Jean Rollin (1980)
Starring: Brigitte Lahaie, Vincent Gardère, Dominique Journet
Almost more sci-fi than horror, Jean Rollin’s La Nuit des Traquées aka Night of the Hunted is one of the esoteric director’s most difficult films, but it has recently been rescued from obscurity and released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber and Redemption. This is part of Kino and Redemption’s ongoing Blu-ray Rollin series, which includes films like Fascination, Two Orphan Vampires, The Living Dead Girl and more. Night of the Hunted is being released alongside Rollin’s superior living dead masterpiece, The Grapes of Death. Overall this is an unremarkable but decent release of one of Rollin’s most obtuse and least popular films, but it should please fans of Eurohorror that aren’t interested in the director’s surreal, erotic vampire output.
French porn actress and Rollin regular Brigitte Lahaie stars as Elizabeth, an amnesiac woman found wandering down the road by a young man, Richard. He takes her home and soon, they become romantically involved, but she disappears again as her amnesia grows worse. It turns out that she has a psychological condition, and therefore is being studied, cared for and imprisoned in a makeshift hospital along with a number of other people similar to her. From there, she struggles to remember her identity and escape from the hospital again before everything fades away completely.
Brigitte Lahaie is definitely the film’s strongest and most compelling performer, and she deserves more recognition for her acting talents. She is primarily known for her explicit roles and Rollin makes use of this; Lahaie is regularly naked and/or performing sex acts during the film. Sadly, not even her strong performance and gorgeous visage can save the arduous, lengthy, and somewhat dizzying sex scenes that seem to go on forever. The hardcore scenes were presumably included only to pad the running time of this very short production, but ultimately wind up feeling pointless and exploitative. The shots of violence are similarly jarring and, for probably the first time ever, I’m going to have to admit that I think the film would be stronger with a more developed script and less sex and violence. The violence is occasionally spectacular, with moments of practical, effect-heavy gore, but it is mostly wasted on a film that is too cerebral and dreamlike to benefit from giallo-like scenes, such as a woman committing suicide by jabbing scissors into her eyes.
Though the atmosphere is wonderful, there is barely any plot; many scenes simply make no sense, and the main characters are blank-eyed and spaced out for most of the film. Night of the Hunted is certainly full of potential, but it fails to really hit its mark. The ambiguity and frequent lack of tension can be distracting to the less patient viewer, though the pace picks up in the third act, resulting in a powerful final moment.
Made in 1980, during one of Rollin’s longest periods of financial disaster and creative confusion, Night of the Hunted is unlike any of his other works. Though the extremely low-budget is somewhat to the film’s detriment, Rollin makes the most of his locations and depicts a futuristic, isolated wasteland version of Paris. Unfortunately many of the scenes take place in various nondescript apartments, and it is clear that Rollin was severely limited by his nonexistent budget. A lot of hardcore Rollin fans find the film frustrating, partly because it (and some of his other early ‘80s films) veer so far from the fantastic, erotic, and surreal territory covered in his most classic and identifiable works.
The Redemption/Kino restoration is on par with the rest of their Rollin series and is AVC encoded with 1080p high definition and 1.66.1 framing. This release was mastered from the original 35mm negative, though it hasn’t been too intensely restored, as is Kino’s custom. The print looks better than it ever has, though the age damage and quality of the negative allows some of the original grain and imperfections to show through. Details and colors pop, which is saying a lot because most people were likely introduced to the film the same way I was: on a blurry, washed out, low-definition VHS transfer. The available audio is an LPCM mono track in French, the film’s original language, with optional English subtitles. The track is basic, but sounds decent and is mixed well with clear dialogue and only a little hiss.
There are a limited number of extras. There is a two minute introduction from Rollin and a few trailers from Kino and Redemption’s Rollin series, including one for Night of the Hunted. Rollin also gives a short, two-minute interview about the film’s history and very brief production time. Two deleted sex scenes are included; one is an alternate version to what appears in the film and the other is completely new. A nice, full color booklet is included, featuring a lovely essay from Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas about this film and the superior Grapes of Death.
Night of the Hunted is certainly an acquired taste. I hated it the first time I saw it and it is easily Rollin’s most divisive film, but there are hidden treasures that make it worth seeking out for fans of weird ‘80s Eurohorror. At its finest, the film is full of anxiety and paranoia. Utterly unlike the rest of Rollin’s catalogue, this unsettling work is reminiscent of the early films of David Cronenberg and also bears a certain kinship to David Lynch’s explorations of memory and identity. The Kino Blu-ray is definitely worth picking up for Rollin completists and is at least worth a viewing for genre fans simply as an oddity.