APRIL 1, 2010
You might think that me claiming to watch a movie about a nursing home full of cannibals was just an April Fool’s Day joke*, but I swear, that is what Night of Death (French: La Nuit De La Mort) is about. Apparently it’s been unavailable (even on VHS) for years, with Synapse’s release being the first in decades. I first learned about it in a recent issue of Fangoria, which is lucky as I rarely read the new issues due to spoiler-filled stories, spotty writing, and laughably outdated/old news (pick up a recent issue and read the “Fear Forecast” and laugh at all of the wrong release dates; sometimes they even have “Undated” for films that have already come and gone).
The ad in Fango made it sound a lot more exploitative and splattery than it really is. It’s actually pretty atmospheric (read: slow), with all but one of the gore moments saved for the final few minutes. The bulk of the film (too much of it, in fact) is merely a girl who works at the nursing home going about doing her thing, occasionally stumbling across something odd or hearing something that puzzles her. But she’s not really proactive - there are a number of times where any sane person would just take off (or at least pick up a weapon and begin to demand answers), but she usually just sort of shrugs off her suspicions and goes about her duties.
But it’s a pretty good movie still. The residents are pretty kooky, so they’re always doing odd things, laughing for no reason, etc. Delightful. And apart from the cannibalism (the old folks eat people to stay young), there is also a loose but still intriguing subplot about a serial killer who stabs his victims with gold pins through the neck, which sounds like it was stolen from some unseen Argento movie. The identity of the killer isn’t too hard to figure out, and I wish it was a little more prominent in the movie (most of it plays out via newspaper headlines), but it’s a welcome diversion, and adds to the film’s unusual plotting.
It also reminded me a bit of Don’t Look In The Basement, with the young, somewhat stupid heroine starting a new job at this place and never really questioning the oddness of the rules they give her (like that she is only allowed one phone call a week). And since the residents are all seemingly crazy, I kept forgetting that it was supposed to be a nursing home and not a sanitarium. But that one wasn’t as well made - is there even a such thing as a no-budget French horror film? Even though it’s all in one location, this is a nice film to look at (and Synapse gave it a top notch transfer). And unlike a lot of horror films of the era, the blood doesn’t look like melted pink crayon (description taken from Tom Savini).
In fact, I was pretty impressed with the gore/prosthetic work here. There’s not a lot of it, but quality over quantity is always a good thing when it comes to dismemberment. The moment near the end where our heroine finds her half-eaten friend is quite good - the dummy head is a little obvious, but the body has been torn asunder in a way that looks like it was genuinely ripped apart and eaten. The final shot of the “golden pin” is pretty impressive too. After yesterday’s off-screen-a-rama, I was happy to see ANY sort of FX work, but that it was actually pretty good for the time (1980!) is all the more wonderful.
The only thing I didn’t like much was the score. Some cues were nice and foreboding, but others had this grating screaming “choir” over it (it’s also the DVD’s main menu), which drove me insane. However, I will admit that it’s kind of unnerving, so I guess it works as far as making me uncomfortable, but I’d rather the images do that. Halloween’s score certainly adds to the tension, but it’s still enjoyable.
Most French horror films of note are fairly recent, starting with High Tension and such, with really only Eyes Without A Face being the only one before then that a general horror fan might be aware of (maybe Diabolique too). So it’s nice to see one from the splatter era - the pace may be uneven, but it’s definitely worth a look. Certainly the best cannibalistic nursing home movie I’ve ever seen.
What say you?
*I used my AFD energy elsewhere, and kudos to those of you who got the joke! I was kind of depressed reading the “I agree!”-type comments that were NOT joking.