Dir. Jean Rollin
A young woman Elisabeth (Brigitte Lahaie) is being persued in the woods, only to be discovered by Robert (Vincent Gardnere), while he is driving, rescuing her. However she cannot remember who she is, who she was escaping with, who she was escaping from, and any short term memory after a few minutes. The pursuers eventually locate her and take her back to a black tower block in the city, ran by a doctor to cover up an incident where many people have developed the same affliction, losing all memories and even basic motor skills, all put together in the tower out of public view. Elisabeth intends to escape again, while eventually Robert appears at the black tower to try and help her leave, the doctor and the armed guards around the tower in the way. With the possible exception of Killing Car (1993), drastically different to his filmography though still linked in mood and style to his traditional horror films, The Night of the Hunted has some drastic changes from many of the others. Gone are the gothic castles, the vampires, the trademark beach scenes and the such, and in its place, the pre to early 20th century aesthetic inspirations of Jean Rollin are replaced by contemporary, harsh and cold urbanism of an early David Cronenberg. The result is unexpected; as I am finding Rollin is far more different then his cult reputation originally suggested, this film emphasising the fact.
At his most restricted financially, making a lot of porn under a pseudonym, Rollin suddenly turned to a producer, made a gamble and asked if he could make a horror film instead. He was successful, a horror film with sci-fi tinges and the budget of one of the porn movies he would make, with many actors Rollin worked with in them allowed to try something new and fresh. The surprise for me watching the film is, without knowing this back-story originally, I never saw any structural or budget restrictions that badly affected the film. Now knowing of the back-story, it never feels like it's of a lesser quality still. The only real divisive aspect of this film, in hindsight, was the abrupt inclusions of sex and violence to appease the producer. This includes a ridiculously long sex scene between Elisabeth and Robert, and countless nude and undressing scenes with the other actresses, not sensual like other Rollin films but more stark and blatant. The violence, including sexual violence, as the mental disintegration causes violent behaviour in the victims, is even more abrupt, nasty and for many it will feel out-of-place and off-putting, more so as violence is never this strong in other Jean Rollin films I've watched. As much as it is also of my own personal taste, these aspects aren't compromises for the film's quality. In fact, in vast contrast to Rollin's preferred elegance, it works to add an anxiety over The Night of the Hunted that makes it more darker and malicious in tone. It feels outside of Rollin's usual filmmaking, even compared to Killing Car, envisioned almost as a Videodrome (1983) type of movie, the sex and violence in that film's zone of emotional detachment. Hell, even the bizarre circumstances around a character using scissors on herself has an appropriate oddness to it.
With Jean Rollin as well, having to compromise or improvise is as much part of his auteurist style, (like many of my favourite directors), so you cannot ignore the accidents that happened to be able to make this film in the first place, the scratches on its celluloid as of much importance as his fascinations. It's a bleaker film as a result, the urban and industrial settings dehumanised. There is a strong aesthetic as always for Rollin, the brutal scarlet reds on the interior walls of the black tower, the modern design etc., more imposing and claustrophobic than other films. It's a good lesson to learn from for potential filmmakers that, far from a detriment, having the budget severely restricted like Rollin did here wasn't that big of a hindrance, the kind of locations you might've found in a porn film of the time, maybe even one of Rollin's own, having a fittingly dead quality to them. Why this lesson has been lost in the recent decades I'm not sure, causing one to wonder what has led to the drab look of many a modern genre film - digital cameras, locations not easy to find, budgets even more restricted or pure laziness? Here in this film, even the gym has a stilted air to it, along with the other locations. Long corridors like a maze, and cold, perfunctory furnished rooms for the unwilling occupants, who ling or slump themselves on mass around said corridors aimlessly.
