After making some of the oddest and most quirky vampire movies ever made, at the end of the 70s French director Jean Rollin turned his attentions to zombies. And made some of the oddest and most quirky zombie movies ever made. His zombie movies lack the more extreme surreal touches of his vampire films, but they’re still like no other zombie movies.
If you’re expecting a Romero-style orgy of violence and gore you’re in for a disappointment with The Night of the Hunted (La Nuit des traquées). There is a small amount of gore, and some violence, but the overall mood is tragic and melancholy.
A motorist encounters a strange young woman. She is afraid and confused, and claims to have escaped from somewhere. But she can’t remember where it is that she’s escaped from, or where she lives, or where she comes from. He takes her back to his apartment. They make love. She has already forgotten that his name is Robert. After he leaves for work, two mysterious strangers arrive to take her back to an anonymous tower block, where she apparently lives with a miscellaneous assortment of other people. What they all have in common is that they are trapped in an eternal present. Their memories vanish almost instantaneously.
The young woman, Elisabeth, finds herself back in her room with another young woman. Neither is sure if they’re ever met before. They try to remember things, but end up making things up, trying to invent memories to fill the emptiness. Without memories they cannot be said to be truly alive. They are the living dead. They are, in effect, zombies.
This is a zombie movie told from the point of view of the zombies. They are not flesh-eating monsters. Some commit acts of violence, but most are passive. They are bewildered and frightened. We do eventually get an explanation of their condition, but it’s the mood that matters in this movie.
Rollin uses his stark tower block setting to convey an atmosphere of subtle menace and of alienation. Brigitte Lahaie gives a very fine performance as Elisabeth. The early sex scene between Elisabeth and Robert is the most important scene in the movie, as Elisabeth searches desperately for an experience intense enough to be remembered. It manages to be both genuinely erotic and unbearably sad.
This was the second of Rollin’s zombie movies, and it’s probably the least approachable for those accustomed to more conventional horror movies. The first, Grapes of Death, is closer to what most people would expect in a zombie movie, while 1982’s The Living Dead Girl again takes a sympathetic and tragic approach, and is in my view the greatest of all zombie movies. The Night of the Hunted is a little clunky in places, but its faults are redeemed by the superb ending.