Le Frisson des Vampires (1971)

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 10/16/2017

The Shiver of the Vampires is perhaps the most completely realized vision of Jean Rollin. In my opinion, that is.

Of his early films, Le viol du vampire (1968), La vampire nue (1970),  Requiem pour un vampire (1971) (all vampires, all the time), it’s as lush a production as he ever seemed to land, and also features another gorgeous Art Deco throwback movie poster, even nicer than La vampire nue.

On the surface, what’s really new? Naked vampires with sapphic leanings, elegant ruins inhabited, death and deathlessness, longing and desire. But at the same time it does differ. The soundtrack by Groupe Acanthus is certainly a-typical and kind of groovy. But that’s not it.

Rollin employs Bava-esque colored lighting , evoking a cheap but effective surrealism. The appearances of Isolde (Dominique), the vampire queen, first from a clock, then exploding from wall hangings, and (less effectively) dropping into a fireplace call to mind Jean Cocteau and the gorgeous simple effects in La Belle et la Bête (1946).

The story is the subversion of the heterosexual , or traditional married relationship. A freshly married man and wife arrive at the wife’s cousin’s castle only to find them dead. Well, dead and undead. Two mysterious nubile servants quietly run the show. But the wife is seduced away from her virginity as well as her husband’s grasp.

Rollin’s depictions of lesbian relationships is less purely exploitative and scopophilic. The women of his films escape their patriarchal worlds and find freedom and beauty in love between themselves. He’s nowhere as clear in his attitude toward male homosexuality, but maybe he’s frowns on all masculinity.

Ultimately, the heroes of the story are “the Renfields”, the unnamed lesbian servants, who overthrow not only the patriarchy at the end but overthrow the entire bourgeoisie.

I’ve watched Rollin’s vampire quartet over a four year span, in no particular order, so I would like to re-watch as a group sometime to better have a collective impression of the ideas and attitudes.

I do think this the best of the four, though I like them all.

 

Lips of Blood (1975)

Lips of Blood (1975) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 07/14/2017

Lips of Blood is one of the most dreamlike of Jean Rollin’s surrealistic horror films. It also seems like one of the better-funded of productions, though from what I’ve read, it suffered from some production shortcomings that kept it from being a fully-realized vision.

Rollin’s films all have that feel to me; compromises everywhere, but dreams realized and visions captured nonetheless. The locations are gorgeous, including the “aquarium at the Trocadero, the ruins at Chateau Gaillard, and that seemingly ever-present beach at Dieppe with its rotting pilings, an image of longing and loss. Lips of Blood feels somehow more personal as well, and apparently Rollin based the character of Frédéric (Jean-Loup Philippe) on himself.

Frédéric is triggered by a photo of a ruined castle and a memory, much like a dream, invades his mind: as a child, going there and falling in love with a beautiful, short-haired girl (Annie Belle, last seen by me in Rollin’s Bacchanales Sexuelles (1974). The rest of his existence begins to fall away as he hunts for the castle and the girl, and meanwhile frees some other sexy, near-nekkid vampires.

Rollin was indeed a romantic.

Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

Requiem for a Vampire (1971) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 06/04/2017

Jean Rollin was nothing if not a cinematic poet. Since he worked on the cheap and in the horror and porn/sexploitation genres, who knows how close he ever came to fully realizing his visions. But visions they are, even the worst of his films oozes dreamy fantasy over any storyline or plotting.

I’ve now watched enough of his filmic corpus to say that I am indeed a fan. That said, I’m still contemplating his work and have yet to fully develop any well-constructed conclusions.

Requiem for a Vampire follows many of his themes and ideas: vampires, young runaways, lesbian lovers, strange cults, all set against the French countryside, venerable houses or ruins. Requiem begins oddly with a car chase, in media res, with two clown-painted girls and a getaway driver pursued by gunmen. They do indeed get away, but the driver is killed, so the girls torch the car and then wander through a cemetery to ruins haunted by a vampire cult.

Most interestingly, Rollin runs much of Requiem’s opening with the barest amount of dialog. Though this might have been a functional thing (non-sync sound), it also turns the film into a more purely visual one, telling the story through action and imagery and not propelled by dialogue.

In the end, the girls are challenge to become vampires or remain virgins and while this again speaks to Rollin’s themes of women positioned in opposition to patriarchal demands, fleeing a society for which they have no place, the film also features some more brute rape as well.

I don’t know where it falls in my Rollin spectrum, but it’s certainly an undeniable Rollin picture.

Bacchanales sexuelles (1974)

Bacchanales sexuelles (1974) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 05/17/2017

I don’t know if Jean Rollin’s Bacchanales sexuelles was ever a hardcore porn film or what this version was softcore but in spades. I’ve read that Rollin did make some hardcore porn films as well. I don’t know if those were as unusual and fit as well into his auteur motifs as this.

