Tucked away in the French countryside, Deadlock House is a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of today’s hurried world. It's a gentle corner where gothic atmosphere and a general sense of uneasiness mingle with old world values and a devoted attention to care. Committed to providing quality residential and high level health services, Deadlock House prides itself on accommodating those with special dietary needs and encouraging residents to maintain a youthful attitude. See how wonderful life can be when provided the resources and opportunity to live long past your means.
As the proprietor of Deadlock House, Hélène (Betty Beckers) runs a pretty tight ship. She oversees both residents and staff, manages the kitchen's strict dietary guidelines, ensures that the grounds and other amenities are well kept and she always gets the heart. After leaving her boyfriend a “Dear John”, or in this case a “Dear Serge” letter, Martine (Isabelle Goguey) travels to Deadlock House to accept a nursing position recently set up for her by her now estranged lover. Upon her arrival, Hélène wastes little time in getting her newest employee acclimated to the residents' routine, requesting that Nicole (Charlotte de Turckheim), the house's only other nurse, introduce the buxom beauty to her new daily duties. The position certainly seems simple enough. Take care of the residents needs, clean up after their messes, make their beds and ensure that everyone maintains a vegetarian diet. The houses occupants are however an eccentric bunch to say the least. Prone to fighting and impromptu sermons on revolution, the resident’s quickly take a shine to Martine, as she deals with each outburst of apparent senility with grace and compassion; though their concern for her maintaining a healthy weight is definitely peculiar and their habit of forming an elderly mob and shambling down darkened hallways for a late night snack is down right creepy! The work is tough and at times trying on ones nerves but it's not until Nicole disappears that Martine begins to question just how secure her new occupation actually is.
Nursing homes are by and large scary places. Or at least the ones my relatives have had to stay in were. The idea of communes comprised of elderly men and women, waiting patiently, hopeful for one last caress before slipping away into the great abyss is greatly depressing and to be fair, a rather clichéd take on retirement homes. However it's never been the faculties themselves, nor the function that they serve that I have found unsettling. It’s the smell. The pungent odor of disinfectant and death, that I can only liken to an over sterilized purgatory. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it. Watching Raphaël Delpard's NIGHT OF DEATH! (La nuit de la mort), I can imagine that the aroma of death would overpower the smell of even the strongest sanitizer no matter how hard Martine and Nicole scrubbed.
While no new ground is covered, be it for a Euro cult or horror picture in general, NIGHT OF DEATH! does cleverly spin the preconceived notion that nursing homes are places where people go to die, into an effectively creepy and atmospheric tale of terror. Deadlock House is not so much an assisted living facility as it is a haven. One where a select few partake in an ancient, grizzly tradition that allows its participants to live life long past their golden years. Of course, somebody has to die in order to accomplish such a feat but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a couple of eggs, or in this case, heads. As the house's latest victim, I can’t imagine somebody not wanting to take a bite out of Isabelle Goguey. While it’s the house’s cryptic residents, along with the gothic structure itself that helps to establish the picture's mounting sense of dread, it is Isabelle’s take on Martine that provides a relatable character with which to root for in such unassumingly hostile conditions. Sweet, yet not wholly innocent, it takes awhile for Martine to come around to the dangers of Deadlock House but when that light bulb does go off and she’s confronted with the grim, brutal truth of her situation, Martine isn’t afraid or ashamed in taking out any octogenarian that stands in the way of her at the front door. The ending is a bit of a copout and feels completely unnecessary, but as a whole the film's bloody final act, which is as strange as it is satisfying, makes up for the uninspired conclusion.
Synapse’s release of NIGHT OF DEATH! may be barebones but the film's transfer is on par with the quality presentation that fans have come to expect from the distributor. Presented in anamorphic (1.66:1) widescreen and accompanied with newly translated, removable English subtitles, the film looks great. Colors are crisp, maintaining their proper mood, and the picture features a wealth of detail and there is only a hint of noticeable grain. The French language Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is likewise as clean. Without any perceptible errors, the only audible pops featured are those coming from the aging limbs of the Deadlock House residents.
If you’ve ever wished Jean Rollin would up the gore, drop the contemplation on time and memory but keep the eerie atmosphere, NIGHT OF DEATH! just might be the film you’ve been looking for. (Jason McElreath)
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