The appearance of this film within the (almost) indispensable tome by David Pirie “The Vampire Cinema” was enough to have me look at Alain Jessua’s 1973 thriller. However, being in “The Vampire Cinema” is not, necessarily, evidence that a film is a vampire film – Pirie does add some questionable entries, primarily around the zombie genre.
This French film was released in Britain as “Doctor in the Nude” – not an inaccurate title as there is a naked frolicking in the sea scene, with the main Doctor, Devilers (Alain Delon), and his rich patients. Be that as it may, the title does distract from the concept of a film that (other than the frolic) is mainly thriller.
Hélène (Annie Girardot) is a fashion house director who feels overworked and exhausted. She goes, at the suggestion of her friend Gérôme (Robert Hirsch), to Dr Deviliers institute – a health farm for the very rich on the Brittany coast. On route she notices a truck full of young men – she later learns from Portugal, who have been imported to work at the institute.
At first all seems fine, Hélène undergoes standard beauty/health treatment whilst the gruff Dr Bernard (Michel Duchaussoy) runs tests and they await the return of Deviliers from Paris. Gérôme leaves the institute as he has business to attend to and Hélène finally meets Deviliers. She admits that the reason she has gone there was because her lover jilted her for a younger model. She can see the march of time and wants to do something before it is too late.
Having signed a permission form she undergoes the first treatment. The treatments always take place at night, the guest is injected, knocked out and wakes feeling rejuvenated – bring on the naked sea frolics. Of course, we just know that all is not as it should be… or I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it!
Things start to go off kilter when Gérôme arrives back at the institute and Hélène realises that he is being booted out as he is broke. He spends the night with her (not in that way, get your mind out of the gutter… they are friends and he is gay) and he suggests that she get away, and that the treatments are addictive. In the morning he is gone.
He is found on nearby cliffs, quite dead, apparently a suicide. We never do get to the bottom of this but can assume that he wasn’t a suicide and that there is something creepy going on. Upset, Hélène decides that leaving is an option. Deviliers tries to dissuade her and states that they cannot be held accountable for an interruption in treatment.
She is still going to leave but one of the Portuguese workers asks her to take him with her. Instead of agreeing she decides to stay and, at this point I felt that the film lost its way a little. The worker later faints and is taken off by Doctors, Hélène has a tantrum at this and is told that it is because her treatment has been interrupted, is injected again and feels great. She is told that the worker has been sent home but is suspicious.
However, what I couldn’t see was her motivation. She wasn’t a detective or journalist, she was a fashion designer who stumbles onto oddity and yet stays to investigate it as though driven to do so, even sleeping with Deviliers to get closer to the answers. I couldn’t see why someone asking to leave with her would spark her curiosity and cause her to stay. The motivation seemed non-existent.
Be that as it may, she discovers that the treatment she and the other wealthy guests receive is meant to have something to do with sheep stem cells but, in truth, has more to do with blood being drawn from the foreign workers. Here the film begins to fail us again. The little blood we see drawn doesn’t seem enough to cause the illness within the workers that we see – though I am no expert. We do not know exactly what it is about the blood that rejuvenates the guests either.
We see some processing through test tubes and we also discover that eventually the whole of the worker’s flesh is harvested to go into the treatment but none of that answers the whys and wherefores. Indeed the film doesn’t even hit us with pseudo-science. It simply remains silent.
Could there be a supernatural element? We hear that Deviliers had been in Brazil for some time. Whenever we see something in film that is related directly to the mystery we hear rhythmic drumbeats. We see a picture of a human sacrifice in a book. Was there some sort of hint at a dark form of Candomblé? If there was it was subtle and not well explored.
This is the main frustration of the film. I didn’t think there was as much tension as there could be but also we know they are doing something bad but we do not know why exactly, or how the treatment works. We do not know why Hélène remains. The film simply does not explain itself very well?
Is it vampire? Vampires are mentioned, a policeman actually states that Hélène is talking about vampires when she tries to explain the situation. These would be modern, scientific vampires however – using blood to rejuvenate the rich in ways unexplored. The parasitical nature of the rich and the exploitation by the bourgeoisie of the proletariat is a clear message within the film. The film itself, deserves a mention within the genre but these are not your supernatural vampires and it is at least of genre interest.
The imdb page is here.