Tuesday, July 17, 2012

La nuit des traquées (1980)

... aka: Night of the Cruel Sacrifice
... aka: Night of the Hunted
... aka: Night of the Hunted, The
... aka: Ragazza in amore

Directed by:
Jean Rollin

Driving alone at night in the country, Robert ("Vincent Gardere" / Alain Duclos) is surprised by a hysterical, nightgown-clad woman (Brigitte Lahaie) who jumps out of the woods and starts running down the road in a panic. She's seems to be a partial amnesiac, but at least remembers her name: Elysabeth. She claims she doesn't want to go... back there, and pleads the guy to take her with him... wherever he may be going. She doesn't seem to know much, but she does know she wants to get away from wherever she was... and it turns out she has very good reason not to want to. Robert decides to give her a lift to Paris. Once there, Elysabeth doesn't know where to go or even where she lives and says her mind is "completely blank." That's not exactly the case. She still has fragmented memories, which seem to come and go: one minute she'll recall something from the past and the next she's forgotten her own name all over again. Intrigued by the troubled young beauty, Robert brings her back to his apartment and the two make love. She ensures him she won't forget him but when he returns from work later that day she is gone.

Dr. Francis (Bernard Papineau) and his assistant Solange (Rachel Mhas), who claim to be Elysabeth's caregivers, have shown up to take Elysabeth back "home." Her "home" is an apartment in a tower block building where she lives with another woman named Catherine ("Catherine Greiner" / Cathy Stewart), who suffers from the same memory loss she does. Unlike normal apartments, the environment is mostly-white, clean and incredibly sterile, just like a hospital. The rooms lack any kind of individual touch or personality, just like their inhabitants. And someone brings food to their rooms, just like hotel room service. The place actually seems to be like a cross between a mental asylum (doctors are sometimes around and none of the "tenants" are quite right in the head) and a prison (armed guards occupy the ground floor and forbid anyone to leave). What it actually is is a place to quarantine and hide people poisoned by radiation who are slowly losing all of their brain cells, with leads to confusion, memory loss, madness and eventually death. Some patients are worse off than others. Catherine's disease is more advanced than Elysabeth's and she can't even coordinate a spoon going into her own mouth. Another man has no sense of balance and stumbles around in the hallways. Some of the patients have constant headaches. In the hallways, zombie-like people stand or sit around; some trying desperately to remember their pasts, while others "create memories" to temporarily pacify them.

After unsuccessfully making a pass at Elysabeth, Catherine gouges her eyes out with a pair of scissors. Then some of the others really start losing it and get violent. One of the guys who lives there is faking his illness and uses the convenience of everyone constantly forgetting everything to have his way with the women. While he's raping one of them, a man sneaks up behind them and beats him to death with a hammer. Another guy strangles his lover to death in the sauna during sex. Elysabeth attempts to escape again with her friend Véronique (Dominique Journet), who was with her the first time she broke out but got separated from her. She guns down several guards and an unhinged patient, is recaptured again and put in a straight jacket. Robert shows up with a gun but Solange greets him with a see-through dress and makes him dance with her (?) Noticing they're about to be exposed, Dr. Francis clears out the building and transports the patients to a train depot where he has his assistants inject them with poison and then burn the bodies in the oven. Robert tries to get there in time to save Elysabeth, but is he already too late?

Can't say I cared much for the director's meandering "arty" erotic vampire films I saw prior to this one. Both THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (1967) and REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (1973) were well-photographed but hollow, and pretty much left me feeling cold. Night of the Hunted on the other hand I liked. Quite a bit actually. Like almost all of Rollin's other films, this has a lot of nudity and sex, but unlike some of his others, that's not all it has. The premise (which appears to have been partially influenced by Cronenberg's SHIVERS) is quite intriguing and pulls you in right at the beginning. It slowly unveils aspects of the story, which provides a slight - albeit predictable - mystery aspect. Rollin and several of the actors have even managed to create a few interesting, oddly compelling characters, which is strange considering we're talking about "blank" slates with faulty memories here. Somehow these "walking vegetables" seem far more human than most of the director's other "normal" characters, likely because they're fighting a losing battle to feel human again.

Hunted certainly isn't perfect. Lahaie is very good in the central role, but some of the supporting actors (most of whom - like the leading lady - are French porno actors) are weak. The film also gets pretty sloppy at times in regards to the editing and continuity. Some viewers have complained that the film lacks atmosphere, but the same viewers probably don't realize that there's more to "atmosphere" than fog and crumbling castles. Sure, Rollin appears to have rented out a vacant floor of a high rise office building to shoot all of the apartment footage in, but it's actually sterile and vacant enough to work perfectly in this context. Good use is also made of a train depot and various outdoor locations.

Image and Redemption are the two most common DVD distributors of this one. Like many of the director's other films, it was never released theatrically in America.


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