Monday, July 7, 2008


A rare misstep from Jean Rollin, 1980's NIGHT OF THE HUNTED is often regarded by both critics and fans as one of the director's low points (aside from his forays into the porn ghetto, that is). Although the film has its supporters, and it's not without its charms, it can't help but pale in comparison to Rollin's more accomplished works like THE LIVING DEAD GIRL or LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES.

The brunt of HUNTED's problems lies in its paltry budget, which prevents Rollin from exploring some of the greater possibilities of his script. Supposedly granted complete artistic autonomy, Rollin had to concede to his smallest bankroll yet (though what's the point of having total freedom, when you can't afford to do what you want?); his only requirements were the inclusion of some fairly graphic sex scenes. (Fortunately for Rollin, much of the cast was comprised of performers from the French adult industry.)

Not a true zombie film, at least not in the accepted sense, the plot concerns a young man (Vincent Gardere) who finds an amnesiac hitchhiker (Brigitte Lahaie, looking nothing at all like the hitchhikers I normally encounter) on his way home. Helping her, he takes her back to his apartment, where they rather forcedly fall in love--as well as initiate the first of those prerequisite schtup scenes. Although the sex is no less gratuitous than what's to come, Rollin presents it tenderly, tying it into the characters' relationship and setting up the remainder of the story; when Lahaie is escorted away by a pair of mysterious scientists, Gardere follows them to the apartment-like clinic where the majority of the movie takes place.

After an intriguing set-up, HUNTED starts to falter once it enters the clinic (which bears a superficial resemblance to Cronenberg's high-rise in SHIVERS). Part of it has to do with its prohibitive budget, which allows for little more than some additional skin and brief gore (which includes a memorable scissors-through-the-eyes bit), but it's also due to the source of Lahaie's amnesia--an unexplained disorder caused by a radiation leak that's gradually destroying her brain. Most of the clinic's patients are afflicted with this ailment, so that they wander around aimlessly, mimicking the film's somnambulant pace (except the ones that go crazy, that is).

And while the meandering tone of the picture may inspire fast-forward manipulation, Rollin ends the film with a bitterly romantic moment, in which Gardere and Lahaie are reunited (for good, in an ironic and very French finale), though viewers might be too antsy by then to really appreciate its morose beauty.

Rollin completists will no doubt find some glimmer of interest in NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (aside from a subplot involving the doomed relationship between two young girls, there's little thematic unity to the auteur's other works), but the casual or tyro viewer would be better off sticking with, say, Rollin's THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE or even THE GRAPES OF DEATH. At any rate, it's still better than ZOMBIE LAKE.

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