Judge Daryl Loomis can't remember where he left his pants.
My mind is completely blank.
Requiem for a Vampire, my favorite Jean Rollin film, opens with a pair of young female robbers in clown makeup escaping from their pursuers in a modern getaway car, blasting away with pistols as they go. Then, their driver is shot, the car wrecks, and they escape into the woods. After wandering for a bit, they come upon some gothic ruins where they find some ancient vampires and we soon forget everything that happened in those first fifteen minutes and so, apparently, do the characters. This kind of anachronistic approach is what continues to draw me to the director, but Night of the Hunted is something very different. It's still strange and dreamlike, with little regard for linearity or plot, but it's his first real modern-feeling picture. That doesn't make it his best, far from it, but it's one of his strangest and most intriguing works.
Facts of the Case
While driving down the road on a dark night, Robert (Vincent Gardère) stops to help Elisabeth (Brigitte Lahaie (The Escapees), a wide-eyed and lost young woman. She claims to be looking for somebody, but can't remember much about her, so he takes her to his apartment to calm her down. Soon, it becomes clear that her memory is destroyed and she has no idea why. When he returns from work the next day, she has disappeared and he discovers that she was taken back to the hospital from which she escaped. This facility, led by Dr. Francis (Bernard Papineau, This Man Must Die), cares for many people with the same affliction, but is the doctor treating these people or causing the problem?
I've seen Night of the Hunted quite a few times over its various levels of release, but even now, I have no real answer to that question. As is often the case with Rollin, though, the journey is more important than the destination. Rollin admits that he wrote the screenplay in a single night and it shows. The plot is extremely sparse and the dialog is nearly as pointless and meandering as anything he ever wrote, but Rollin was riding a conceptual high with the story and the evocative feelings he draws up make the film work as well as almost anything in this era of his career.
The theme of memory loss is paramount and creates a cast of characters who wander aimlessly, blank look in their eyes, having no idea what might come next. When they find out, they instantly forget what they just saw and maintain the blankness they started with. This creates a palpable sense of isolation and paranoia that sets Night of the Hunter apart from much of his filmography and exploitation in general, which is more obsessed with the rough content than the feelings attached.
Those elements recall some of the writing of Franz Kafka and some of what David Cronenberg would soon be directing, but on a far smaller scale. After The Grapes of Death, his first movie with a decent budget, failed at the box office, he was back to directing movies on a miniscule budget. While he was always good at working under such conditions, the lack of money shows itself here more strongly than it usually would, especially considering how gorgeous some of his earlier vampire movies looked.
Its merits are strong, but the issues that plague Rollin's films exist here, as well, maybe more given the modern nature of the story. When vampires are crawling out of clocks, one can excuse the baffling plotting as surrealism. In dealing with issues like memory and mental illness, though, it's harder to ignore the massive holes in the story. There isn't nearly enough care taken to properly explore these issues and, when the pointless conversations devolve, without fail, into banal sex scenes, it becomes a little tough to watch at times. Its strange violence and dreaminess, though, a trademark of Rollin's cinema, is intact enough to make Night of the Hunted fall squarely into the middle range of the director's work, if not in actual quality, then in enjoyability.
Night of the Hunted is given the typical Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber, under the Redemption Films label, as usual. The 1.66:1/1080p image is given an as-is transfer, with a basic HD upgrade that makes the film look far better than it ever has, but it's beset by the same problems as the previous DVD release from the label. The print is dirty, with plenty of scratches and pops that mar the experience. There is a bit of digital noise in places, but it's mostly free from these kinds of errors. With relatively deep black levels, realistic colors, and decent detail, it's not a bad looking transfer, but it could look so much better. The two-channel mono mix fares similarly. There's a bit of persistent background noise, but it's never too distracting, and the dialog and weird electronic score both sound pretty good. The lack of dynamic range in the mix is unfortunate, but that has to do more with budget than with effort.
Extras are slim on the disc. It starts with a pair of deleted sex scenes, which go farther than anything in the film, and were filmed in case Rollin was required to turn the film into a more grindhouse affair. Neither is really worth watching. A short talk from Rollin introduces the film and a slightly longer interview explains some of the background details, while a trailer closes out the disc.
Night of the Hunted is certainly not one of Jean Rollin's best efforts, but the cold paranoia makes it is one of his most interesting. There's more potential here than actualization, but it's very different from his usual work. The frequent sex and occasionally bloody violence will satisfy exploitation fans and Rollin collectors will appreciate the moderate improvements in the AV department. It's an overall package that I can easily recommend.
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