Night of Death is a surprisingly fun French horror film from the early eighties that delves deep into what this reviewer believes is a deep well of relatively untapped material: creepy old people.
Martine, played by Isabelle Goguey, is a pretty young nurse who takes a job with a private nursing home. She shows up for the job a day early, having just had a fight with her boyfriend. This causes some consternation for Helene (Betty Beckers), the director of the nursing home, because the old nurse Nicole has not left yet, and Helene (along with the residents of the nursing home and the handyman Flavien) was planning on killing Nicole and eating her corpse. This last revelation may seem like a spoiler, except that Nicole is killed and eaten very early on in the film. The tension comes from the audience knowing that the same thing is being planned for Martine in one month's time, and watching as she slowly grows suspicious of the goings on at the aptly named Deadlock House.
The nursing home houses a quirky, and paradoxically an often quite appealing, group of people. Mr. Leon is the trickster and magician, who is perfectly able to walk but insists on being pushed around in a wheelchair anyway. Jules is knitting a sweater that, when finished, will usher in the revolution. Mr. Pascal wears cardigan sweaters and comes into Martine's room at night asking to cuddle. (Which she inexplicably allows him to do.) All seem to be emotionally fragile, socially awkward misfits who have nowhere else to go, including the romantically frustrated handyman. Martine takes them all as they come to her, and treats them with simple courtesy, something that previous nurses have not done. Her sweetness endears her to all of them, with the exception of Helene, even as they look forward with relish to the 28th, the day on which they will get to kill and eat her.
The morbid contrast between the outwardly quirky yet harmless personas of the residents and their monthly cannibalism and murder is quite striking, and provides most of the dramatic energy of the film. In another film, these would be the loveable misfits that overcome adversity and save their beloved rest home from the nasty developer who wants to put up high priced condos, all with the help of their feisty nurse. But this is not the world envisioned by writer / director Raphael Delpard. In this world, idiosyncrasy and cheer are only a thin veneer covering the amoral urge to survive.
Delpard serves up ample portions of nudity and blood to please fans of the genre. (Does elder cannibalism even constitute a sub-genre?) There are no jokes, but one finds oneself smiling at the antics of the residents, the often silly blood and makeup effects, and even at the oddly tacked on subplot involving a serial killer who stabs women through the throat with large gold pins. The plot twists are not terribly inventive, and somewhat predictable. If one is looking for a tightly plotted thriller, expect to be disappointed. The pleasures of Night of Death stem from its outrageous strangeness, and the gusto with which the actors throw themselves into their roles. There are no shrinking violets in the cast, and the fact that they are all so incredibly, endearingly weird only makes the creepiness more effective.
Night of Death is not a film for all tastes, but it will more than satisfy those who enjoy the more outré and outlandish areas of the horror neighborhood.
The image is in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, and looks pretty good. The colors are a bit muted, and there is the very occasional dirt or scratch visible, but otherwise things are bright and clear.
The sound is Dolby digital 2.0 channel, and does the job that the film asks, which is not much. There is no hiss or interference, and the audio is always clearly audible. This last is not much of an issue for English speakers as the film is only available in French with removable English subtitles.
There are no extras to speak of on the Night of Death disc, which is a disappointment. A film this odd deserves some context, and none is provided.
Night of Death is not a film for everyone, but for those who like their cannibalism movies with lots of quirk and fun it fits the bill perfectly. It is aware of its limitations and enjoys itself with what materials are available. Isabelle Goguey is pretty and effectively captures our empathy, and the rest of the cast takes a morbid glee in out-weirding each other. The film is never really frightening, but one is concerned with the fate of our intrepid nurse, and the creepiness of everyone but Martine cannot be overstated. In short, those who seek out this kind of movie will be well pleased.