The concept of a disease that causes mental disintegration takes one into a existential version of Rollin's cinema, as much importance on what happens to the occupants as their memories are lost as it is on Elizabeth trying to escape the tower again. That it feels to throw away the potential for this concept, in favour of the trademark mood piece tone of a Rollin film, is not an issue but probably perfect for this particular film. Enough is said in what is shown to savour. The occupants are a form of living dead, inventing new names for daughters another may have had or making up new memories together. There's no clear theme or message behind the film, but as a scenario of what such a concept would be like, the obsession in Rollin's films with their dream logics by way of pulp entertainment, allows for a poignant take on the idea. Time is passed, because Jean Rollin is not a conventional director, watching someone with an old photo book one minute, reflecting on whether it's their family or not, the other on characters musing on whether they knew each other once and pretending they were classroom friends as young girls regardless; what's true or not is left for you to imagine by Rollin. It does have moments as a result which are far more potent than if treated in a more conventional way, such as the uncomfortable moment a character's motor skills are so disintegrated they cannot hold a spoon properly and feed themselves. Rather than have to follow a message, the playing around with such a scenario evokes far more interesting ideas in-between the compromises.
This is a genre film first and foremost, Rollin a genre film director more so than everything else, one who happened to make genre films in his own idiosyncratic way. Despite his difficulties getting films funded, he was still able to in an era where exploitation cinema could be made in personal ways as long as there was something sensation and titillation for the pundits and international markets. With this film I get further proof "pulp" is a key inspiration and interest for the director as horror is, the reason I've used the word twice in this review - pre or early 20th century adventure stories, crime and mystery stories, tales of masked criminals and secret organisations, and anything you can also think of that can be linked to this area. Even in the closest thing science fiction, Rollin still has influences from the past in here. Even in his nastiest toned film I've got Georges Franju stuck in my head think of Rollin. Once guns are involved in The Night of the Hunted, when Elisabeth tries to escape the black tower and Robert gets involved, there is as much a tone of crime or thriller movie inherent here, furthered by the urban locations. It furthers how more unconventional Rollin is as a director than what I initially learnt of him as, able to mix and celebrate each genre he's interested in by making those that exist in the middle and part of all of them.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
Out of Rollin's films I've covered so far, it's not one of the most abstract he's made, very concise narratively. Despite the moments that feel disjointed - the gore scenes and the random moments an actresses takes her clothes off - the film follows a full narrative, which elaborates on the main premise up to a sobering finale, including scenes of what is done to the amnesiacs that cannot help but evoke reality in a way that may have been more than intended. By its final scenes it builds pulp characters in a situation, and while they are archetypes, they have enough time onscreen to intrigue us, leading to a sad, powerful final image, where the characters have as much importance as the content around them. It's a narrative driven Jean Rollin, unlike the kind of narrative driven cinema he made The Nude Vampire (1970) where the plot strands added as the story goes on push it into more inherently unconventional tangents, changing what has been set up before drastically.
That's not to say The Night of the Hunted is "normal". With its clinical, uneasy tone for its content, "medical" based sci-fi horror with a thriller tone to its palette, the film is so far from mainstream for a genre film, lengthy moments of characters musing on the back-story and their situations with relish for the dialogue as exposition. There's moments as well, due to the requirements Rollin had to fulfil to make this film, and his own interests, that are different in from conventional cinema. The scene that stands out as one of the best, and perfect as an example of this, is when the doctor's female assistant, to delay Robert reaching Elizabeth, asks him to dance with her to imagined music in an outside are area before she will tell him where she is. Someone I know online evoked Jacques Rivette in his thoughts of this scene; whether the case it was an unpredictable moment, briefer then I remember it as yet inspired, the same magic realistic of Rivette who is another director with equal interest playing with genre in unexpected ways, seen suddenly with Rollin's film here and something I relish. It's immensely abstract in that conventions, moments like this constant throughout the film, played with in interesting ways, so even as one of the more straight-forward of the director's movies, it's still different from many other films in its genres of interest.
The best Jean Rollin film? We shall see, but it's interesting as being drastically different from many of the others, an underrated work possible in the filmography. It stands out uniquely in a unique director's career and, flawed or not, it's damn well impressive.