A woman is taken to a mysterious clinic whose patients have a mental disorder in which their memories and identities are disintegrating as a result of a strange environmental accident.
A potpourri of bizarre characters, weirdly creepy doctors, and a conspiracy cover-up, 'The Night of the Hunted' is an odd and highly unconventional sci-fi horror feature with dabs of the phantasmagoric and erotic which just barely miss crossing the line into soft-core territory. Scenes of gruesomely graphic murders are done with some expediency, leaving very little room for explanation, while the camera uncomfortably lingers for long stretches of time on very explicit moments of indiscretions. Funnily, these adult encounters also happen out of the blue without reason but are definitely given a good deal of screen time. Coming from the likes of Jean Rollin, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise.
The strange movie is a follow-up to Rollin's 'Grapes of Death' and 'Fascination,' (that is, if we conveniently overlook his work in the hardcore pornography industry) a pair of horror treats which essentially demonstrate the French filmmaker's slow progression towards an experimental period. The Rollin films of the early 80s were at their basic level small ventures to mix the director's usual style of erotic themes with more graphic, gore-oriented horror. The experiment made possible such enjoyable, and somewhat more respectable, fare as 'The Living Dead Girl' while at the same time generating such laughably terrible schlock as 'Zombie Lake.' Looking back, those movies basically paved the way for more obvious departures like 'The Escapees' and 'The Sidewalks of Bangkok.'
Granted, the latter two aren't exactly "classics" by any stretch of the imagination and surely not remembered by the general public, but they show Rollin's steady evolution towards more mainstream material — possibly even revealing the director's desire to be taken more seriously by a broader audience. 'The Night of the Hunted' falls in that in-between stage where he attempts to tackle a more thoughtful and sophisticated plot while still maintaining the traditional erotic fantasy-horror qualities he's known for. With a strong giallo-like atmosphere permeating throughout, the story is at its heart a mystery thriller largely driven by the cryptic, secretive activities of an eerie doctor (Bernard Papineau), his creepy assistant (Rachel Mhas) and some obscure clinic for the mentally disturbed.
As in his previous two affairs, Rollin brings back his muse at the time Brigitte Lahaie, a well-known porn actress who had just retired from the industry at the height of her popularity. The voluptuous blonde bombshell makes for an interesting choice as a leading figure given her background, and this particular role, according to the story, seems quite demanding. Surprisingly, Lahaie does a good job as the bewildered, mostly melancholic Elizabeth, a young woman suffering from short-term memory loss. The actress may not demonstrate much range in her performance, but she has presence and the camera clearly loves her. (And no, it's just for her body.) The mystery surrounding her escape from the clinic commences after she is discovered wandering the streets in her nightgown by a Good Samaritan named Robert (Alain Duclos).
As much I think the film possesses some positives, I must admit 'The Night of the Hunted' is also a bit of a chore, with several dull moments of no real significance, except to drag out the runtime or attempt to make the mystery more sinister than it really is. Being a product of Jean Rollin's in-between stage, the movie could be forgiven its shortcomings, especially as one of the director's more contemplative and somewhat weighty efforts. Rollin also penned the screenplay, which tackles abstract issues about identity and self intrinsically linked to memory. While arguably not as bad as 'Zombie Lake,' the movie is frankly not very good either, as ambitious as it, but it's watchable, probably of more interest for Jean Rollin fans and French horror collectors.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'The Night of the Hunted' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a normal, blue keepcase, the Region Free, BD50 disc is accompanied by a 14-page booklet with an insightful essay by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog magazine. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with a still photo of the cover art and music playing in the background.
'The Night of the Hunted' escapes to Blu-ray with an inconsistent but mostly average-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.66:1). The picture continuously alternates between decent and downright disappointing, which honestly says more about the condition of the source than the transfer itself. The usual culprits of dirt, debris and white specks are apparent, but there are also several scenes of poor resolution, discoloration and the common wear-and-tear seen of celluloid. Every now and then, fine object and textural details are visible and appreciable, but for the most part, the video is soft with only a few positives. Contrast also wavers a tad but is mostly average and drab. Black levels are in fairly good condition while colors, especially primaries, benefit the most. Overall, it's clear the source is in need of a good restoration.
The audio for this surreal horror flick arrives with a slightly stronger presentation, but not by much. Presented in its original mono design, the uncompressed PCM soundtrack delivers clear, intelligible vocals while background activity marginally broadens the soundstage. The track is clean of any hissing, crackling, popping and other random noise often associated with a movie of this vintage, generating a surprisingly good image. However, the mid-range is generally flat and uniform, lacking any impressive distinction between the many sound effects or the musical score. Understandably, low-bass is pretty much non-existent, and that shortcoming is often felt during the few action sequences. All in all, the lossless mix gets the job done, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy as well.
Although an ambitious effort with a weighty topic, 'The Night of the Hunted' is one of Jean Rollin's lesser features, failing to entertain or engage the viewer when telling a story about a mysterious clinic. Still, the film has some style worth appreciating, and Brigitte Lahaie proves herself a charismatic presence as a bewildered runaway patient. The Blu-ray arrives with average picture quality and a slightly better audio presentation. A very small collection of supplements rounds out the package, making the whole affair one that will only attract fans.