Also known as: La Nuit des Traquées
It's been years since I've written about any of French cult auteur Jean Rollin's films. I want to begin to make some amends here, with one of his non-vampire films. I've read some bad reviews about this little low-budget film, and admittedly it is a little rough around the edges at times. Still, I think it's an effective and at times touching exploration of what it means to be human. Even if none of this comes through in your viewing of it, you can't go wrong with the presence of Brigitte Lahaie, who in addition to some breath-taking sex and nude scenes, is actually quite an impressive acting presence.
In the French countryside, Robert (Vincent Gardère) is driving at night when he spots a beautiful blonde girl in a nightdress looking confused and running onto the road. He attempts to assist her, as she seems to be calling for help, although can't remember whom she's running from. This girl's name is Elysabeth (Lahaie) and she agrees to go with him. In the meantime, as they drive off, another red-headed girl, completely naked except for sneakers, emerges from the dark and calls for Elysabeth. This is Veronique (Dominique Journet) but it's too late, the man and her friend are gone. Back at Robert's home, Elysabeth's predicament becomes more clear. She can't remember anything at all, not only in an amnesiac sense, but also current events slip from her mind as well. She only has an awarenesss of the immediate moment, having already forgotten being picked up from the road and escaping the unrevealed danger with Veronique. In her desperation to hold onto something, in fact to feel anything at all, she has sex with her rescuer Robert, in a very erotic - and long - scene. The beauty of Brigitte Lahaie is all-too evident here! Vincent Gardère was a lucky man on this shoot, that's all I can say.
Eventually Robert has to leave, probably to go to work. Elysabeth is fearful of a calamity, but he scoffs at the danger and leaves her his work number and name, on a piece of paper. No sooner does he leave the apartment than Dr. Francis (a chain-smoking Bernard Papineau) and his sultry, red-hatted assistant Solange (Rachel Mhas) show up, taking her back to her prison in "the black tower" as her memory of Robert quickly fades away. They understand Elysabeth's condition completely, predicting the very moment that she will forget her lover. The situation in this bleak building, as winds blow around the empty streets, is odd to say the least. They release her into the complex, and we observe other people with obviously similar mental problems. Men and women shuffle around vacantly, although one bald-headed guard claims to be able to remember events since he's been under Dr. Francis's care. Elysabeth is ushered into a room with another girl, Catherine (Catherine Greiner) and they create memories for each other, of being childhood friends that raced snails. When Catherine's given soup to eat, Elysabeth is distressed to see that her room-mate can't feed herself properly - her hand moments are completely uncoordinated, a sign of a further progression of the disease.
Elysabeth leaves for a while, and again finds the recaptured Veronique, who remembers her as well. They observe the conditions of the patients (who are prisoners really, as Veronique explains about the armed guard) and decide to escape. Elysabeth returns to Catherine, to find to her horror that the nude woman has killed herself in despair at being left, with a pair of scissors. This is a much repeated image throughout the film - a pair of opened scissors impaling both eyes of the dead woman. Distraught, Elysabeth takes Veronique and they shoot their way out, killing quite a few people in the process, mind you! In the end though, they're recaptured and as Francis and Solange look on, both the minds of Veronique and Elysabeth disappear as they pass into the final catatonic state of their mysterious syndrome. As all this has been happening, the other inmates have been creating havoc. One deranged man brutally kills the bald guard with a sledgehammer, as he tries to rape an unwilling woman. Another man, slipping into the "anxious" state of the disease, strangles a woman as he has sex with her. And this was after she'd offered the sex with him to comfort him - after a sexy skinny-dip in a pool. There is quite a bit of Gallic nookie in this film, Folks!
Robert turns up with a gun and threatens Francis and Solange. Before her mind totally disappeared, Elysabeth had phoned the number she found in her dress, even after forgetting who was at the end of it. She had managed to describe the wherabouts of the "Black Tower". Still, it's too late, Francis has removed the remaining patients to an abandoned train carriage and was beginning the process of killing off the brain-dead ones. He finally explained to Robert what had happened. There was a leak at a local nuclear plant. Some people that had been exposed had come down with this mysterious brain affliction. He'd tried everything but there was nothing he could do, except contain the situation and follow government orders by keeping things hushed up.
Robert kills Solange and escapes. In the meantime, the supposedly catatonic Veronique was about to be killed by the Doctor's assistants, but her consciousness began to flicker on again. Feeling sorry for her, her captors let her go, but another guard who didn't witness her awakening shoots her dead. She falls inert onto the railroad tracks. Robert rushes to the vacant, wandering Elysabeth, whom Francis had let go to show the distressed hero her "plant"-like state. Then, he shoots Robert twice, once in the hand and once along the side of his head. The dazed, wounded man joins his lover and they stagger forward. Even though the Doctor describes Elysabeth as a vegetable, she seems to recognize the man she once loved, and holds his hand as they awkwardly walk away to some kind of freedom.
It's a simple film in essence, and as mentioned earlier, obviously shot on a shoe-string. Yet, something about it works. The desolate building setting works well, and there seems to be a bleak wind constantly blowing. The actors all take their roles seriously and try hard, I think to good effect. There's something about the plight of these poor individuals, struggling to retain their fleeting, vanishing identities, yet being constantly stripped back to nothing but a sensual being who can only feel the physical pleasures of the present. One woman is trying to remember her child, and only finds comfort when the doomed Catherine makes up a memory for her of a daughter. Rollin shows a lot of sex and violence, yet it all seems to fit into the story of desperation as some of the patients go off the deep end. The cinematography is simple, yet conveys well the empty situation of the victims. I liked the simple score, especially the breathy female singing of the girls' theme song. Brigitte Lahaie carries the film with her unique yet beautiful face and large, expressive eyes. In case you don't care for acting and the stories of the human condition, you can gaze in wonder at Lahaie's several-times naked body as well. I can't say I turned away at those points.
This one's probably not the best introducton to Jean Rollin's body of work. A more typical Rollin feature would be one of his nude-vampire features like Lips of Blood or Requiem for a Vampire. As a stand-alone film, I would definitely say to those of you who like a bit of substance with your sex and blood, give it a watch. Even as the naked skin quivers and the gore flows, you might be a bit touched by the sad and romantic undertones of the film.
© Boris "What Was I Writing About?" Lugosi 2005.
Review written: 10/10/2005 22:43:32