Thursday, July 12, 2018

Night of Death – review

Director: Raphaël Delpard

Release date: 1980

Contains spoilers

“La Nuit de la Mort!” to give the film its original French title, is a film I stumbled across and it certainly is a vampire film, though not traditionally so – we are in the realm of living vampires here – and those who eat flesh as well as drink blood.

Also, whilst not a detective movie it reminded me of Columbo in that I knew exactly what was going on and was entertained not by the mystery itself but with just when lead character Martine (Isabelle Goguey) would figure it all out herself.

Michel Flavius as Flavien
It does not start with Martine, however, but with her lover Serge (Michel Duchezeau) calling for her as he wakes and walks round his flat. He sees a note in which she suggests that the argument they had should not be taken seriously but she has decided to take the job he found for her in a private nursing home. She arrives by bus as the caretaker, Flavien (Michel Flavius), is looking the iron gates. He suggests there isn’t a job but she retorts that she has a letter from the owner, Madam Hélène (Betty Beckers). She is shown onto the grounds.

Charlotte de Turckheim as Nicole
At first she waits outside but is shown in and Hélène suggests she is a day early and they had not prepared a room. Nevertheless, she can have the job and they’ll put her in the attic room. She is introduced to the other care assistant, Nicole (Charlotte de Turckheim), who thinks that the position has been offered to replace her. Hélène denies this and points out that Nicole had asked for help and orders Nicole to show Martine around. Nicole clearly dislikes the place and the residents – whereas Martine quickly develops a rapport with them. Nicole also explains that Hélène does not let two staff leave the grounds for the first two months – to allow the residents to become acclimatised to the helper.

the residents
Nicole is excited that she will be able to go out soon and be able to see her fiancé. She is going to show a photo of him to Martine but they get interrupted before she gets it out of her case. There is a phone call for Martine and it is Serge and – given that she isn’t actually due to start – Hélène allows her to have one more night with him. This, of course, means she is out of the house when the residents march together, replete with butcher's cleaver, and drag Nicole from her room. She is taken to a butchery room and Hélène drinks a cup of blood from her cut throat before the residents start pulling offal from her opened stomach and feeding on it.

eat your heart out
The next day Martine is told that Nicole left in anger – despite a letter she left Martine suggesting they would be great friends. As the two months go on Martine has to pick up the clues to understand what is happening. Also, outside the home, the serial killer “the golden needle killer” is murdering women by pushing a large needle through the neck and sexually abusing them. This brings in a neck puncturing and vague psychosexual element that is standard trope referential, but what is happening with our cannibalistic residents – who apparently are vegetarians (for their normal meals)?

Martine drinks a suppliment
There are hints through that they are older than they look and, eventually, Martine finds a newspaper clipping about Hélène (including her age) from 1886 and she calculates that would make the woman 118 years old. They prevent further ageing through their cannibalistic repast – a threat of a punishment of no meat for a week has one resident terrified. It is clear that they eat the corpse slowly (it is kept in a meat locker) but it is inferred that the impact of the flesh diminishes over time as they become weaker towards the end of the period.

rapid ageing
There is ritual to the act – Hélène sings a specific song and the murder is carried out on the 28th. If this is necessary we don’t know. They feed a cleansing supplement to Martine through her stay there – whether it does clean the system or somehow prepares the flesh in a way that allows the effect of the feast isn’t explained at all. Indeed the film tells us very little about the mechanics of the act. We do see the impact of missing the feast, however, in a rapid ageing. So, this isn’t a delusion, there is a genuine physical effect. Hélène suggests that without her they would be rotting in their coffins, so she is the original instigator. In a twist of standard tropes we get a mirror moment but it is vampire’s servant Flavien who looks in the mirror, hating what he sees as he deems himself ugly.

twist on the mirror trope
This is all kinds of quirky, vampiric/cannibalistic horror. As I suggested at the head, there are aspects that are all too obvious to the viewer and we are waiting for Martine to twig – be that about what happened to Nicole, the peril Martine is in or the grooming that clearly took place. Even the shock twist at the end was clearly telegraphed a mile off – but that isn’t the point. It works because of all this and not despite it. I really rather enjoyed this. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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