I wanted to see how French horror was in the 1980’s so I decided to give Raphael Delpard’s “NIGHT OF DEATH” (aka. Lanuit Dela Mort, 1980) a try. The movie isn’t going to be for everyone, with its low budget and lackluster plotting; however, the movie can be quite amusing at times. Movies such as “Dumplings” present cannibalism as a means to an end and this time around, it presents that concept with a backdrop of a nursing home for the aged.
Martine (Isabelle Goguey) is a young unemployed nurse who had just landed a new job because of her boyfriend’s recommendation at a nursing home called Deadlock house. Martine is reluctantly welcomed by the home’s director Helene (Betty Beckers) and the handy man, Flaviens. Nicole (Charlotte De Turckheim) is the existing nurse who slowly develops a rapport with Martine but for reasons unknown, Nicole disappears that very same evening as Helene states that Nicole’s employment has been terminated. Nicole is in fact been eaten (this happens within 20 minutes in the film) by the home’s inhabitants and the same is being planned for Martine in two months time…
The direction resembles an old-fashioned atmosphere that exudes the feel of a television show; it results with the film becoming idiosyncratic and a little funny. I know having senior citizens be the main antagonists feel disturbing (they do look harmless) but the film feels very quirky and weird. I guess the director didn’t mean the film to be scary or unnerving as the camera shots themselves look rather cheesy as intended. I’m not sure if this was meant as a comedy or some sort of homage to old-fashioned TV series, but I felt a slight disconnect to the film’s atmosphere and proceedings.
The film’s screenplay also lacks depth as with these many missing nurses and the police are nowhere to be seen, I found this rather far-fetched. The plot twists are rather predictable including the subplot of a serial killer who slashes his victims through the throat. For a horror-comedy, the viewer would hear no jokes or intentional attempts at humor. The antics of the characters do seem rather funny; there’s Mr. Pascal who likes to cuddle with Martine, there’s Jules who predicts a revolution with old people, there’s another who likes using a mirror to take a peek underneath Martine’s skirt, a trickster who likes playing practical jokes and insists on using a wheelchair even though he is perfectly mobile; they all appear to be harmless folks who are just trying to enjoy the remaining years of their lives. The love-sick handy man does present a bizarre creepiness about him. Martine is so unlike Nicole, she treats the elderly with respect and kindness; whereas Nicole is not shy at all in showing her contempt. Her kindness wins most of them except for Helene who has a single-minded purpose. They have the immoral lust for survival and everlasting life.
The film does present an edge with the premise of cannibal senior citizens and director Delpard uses prosthetics and red ink to simulate the late ‘dinner buffet’. The effects are decent for the most part but some looked very fake and rather silly; it was obvious that the dead body was a fake. Delpard also manages to balance the quirky and sometimes silly acting by slipping in scenes of nudity. Goguey and Turckheim looked very nice in their birthday suits.
As silly and unimaginative the plotting in the film is, I just couldn’t help smiling at times. This is a film that wouldn’t do well if one expects a taut, tight mystery thriller; it telegraphs its twists and turns from a mile away. The characters in the film do present a charming feeling of outrageous endearment that makes its overall weirdness and creepiness a little more effective. The lead actress is so pretty and sexy that she immediately earns sympathy. “Night of Death” isn’t for everyone. The film portrays cannibalism as a quirky, silly plot device rather than a disturbing one. But the direction knew its limits and may please the viewer who is looking for exactly this type of movie.