Because Bacchanales sexuelles is a comedy (of sorts) and a series of sex scenes connected together by a running narrative about a sex cult who kidnaps and blackmails. And it’s not that there is so much to this sex cult but it rings of other weird cults that Rollin has depicted in films like The Nude Vampire (1970) and others.

The level of tedium isn’t as profound as in Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973), another movie that was to my understanding also a bit of a porn film stripped back to a “regular” movie.

I would say that this would only be for Rollin completist or someone who yearns for the days of Skinamax.

The Living Dead Girl (1982)

The Living Dead Girl (1982) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 01/22/2017

“A girl in trouble is a temporary thing.” — Romeo Void

The girl(s) in trouble in Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl are not likely temporary things. One is a reanimated corpse, thirsting for human blood, though gaining sentience as she goes. Her childhood friend, not full-on Sapphic friends as in many of Rollin’s films, just truly deep soul-mates, is thrilled to find her alive again and willing to help procure for her.

Rollin is tremendously consistent in his themes, ideas, and depictions, and so, The Living Dead Girl typifies many aspects of his films. Tragic beautiful females, often lovers, empowered beyond normal life often as vampires, on the run from society (some form of it). In several films, as here, events are triggered by an ecological disaster of some sort, perverting life and death.

I’ve come to like Rollin more and more through weaving my way through his filmography. Sadly, Fandor, who had featured many of his films, has pared down their offerings. Living Dead Girl now one of few.

This one is a little more gory than most, which is almost surprising, all things considered. Gore doesn’t seem to be Rollin’s best angle on things. His milieu is the French countryside and old decaying houses, filled with somnabulant beauties often shedding their clothes, tragically in love, cursed by the world.

Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973)

Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 11/07/2015

I gotta think that this film is for only hardcore Jean Rollin completists.  While it lacks vampires, it does feature nubile lesbians, a crime plot, and is shot on location at an interesting old building presumably in the French countryside.  There are definite Rollin-esque elements someone from the auteur school would appreciate.

There’s also a fair amount of nudity and simulated sex.  As well as a torture trope.

All told, it might be one of Rollin’s worst films, but not entirely uninteresting if you dig in Rollin’s work.

The Grapes of Death (1978)

The Grapes of Death (1978) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 08/20/2015

I’m not sure that The Grapes of Death is really a great film title.  Not that the French title works all that better: Les Raisins de la Mort.  But, as the saying goes, “a rose by any other name…”

While I haven’t seen any of his hardcore pornographic films, I am making headway on the other, the primary oeuvre of French sexploitation/horror director, Jean Rollin.  And on the whole, I’ve come to really like and appreciate his films, often seeing pretty pervasive themes which rise above the vampires and the lesbians and transcend into something almost resembling feminism.

That said, The Grapes of Wrath is the first of his films that might be less so, though maybe not entirely.

Two young women are on a train heading to the South of France, when at a stop in the countryside, a man with lesions on his neck enters the train and kills one of the girls. Élizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal), our hero and protagonist, escapes to a farmhouse, where she finds more demented killers, a man and a more lucid young woman.  Escaping again, she stumbles on a blind girl and a village, more lesion-covered, pustule-seeping maniacs.  It’s not until she runs into two road workers from the North that she begins to realize that the insanity stems from the wine that people have drunk.  The men were beer-drinkers in a wine town and stayed fine.  It turns out to be an experimental pesticide behind the leprosy-like mania, effecting women less pervasively than men for some reason.

The settings for the film are lovely.  The mountains and hills and small stone villages where grapes are sown and harvested.  And the make-up effects are quite gruesome and potent.

The film ventures into another potential, though lesser it would seem, theme of Rollin’s, one of environmental collapse or disease, as in The Night of the Hunted (1980).

Rollin is consistently interesting, working within low budgets, crafting something uniquely his own from these not quite genre pictures, something evocative and thought-provoking, at times, haunting.

Demoniacs (1974)

Demoniacs (1974) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 07/13/2015

Jean Rollin continues to fascinate and intrigue me.  Of all his films I’ve seen so far, I don’t know if he ever made a true masterwork, but his work is consistently interesting, almost against the surface of what are soft-core sexploitation/horror films.  His themes are ever-present, the obsessive allure of female beauty, the victimization of the female in society, objectifying and yet somehow defending and empowering via the tragic cases of the crimes society plays out against them.

In the case of Demoniacs, the story is set apparently toward the turn of the 20th century, in coastal France, where a gang of marauders lure ships to crash on the rocks, then rob and loot and rape and pillage them.  Though the gang is mostly men, there is a sinister female among them, the moll of the leader, but as ruthless and vicious and oppressive as any of them.  This does add an interesting wrinkle in my pro-feminist readings of Rollin, but continues to make his work strange and thought-provoking.

