LIST CANDIDATE: THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (1968)

Le viol du vampire

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Bernard Letrou, Solange Pradel, Jacqueline Sieger

PLOT: In Part I a psychoanalyst tries to cure four sisters of their belief that they are

Still from Rape of the Vampire (1968)

centuries-old vampires; in Part II, the Queen of the Vampires revives the cast members who died in Part I so she can conduct medical experiments on curing vampirism.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Jean Rollin’s feature debut—which began as a partially improvised 30 minute short in which the main characters died at the end, only to be magically brought back to life for “part II” so the story could be expanded to feature length—is one of the vampire auteurs weirdest works, which is saying something. But, like all Rollin films, it’s a mixture of the awe-inspiring and the godawful. There’s likely only room for one Rollin representative on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies; is Rape it? We’ll need to finish up his entire catalog to be sure.

COMMENTS: Rape of the Vampire wants to be the Un Chien Andalou of lesbian vampire movies; it can’t quite reach those lofty aspirations, but it does have fun trying. Viewers frequently complain that the story is “incomprehensible,” but that’s not quite the case; the vampiric shenanigans are illogical and confusingly related, but there is a plot line that plays through from beginning to end. It’s the old story about a psychoanalyst who visits a chateau uninvited to convince four sisters they’re not vampires, then falls in love with one of the sisters and gets killed by angry villagers and then is secretly resurrected so he can foil the plan of the Queen of the Vampires to simultaneously cure vampirism and inaugurate a new age of the nosferatu by burying a bride and groom in a coffin during a high school play. Or something like that. Rollin deliberately disorients the viewer, and you can be forgiven for thinking that you must have nodded off and missed some crucial plot point; this is the kind of movie where you’re constantly gazing at the screen and thinking, “who is that guy again? Isn’t he dead?” For example, there is a scene where the psychiatrist tries to convince one of the sisters that she’s no more blind than she is a vampire; he shows her a picture hanging on the wall that upsets her and she runs out the door of the house where a mob of villagers is waiting. One throws a stick at her and suddenly she’s holding her eyes covered in stage blood; back inside the castle the distraught therapist (who, recall, didn’t believe in vampires five seconds ago) asks another of the sisters to give him the “kiss of the vampire” so that they can escape the peasants with pitchforks. In another scene, the Queen of the Vampires strips a traitor naked and ties her up. When she’s tortured (by being struck lightly on the breasts with feather dusters wielded by a guy with sculpted eyebrows), we see her getting beaten in three separate locations at once: in the dungeon where she was captured, on a beach, and in a greenhouse. True to Rollin’s later M.O., there are large sections of Rape where the characters simply wander around the (admittedly exotic and well-photographed) sets doing nothing in particular, or engage in pseudo-poetic dialogue that’s both inconsequential and nonsensical (“I return to the radiating shadows of death…”) Watch for long enough, though, and the director will throw in a fascinating image: a bat skewered on a rapier, vampire women fencing in see-through nighties, a wedding ceremony held in front of a giant papier-mâché bat with six teats. Although artier and more abstract than the color exploitation movies Rollin would turn to later in his career, Rape of the Vampire still serves as a template for the misty dream world the director would spend the rest of his life plumbing: universes populated by emotionally remote, frequently topless immortals with no supernatural powers but plenty of bizarre but easily defeated schemes to take over the world. Rollin’s movies may not be masterpieces, but they’re unmistakably his, and they’re unmistakably weird.

By chance, Rape of the Vampire was released the week of the 1968 Paris riots, and is reported as being either the only movie or one of two films released to theaters that week. Expecting to see what was advertised as “the first French vampire movie,” together with all the titillation the title implied, audiences seeking an escape from the turmoil of the world outside were instead frustrated and outraged by a nonsensical art film. Critics of the time universally panned the movie. To this day, Rape still doses unprepared viewers with surrealism by sucking them in with its salacious title; it’s just that the bait-and-switch now happens on a Netflix streaming screen instead of in a Parisian cinema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Strange, campy, and often inexplicable… It’s the sort of film best watched very late at night when your mind isn’t operated with all thrusters; you can just sit back and go along with its late-’60s oddness with as little resistance as possible.”–Mondo Digital (DVD)

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