to the next, caressing their idealised forms, only to discover that the lower portion of the final painting has been replaced by the more-malleable flesh of her boyfriend, Danny.
On one level, the film concludes in familiar fashion – with our heroine asleep and the audience privy to her dreams; however, having quenched her lusty thirst, much has changed. Finally sated, Nancy is alone in a sun-drenched field, resplendent is a sheer negligee and showered with symbolic flowers. Now able to act, master rather than slave, she addresses the camera/ viewer directly: “I want you . . . I need you.” You can almost taste the pollen in the air.