When two beautiful sisters wash up on the beach as a result of the most recent shipwreck, the “wreckers” rape them, beat them, and seemingly kill them.  A somewhat psychic tavern owner seems to foresee the doom and the crimes of the gang, which lead the criminals back, time and again, hunting the girls, attempting to kill them, wipe out the possibility of them bringing the villains to justice.

The girls are pursued to a haunted ruin, a place of ominous note in the community.  Here the girls encounter a female clown, a priest of some sort, and an imprisoned demon.  They appeal to the demon and his helpers to aid the girls on a vengeance against the criminals who abused them.  The demon is freed by his consort with these innocents, invoking his strength into them, allowing them to try to wreak a vengeance that somehow goes wrong.

Rollin’s films always seem very low-budget, but often employ wonderful locations, used evocatively to craft these fantasy worlds, these dream-like fantasias that are so uniquely his.  Rollin’s films always somehow reach beyond their means, though, beyond the limitations of the productions and wind up being much more than they would seem on their surfaces.

I continue to work my way through his catalog, almost always charmed and pleasantly surprised by his work.

Le Viol du Vampire (1968)

Le Viol du Vampire (1968) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 09/21/2014

I’ve been digging into the films of Jean Rollin since first experiencing The Night of the Hunted (1980).  For the most part it was spot checking a few films (many of the films are not available on DVD from Netflix anymore — while others are readily available on Netflix streaming).  But this is part of the case for Fandor because they have a number of the films available that aren’t on Netflix.  And now, with a bit more options, I decided to go back to his first film, Le Viol du Vampire or The Rape of the Vampire.

It’s the only of Rollin’s films that I’ve seen that was shot in black and white, which interestingly actually seems to suit his personal aesthetics.  Apparently, the film was originally shot as a short and then expanded into a feature.  Rollin did this more seamlessly by a two-part flick, “The Rape of the Vampire” and then “The Queen of the Vampires”.

The first part of the film circles around four vampire sisters who live in an isolated manse, but are visited by a modern trio who hope to convince them that they are delusional.

The latter part is about…a queen of vampires who comes to…okay, it’s pretty confusing.  It does involve transfusion cure and … like I said, it’s kind of confusing.

Significantly, the film is also shot on the beaches of Normandy with the rotting pilings and the isolated beaches that have haunted at least half of Rollin’s films that I’ve seen.  It hand lots of boobs and general eroticism, lesbian themes, and again, this feminist stance that I’ve detected in so many of this films.  The stories are about women who are manipulated by men or by the patriarchal aspects of the world, while in reality, they are the powerful, magical, transformative beings.

His films are strange, the way they linger in the mind.  On the surface, they can be more easily dismissed, I suppose, but they’ve really grown on me.

The Iron Rose (1972)

The Iron Rose (1972) movie poster

Jean Rollin
viewed: 09/15/2014

After watching one of Jean Rollin’s worst films, Zombie Lake (1981), I felt it behooved me to screen one of his better films (that were available on Netflix Streaming).  I chose The Iron Rose of which I had read good things.

I’d noted that Zombie Lake didn’t feel much like a Rollin film.  The Iron Rose does almost from the get-go, starting on the French seaside, possibly even the very beach where The Nude Vampire (1970) comes to an end.  It’s a very evocative space, somewhat overcast, but what makes the seascape so haunting are the eroded pilings of old piers lined up into the water.  Tapering and variously rotted and black, Rollin shoots them from several angles, pondering some melancholy sense of death or disintegration.

The narrative of The Iron Rose is about two young lovers who bike out to a cemetery to picnic and make love, get lost in the darkness of the graveyard as night descends and strange terrors ensue.  The film is not the least bit typical of such a scenario.  What ensues is the cruelty of individuals, the madness and love of death, a poem of eerie wanderings and strangeness.

I have to wonder about the film’s production because it looks like a real cemetery in which is was shot and real headstones, markers, and bones.  Is that a real skull that the boy smashes on the ground?  When they make love in a pit, are those real skeletons in the earth underneath them?  It looks strangely opportunistic and the props don’t look manufactured.

Again I would say that there is a strong, almost feminist trope in Rollin’s work.  That despite some also very typical gratuitous nudity (actually this movie is the most chaste of his I’ve seen in that respect.)  These contrasting points…certainly seem ironic if truly occurring together, but there you go.

This feels like a small film.  It’s short.  86 minutes.  Is mostly about two primary characters.  Takes place almost entirely in one primary setting (not entirely though, there is that odd sequence in the train yard with the old steam engines).  It’s concision and smallness add to its poetic effect.  It’s almost not even a genre picture at all.

Rollin has continued to grow in my interest and estimation.