A young man is driving down the road in the middle of the night when he comes upon a beautiful woman (Brigitte Lahaie), clad only in a nightgown, wandering in the street, crying for help. She is disoriented, but identifies herself as Elizabeth (or Elysabeth, according to IMDb) and claims to be alone. The man, Robert (Vincent Gardere), drives her back to Paris, but when they arrive, Elizabeth cannot remember where she lives, and by the time they reach Robert's apartment, she no longer remembers anything earlier than the moment Robert picked her up, including her identity. In an excellent display of ingenuity, she insists on making love to Robert, hoping the memory will stick, but when he leaves for work afterward, that too disappears.
Jean Rollin's La Nuit des Traquees, or The Night of the Hunted, has a great hook in the horror of amnesia. Having seen so many goofy thrillers where amnesia the lazy screenwriter's shortcut to creating a mystery, Rollin's emotionally compelling version of the affliction really pops off the screen. Elizabeth's disappearing memory is progressive, eating away each moment shortly after it occurs, and despite the exploitative silliness of having a terrified character initiate a passionate sex scene, Lahaie conveys the terror of feeling your identity actively slipping through your fingers. Elizabeth tells Robert that trying to remember the night before feels more like she's trying to remember something years and years ago -- a simple but evocative comment. Specifically, it's Rollin's decision to focus on the affliction itself that gets under the skin; even a film like Memento focuses more on the tragedy of Leonard's existence instead of his disease.
When one has amnesia, it becomes hard to trust people, so Elizabeth is naturally reluctant when a man and a woman identifying themselves as Dr. Francis (Bernard Papineau) and Solange (Rachel Mhas) and insist on taking her back to a clinic called The Black Tower. She changes her mind before they get her in the car, but Dr. Francis taunts her: "You can go back to the apartment...where was it again?" Once at the clinic, she meets her roommate, Catherine (Catherine Greiner), who is afflicted by not only the same memory loss that Elizabeth suffers from, but a muscular disorder as well, which limits the control she has over her limbs. They meet the other patients, including a woman who is desperately trying to remember her daughter. Elizabeth and Catherine comfort the woman by telling her that her daughter's name was Alice, even though all three of them know this is just a gesture. "Alice. Yes, that's her," the woman says with tears in her eyes. Elizabeth also meets Veronique (Dominique Journet), a woman who was in fact on the run with Elizabeth when she first ran into Robert. Veronique and Elizabeth are able to remember that they were important people in each other's lives, which is something to cling to. In an interesting bit of recursive reasoning, the two women, who have been reminded they tried to run away by others but do not remember it themselves, rationalize that they must have had a reason to run away in the first place and ought to do it again.
Rollin's most famous work centered around surreal vampire pictures, including the haunting and surprisingly funny Shiver of the Vampires. According to the booklet included with the Blu-Ray, Rollin was interested in experimenting with a film that blurred the line between mainstream narratives and pornography, but when his film Lips of Blood tanked, he was forced to recoup his investors' money by bastardizing the film into an X-rated version, after which he swore off vampire films for 20 years. Night of the Hunted has a reputation for being rushed and hampered by budgetary constraints, and the middle section certainly does sag. Although it's symbolically interesting that the main room of the clinic is completely empty, with barren walls and no furniture, it's still an empty office building. Character beats slow way down and are mostly pushed aside for exposition. Rollin shifts his focus to other characters, like a predatory orderly (Cyril Val) who uses his successful memory treatment to force the amnesiacs to sexually service him in exchange for their room numbers.
The film picks up again in the last third, when the women decide to try and call Robert to rescue them. Although Rollin can't truly capitalize on ideas he abandoned for 30 or 40 minutes, he makes his way back toward the psychological horror that makes the set-up so gripping. Rollin was apparently displeased with the way the film turned out, and cited it as the one film of his he wished he could remake, and it's easy to see why. Despite a sudden blast of seriously haunting Holocaust overtones and a darkly poetic conclusion, Rollin aims for a level of resolution and satisfaction that is just out of reach. The final third of Night of the Hunted hits hard, but development instead of dithering in the middle could have allowed it to hit harder. What could have been a beautifully melodramatic arc is reduced, like a fading memory, into a simpler, sorrowful flourish.
Kino sticks with their Rollin template for this Blu-Ray release, with the redemption banner over some newly-created Photoshop artwork. The disc comes in a standard non-eco Blu-ray case, and the disc includes a 16-page booklet with liner notes from Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas (note that this booklet, covering both Night of the Hunted and Rollin's film The Grapes of Death, is probably included in both releases).
The Video and Audio
A French LPCM 2.0 track effectively delivers the slight, eerie score and dialogue, although there's a hint of buzzing during the ambient, silent moments. On the whole, though, Hunted is a pretty low-key film, and this track has no trouble handling what little it has to do. English subtitles are provided.
Presented slightly pillarboxed at 1.66:1, this 1080p AVC transfer is a "2 out of 3 ain't bad" kinda deal. Transferred in HD from the original 35mm negative, Night of the Hunted has pleasingly soft, filmic appearance, with decent color saturation and no sign of nasty compression artifacts. Black levels might be a little heavy, with some detail obliterated by shadow, but not much. On the other hand, the negative has seen better days, and all sorts of interesting print damage pops up, from tiny flecks to short patterns of more significant damage. Personally, the preservation of grain and fidelity to the appearance of film are what I value in a Blu-Ray transfer, but the damage, while not "serious" (no color warping, blotches, missing frames, etc., just flecks and scratches), is definitely a constant.
An introduction by Jean Rollin (1:24, HD) is first. Although the picture is consumed by a veritable cloud of video noise, it's fine. This is followed by an interview with Rollin, conducted by Joshua Gravel. He covers some of the same info as he does in the introduction, but I suppose this is the better of the two, as far as an extra minute goes. The disc wraps up with two deleted sex scenes (2:31, 5:34, HD), which Rollin preserved in case he wanted to transform the movie into a softcore. The most interesting thing about these scenes is that they seem to be shot handheld with the intention that he would just cut out the sections where the camera moves to a new angle, probably as a time-saving measure. On the other hand, these pieces are without audio, and it's hard to listen to the piercing excerpt of score (the same one used on the menu) repeat for seven minutes.
In the special features section, there is a gallery of Rollin trailers, including The Grapes of Death, Fascination, Zombie Lake, The Living Dead Girl, and Two Orphan Vampires. An original theatrical trailer for Night of the Hunted is also included.
Night of the Hunted loses its way in the middle and can't really recover, but there's such a good hook here that Rollin fans ought to see it just to speculate on what it could've been. However, extras are pretty light and the PQ is flawed, which all adds up to a rental rather than a purchase in my book.
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