NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (1980) (Blu-ray)
Director: Jean Rollin
Redemption/Kino Lorber

According to Tim Lucas’ liner notes contained in this disc’s accompanying booklet, director Jean Rollin counterproposed producer André Samarcq’s (PHANTASMES) idea to make another porno movie, due to the heavy taxations imposed on such cinema by the French government at the time. Rollin came up with a story idea for a regular film done on a porno scale budget which would still allow for plenty of nudity, resulting in 1980’s NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (La nuit des traquées).

During a very rainy night, a beautiful young woman named Elisabeth (Brigitte Lahaie, FACELESS) is roaming around the highway in nothing but a white nightgown, when the concerned motorist Robert (Vincent Gardère), on his way home from work, convinces her to get in his car, as they drive back to his house. Another young woman, redheaded and nude Véronique (Dominique Journet), called to Elisabeth, but she had already got in the car. Elisabeth’s dilemma is that she has no long term memory, and her short term recollections vanish within minutes — she has no idea who she even is. Robert comforts her and the two make passionate love together (they end up on a shaggy floor rug). The next morning, Robert has to leave for the office, and although Elisabeth doesn’t want to be left alone, she stays put. Soon after, a mysterious doctor (Bernard Papineau) and his icy assistant Solange (Rachel Mhas), somehow track Elisabeth down and force her to come with them, as she is apparently under the doctor’s treatment. Elisabeth panics, but she has no choice and her memory is so bad, she wouldn’t even be able to find the house she just left (she does have Robert’s phone number in her pocket, but would she even remember it’s there?).

Elisabeth is taken back to a high-rise apartment complex known as “The Black Tower”, but her recollection of the place is almost non-existent. The place is inhabited by individuals in the same predicament as Elisabeth; having memory problems, suffering from anxiety, loss of motor skills and balance, and other impairments. So bad is Elisabeth’s roommate Catherine (Cathérine Greiner), that she can’t hold a spoon full of soup and lift it to her mouth (which Elisabeth is able to do for her). With no supervision at night, except for the security and doormen down on the ground floor, The Black Tower’s disturbed and confused inhabitants indulge in sex (consenting and non-consenting) and worse, violent, deadly assaults. Eventually, Elisabeth is reunited with Véronique, and she even seems to recognize her. The two agree that escape is necessary, and even though they’ve managed to get their hands on a gun, an unnoticed exit will be no easy task.

Brigitte Lahaie (who was only around 25 when this was made) was a prominent adult film star in France, having appeared in numerous XXX movies over the past four years. Admirer Rollin cast her in a small but highly memorable part in 1978’s THE GRAPES OF DEATH, and the following year, she was given a starring role in his FASCINATION. NIGHT OF THE HUNTED provided another starring vehicle for the actress who wanted to appear in more legit cinema, but she was still never shy about shedding her clothes and doing softcore love scenes (and that’s an asset to any film, as she’s not only gorgeous but has an absolutely stunning figure). While much of the acting in the film is disjointed and clumsy (but I supposed that’s the point, given the nature of the plot) by a cast of many hardcore performers, Lahaie is quite good, giving her bewildered character depth, and a lot of that comes through her facial expressions (and her lovely expressive eyes), showcasing a range of emotions.

Obviously very low budget, NIGHT OF THE HUNTED is not so much a horror film, but a modernistic thriller with sci-fi tendencies (the synth score by Philippe Bréjean, aka Gary Sandeur, has a techno, almost carnival feel about it). The story — which at times feels like it’s set in an alternate universe — is conveyed not so much with special effects or elaborate sets, but rather an inventive style which showed that Rollin and company did their best with what they had (Rollin even casts himself in a small role, as her often does in his films). As some viewers and critics have noted, the film and its bleak apartment complex setting bares a similarity to David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS (aka THEY CAME FROM WITHIN), with the barren, white walls of inner Black Tower an ideal background. The film allows for enough sex (a few drawn out softcore scenes) and violence (a woman’s corpse is shown with a pair of scissors plunged in her eyes), and there’s even hints of lesbianism to up the eroticism — here such a union is brought into play as a compensation for two memory-challenged females having nothing left to enjoy but the touch of each other's bodies. The story all makes sense as the end, and after the point in which Elisabeth and Véronique attemp to escape we are treated to some twists and turns, trigger-happy action sequences, and an explanation of why all this is happening in the first place.

The Redemption/Kino presentation of NIGHT OF THE HUNTED presents the film in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, in an AVC 1080p High Definition transfer. The original negative obviously had a few problems, and no major restoration was done to the print source, as there’s speckling, some frame jumps and other blemishes about. The image is still strong overall, and colors are strong, with outdoor scenes looking the most impressive, even though on occasion the picture looks a bit flat and not exactly an HD showpiece contender. The audio comes in LPCM Mono track in the film's original French language, with optional English subtitles and the mix is perfectly serviceable with no major faults to be found.

Extras include the “Introduction by Jean Rollin” (1:24), shot in 1998, which has the late director telling us that he wrote the script in one night, and that the film was shot for little money. The slightly longer featurette, “Jean Rollin on NIGHT OF THE HUNTED” (2:25) was videotaped in 2007, as Rollin mentions that since the film was an initial failure, two unauthorized hardcore scenes were shot (and we get a glimpse of them here) by another party and spliced into a version that made him take his name off the picture. There’s two deleted sex scenes (softcore) shot by Rollin; one is an extended cut of the sauna lovemaking scene, and the other is another hot and heavy tryst which is not even in the final film. The trailer for the film is included, as are trailers for these Rollin titles in the Redemption/Kino collection: THE GRAPES OF DEATH, FASCINATION, ZOMBIE LAKE, THE LIVING DEAD GIRL and TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES. The disc’s packaging contains the fact-filled booklet “Anti-Virgins & Anti-Vampires: The Anti-Rollin of Jean Rollin”, by Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas. The essay focuses on this film and THE GRAPES OF DEATH, but it also contains a lot of other information, including comparisons between Rollin and David Cronenberg, as well as bits about Rollin directing many XXX films under pseudonyms to keep employed. (George R. Reis)