Saturday, March 2, 2013

Schlock Vault: "The Night of the Hunted" (1980)

One thing I love about Netflix is the serendipity of it. When you click on a movie, and especially after you add it to you queue, it will suggest other movies of the same genre, or starring the same actor, or with a similar title. Many of the films I've stumbled across in the last few years have come about this way.

I found "The Night of the Hunted" while doing a search for "The Night of the Hunter," the classic film starring Robert Mitchum that I've somehow never seen. It's a 1980 film that demonstrates something I didn't know: the French are equally capable of making seriously dumb horror/exploitation flicks as we are.

The difference, of course, being that an American film would be goofy and self-referential in its schlocky goodness, while this French movie written and directed by Jean Rollin has pretensions toward being Serious Art. Somehow that only amps up the comedy quotient, since it's so utterly unintended.

Rollin belonged to the mix of fantasy, horror, science fiction and occasional social commentary the French call the Fantastique genre. In execution in "The Night of the Hunted," it apparently means lots and lots of scenes of people strolling around, going in and out of doors, getting in and out of cars, and other time-wasting maneuvers used by early pornographic movies to pad the running time out to a respectable number.

Not since "Elephant" have I seen so much walking in place of actual storytelling.

Speaking of pornos, star Brigette Lahaie got her start in skin flicks and successfully transitioned to more mainstream fare like this, in which she still gets naked and has long, lingering sex scenes, but just doesn't show penetration.

She's quite a striking beauty, with high, arching eyebrows and upturned eyes, platinum hair and a sharp jawline. She looks like the Tolkien elf who went bad and became the forest slattern. Lahaie is also one of those rare women whose areolas are the exact same skin tone as the rest of her breasts, which in some shots make her look like she's disturbingly nippleless.

Gosh knows I'm not opposed to brazen displays of female flesh in schlocky movies, but "Hunted" abandons any pretense of purpose why these women have to get naked. At one point a catatonic gal is going to be killed with a lethal injection and her body burnt up in an incinerator, and for some reason the technicians take off her clothes first.

Yep, wouldn't want that flimsy camisole gumming up our 1,000-degree oven!

I think every single woman with a speaking part in the film ends up becoming frontally nude -- if you include the doctor who delays the hero's rescue by insisting he waltz with her around a fountain while wearing a see-through gown, and exclude the old crazy lady, which would've just been gross. Stanley Kubrick already had the corner on nekkid crones in horror movies.

The story has something to do with people affected by nuclear radiation whose brains are slowly dying, so they forget things almost as soon as they experience them. (Take that, "Memento," you ripoff.) Elisabeth (Lahaie) escapes from the hospital where they're being imprisoned to prevent a public panic. She also had a red-headed friend Veronique (Dominique Journet) with her, who for some reason was nude, but they forgot about each other because of that short-term  memory loss thing.

Anyway, Elisabeth gets picked up by Robert (Vincent Gardere), who just happened to be driving by. He takes her home and has sex with her, because that's what you're supposed to do with mentally vulnerable women wandering the countryside in their nightgown. But she's recaptured by the evil Dr. Francis (Bernard Papineau) and his sneering assistant (Rachel Mhas) and spends the rest of the movie meandering around the hospital, where everybody occasionally gets naked.

The musical score consists of a series of tones that sound like an eerie doorbell, with girly "lah-lah-lah" singing now and then. Continuity is pretty lackadaisical -- Elisabeth's shoes appear and disappear from scene to scene, and blood spatters seem to recede backward in contempt of gravity.

Dialogue is a mix of arty-sounding existentialist spoutings and veiled come-ons, the sort of thing you hear at a Friday night poetry reading where everyone's had a few Cabernets and is feeling frisky.

Elisbeth's roommate, whom of course she doesn't remember, strips and suggests they get it on: "The only thing left for us to do is to touch our own bodies. It's our only pleasure. The only one we don't forget."

But Elisabeth appears to be bigoted against brunettes and rebuffs the overture, leading the roommate to kill herself with a pair of scissors, plunging each prong into an eye.

Things really get funny at the end, when Robert arrives to rescue Elisabeth, who by now has progressed so far she doesn't even remember him. Dr. Francis shoots Robert in the head, which somehow renders him onto the same level of brain-damaged semi-consciousnesses as her -- lobotomy by Smith & Wesson.

The addled couple holds hands and shambles off into the sunset, a perfect intellectual match.

In some ways, "The Night of the Hunted" is an allegorical take on the zombie genre, with people reverting into mindless stalkers who must be destroyed by the surviving humans. Of course, most undead don't look so good with their clothes off.

1.5 stars out of four

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