Color, 1980, 94 mins. 33 secs.
Directed by Raphaël Delpard
Starring Isabelle Goguey, Charlotte de Turckheim, Betty Beckers, Michel Debrane, Ernest Menzer, Michel Duchezeau
Camera Obscura (Blu-ray & DVD) (Austria R0 HD/PAL), Le Chat Qui Fume (Blu-ray & DVD) (France R0 HD/PAL), Synapse (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

While Night of DeathJean Rollin was certainly the most important French Night of Deathhorror director before the 21st century, he wasn’t the only one. One example is Raphaël Delpard who briefly dabbled behind the camera in the 1980s with a handful of films, most notably Night of Death (La nuit de la mort!). Mostly dismissed and barely seen upon its initial release, it's a memorable and frequently effective little chiller best viewed late at night.

After a spat with her boyfriend Serge (Duchezeau), pretty young Martine (Gregory) takes a job working as the new nurse at Deadlock House, a creepy retirement home with an abnormally high staff turnover. The other nurse, Nicole (de Turckheim), seems nice enough, but the head administrator Hélène (Beckers) is more than a little odd, treating her charges sternly while referring to them as “warriors” and continuously playing one song on the piano. One night Nicole is chased down a hallway by the crazed residents who turn out to be quite a bit older than they appear… and they all like to consume human flesh, with Nichole as their latest banquet. However, when one of the cannibals ignores the rules and makes off with the young girl’s heart, the group threatens to tear itself apart with feuding… and Martine is running out of time before they choose her as their next meal.

A straightforward spooky gore film and none the worse for it, Night of Death is filled with long, static, unsettling camera shots suddenly exploding into creepy chase sequences as young women are pursued up and down hallways and stairways by the leering, middle-aged villains. The real payoff comes in the last fifteen minutes as the majority of the cast is bumped off in an increasingly ridiculous string of bloody attacks that leave hands, heads, and other body parts Night of Deathlittering the screen. Unfortunately it also tacks on a completely needless and mean-spirited final shock ripped off from Castle of Blood, but otherwise this is good, Night of Deathdisreputable, down-and-dirty splatter with a unique French twist. It doesn't hurt that the film has a peculiar sense of humor that keeps you off balance, and the pastoral setting makes for a beautiful but ultimately unnerving backdrop that amps up the sense of isolation as the story keeps going darker.

Though its technical aspirations never lift much above your average Eurociné production, Synapse treated the first English-friendly release of Night of Death quite nicely in 2009 with a very solid anamorphic transfer. The mono audio sounds fine, and the creepy soundtrack really gets under skin enough to merit a separate release on its own someday. Only de Turckheim went on to do much of note, and her scandalously bloody (and extremely naked) early appearance here is totally unlike her more famous respectable fare like Claude Lelouch’s Edith and Marcel and Volker Schlöndorff’s Swann in Love. Not surprisingly, it’s unlikely she’ll ever do a commentary for this film, but this bare bones edition made for a good intro all the same.

In 2019, the film made its Blu-ray debut as a dual-format limited edition (along with a DVD) from Le Chat Qui Fume, featuring an excellent new HD master that improves on the decade-old prior master in every way Night of Deathincluding more detail, better color modulation (especially whites), and deeper blacks. It's Night of Deathquite beautiful and makes for a significant upgrade. The DTS-HD MA French mono track also sounds pristine and features optional English subtitles. Two French-language featurettes (no subs) are also included: "Nuit Horrifique" (35m34s) with Isabelle Goguey and "Le Tournate de la Mort" (32m44s) with Raphael Delpard (in front of an awesome DVD collection at a video shop). An interesting restoration demo (21m44s) shows the finished film running alongside the completely open aperture raw scan before final color timing. Also included are trailers for The Blood Rose, La saignée, Maniac, Haine, Return of the Living Dead 3, Vigilante, and Next of Kin. An insert features French liner notes by Christophe Lemaire.

In 2020, Camera Obscura offered its own mediabook dual-format edition of the film on both Blu-ray and DVD, also region free. This one is taken from the same scan but offers a bit of an improvement with a more generous bit rate and slightly deeper, richer blacks; English subtitles are provided for the LPCM French track (along with German ones as well). Both of the featurettes are included (this with English subtitles, thankfully) along with an image gallery and a booklet featuring photos and German-language liner notes.


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Updated review on January 22, 2020