director Jean Rollin
It wasn’t all that long ago that I’d never seen any films by French exploitation filmmaker Jean Rollin. It was only a year ago I watched The Night of the Hunted (1980) and then only a few weeks ago that I watched his film The Nude Vampire (1970). But now, three films into his catalog, I find myself liking his work more and more. While none of the films is a masterpiece (or perhaps even close), there is indeed something haunting and evocative about them, lingering in my mind long after watching the films.
Rollin’s 1981 film, The Escapees, seems a bit unusual in his oeuvre. It is unusual because it doesn’t seem to employ the supernatural, perhaps. And unusual as well. perhaps because I can’t find a film poster for it. Did it have a theatrical run? Only stills, title cards, and DVD covers seem to be out there on ye olde internets.
What is less unusual, actually quite consistent, are Rollin’s themes that I’ve encountered in the three films of his that I’ve seen. All three have involved beautiful women escaping from institutions where they are held mysteriously against their wills. They escape patriarchal worlds to discover themselves, sometimes their empowerment, as in The Nude Vampire, or their frailties such as their utter loss of memory as in The Night of the Hunted, or in this case, young girls escape seeking freedom, but encounter the harsh strange world outside.
The Escapees are two girls, one ballsy and tough, the other shrinking and afraid, both wards of the state in a mental institution. We learn a small amount about them, their pasts, as they make their way in the strange universe that they discover. They hook up with a traveling burlesque troupe, eventually winding up in a strange maritime bar with an underground cabaret. But finally, they find a world that seeks to exploit them, a world that they turn out to not be able to survive. And towards the end, in a kiss before dying, there is implication that this metaphor is of a love undiscovered?
It’s hard to parse out everything, so I won’t try. While I liked the two films I have seen since, I think The Night of the Hunted is the one that I like the most of the three that I’ve seen. But there are many more out there. I’ve only just scratched the surface. The Escapees probably falls under the sexploitation rubric along with the other two, though the women are clad a bit more, outside of the burlesque strippers.
The grounding in reality doesn’t seem a weakness itself, though apparently Rollin disagreed with the screenwriter with whom he worked and dismissed this film a lot during his life. That is, until fans and scholars rediscovered it.
Heck, I don’t know. I’m keeping the Jean Rollin films rollin’ (sure I’m not the first to have made such a clever pun.)