Sunday, November 1, 2009

Raphaël Delpard's Night of Death (1980)

Young pretty Martine (Isabelle Goguey) finds employment, after a long stint without, through her fiance, Serge (Michel Duchezeau), at the Deadlock House, caring for the elderly. She arrives a day early before her position is to begin, and Madame Hélène (Betty Beckers) is slightly perturbed. She and her disabled, adopted son, Flavien, also the Deadlock House's grounds keeper, accommodate Martine's early arrival by having also young and pretty, Nicole (Charlotte de Turckheim) show her around and meet the residents. "Typical old people," says Nicole to Martine, as they do the rounds. The residents need little care and are all vegetarians. M. Jules (Michel Debrane) knits in his room and babbles about a coming revolution, as Nicole changes his bedsheets. M. Pascal (Georges Lucas) is lonely and affectionate and a little weird, like all the residents, but is seemingly harmless. Madame Hélène has a strict rule about her caregivers: no one is allowed to leave the house grounds for the initial two months of employment, in order for the residents to grow accustomed to their presence. This is Nicole's final night of her two month stint, and tomorrow, she will be able to leave and see her boyfriend. Martine asks to leave and see Serge before her position officially starts tomorrow, and Madame Hélène agrees. With Martine gone, and Nicole sleeping soundly, all of the elderly guests gather that evening to reveal themselves as not vegetarians. Nicole goes missing, and Martine begins her post and also looking for clues for Nicole's disappearance.
Raphaël Delpard's Night of Death (1980) is a tightly-constructed and simple French horror film. It feels quite like a cautionary fairy-tale about traversing into unknown worlds, but it also has an ethereal feel and a touch of the French fantastique, a la Jean Rollin, which adds to the dreaminess of the film. On the titular night, the elderly residents appear gathered in the dark doorway while Flavien, decked out in his best garb, awaits at the end of the hall with a meat cleaver in his hand. The camera tracks the old folks as they slowly trek down the hallway to meet Flavien who asks "Who would like to do it?" The old folks, like little children, squabble for the chance to hold the cleaver. It's a creepy sequence and well-done. When the residents prepare for their "celebration," it's a sick sight and also accompanied by some really visceral gore scenes. The disabled Flavien is one of the film's best characters: he's looked down upon by the residents and is the most mysterious character within the film. He asks Nicole "Would you marry a man like me but not me?" "No," says Nicole." "Too bad," says Flavien. Flavien asks the same question to Martine who gives an affirmative answer, "if," she says, "she loved him." Flavien is excited at her answer, and in one of the film's most bizarre scenes, Martine witnesses Flavien alone in his room, playing out a romantic fantasy. It's a sad and pathetic site, almost worthy of pity if it wasn't so disturbing. Delphard shoots nearly all of his scenes quietly and the absence of any dramatic flair leaves only a disturbing tone. Delphard doesn't hide anything from the viewer in Night of Death: the mystery within the film is wholly for Martine. Very soon after beginning her employment, she begins to suspect that Nicole never left the grounds. Some of the clues, like an old newspaper clipping of Madame Hélène, are too incredulous for her to believe, yet Martine persists. Delpard leaves no loose ends within Night of Death: almost all of the characters introduced play into the main mystery; and the little clues about a serial killer loose in the city outside of the walls of the house play into the plot line, as well. Often collateral characters in films are just that: collateral. By the end of the film, however, it's revealed the viewer is being set-up, and although some of the plot points are predictable, it was satisfying to watch the film end on a tidy conclusion. The final act ends with the end of Martine's two month stint at the Deadlock House.While none of the performance stand out, they are all very good. Isabelle Goguey, as Martine, carries the film well. She's smart and sweet and a very likable character. Delphard, whose other cinema I have not seen, crafts a creepy little horror film that is well worth seeing for the curious-seekers of European cult cinema. Night of Death has been recently released on DVD by Synapse Films, and it looks terrific. I financially support and applaud all DVD labels which release little-known and obscure films onto the digital format. Night of Death is the type of cinema from which I draw most of my viewing: unseen gems which reward the curious.


J. Astro said...

This sounds awesome, I'll definitely check this out; thanks for the heads up.

Hans A. said...

Thnx, Astro, for stopping by. Your comments are always appreciated. Hope you like the flick.

Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review, Hans. I tried the same thing with the young babysitters. I told them they had to stay at my house for two months so the kids could get to know them. They eventually found out I didn't have any children, but by that time it was too late. And that is large and in charge.