Tag Archives: Fantastique

319. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

“The great majority of symbols in the dream are sex symbols.”–Sigmund Freud, “Symbolism in the Dream,” A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Micha Bergese, Tusse Silberg,

PLOT: An adolescent girl lies in her bed, dreaming feverishly. In her dream, she lives in a medieval town menaced by wolves, with a grandmother who tells her frightful stories about werewolves and warns her to “stay on the path.” One day, she is traveling through the woods to her grandmother’s house, and she meets a dashing older man on the road…

Still from The Company of Wolves (1984)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film is based on Angela Carter’s three “Little Red Riding Hood”-inspired werewolf stories collected in “The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories.” In 1980 Carter adapted these stories into a radio play titled “The Company of Wolves,” which became the basis for her screenplay collaboration with director Neil Jordan. She published her version of the screenplay, which differs slightly from the filmed version (due to the fact that some sequences proved too costly to shoot) in the collection “The Curious Room.”
  • Jordan says that the stories-within-stories structure was inspired by The Saragossa Manuscript (1965).
  • Other than the wraparound sequences, the entire movie was filmed on a soundstage.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a movie where men (repeatedly) turn into wolves, it’s surprising that the most startling image occurs in a quiet moment. Rosaleen climbs a tree, finds a stork’s nest, and finds a mirror and a vial of lipstick nestled alongside the eggs. She applies the lipstick, looks in the mirror, and the eggs crack open to reveal tiny human figurines.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Egg babies; wolves at a wedding; Angela Lansbury’s ceramic head

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: An adolescent girl is lost in a fever dream inhabited by suave beast men and mysterious symbols that both frighten and thrill her. Angela Carter’s Freudian spin on fairy tales takes the sanitized version of Little Red Riding Hood and gives it fangs.

Original trailer for The Company of Wolves

COMMENTS: Werewolves are some of humanity’s oldest supernatural foils, mentioned in Petronius’ “Satyricon” in the first century Continue reading 319. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

The Company of Wolves has been officially promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner

PLOT: A young girl moves from the city to a big house in the country. Her dreams mirror her dissociation from her surroundings and family, and an examination of her development as a person (and as a girl becoming a woman) follows through increasingly odd studies of gender and of the notion of the werewolf.

Still from The Company of Wolves (1984)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Neil Jordan’s second film is co-written by the sadly deceased Angela Carter, and her literary tralents are on full display here in an extremely layered and artful examination of gender and sexuality set against traditional folk tales such as Red Riding Hood. Ostensibly a single narrative, Company of Wolves loses itself in stories within stories, all held together as one long dream sequence. This film is quite a feverish and nuanced experience that is a must for inclusion on the List.

COMMENTS: Angela Carter was a fine writer, and anyone who is a fan of the written as well as the cinematic weird who hasn’t yet discovered her would be advised to do so. Company of Wolves draws on the traditions of spoken word narrative and folktales seen through a modern lens. Its source material is Carter’s short story collection “The Bloody Chamber,” which she herself described as an attempt “not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” What the viewer gets is a modern retelling of Red Riding Hood with all the sexual connotations not only intact but made explicit for a modern switched-on audience. More than just a straight fantasy and horror, The Company of Wolves is a study of the feminine psyche and its attitudes toward desire and familial responsibility, told through a rich narrative web. Perhaps the most indelible image is “the red wedding,” which gives “Game of Thrones” a run for it’s money in regards of worst end to a wedding possible. Grandma’s inevitable fate in this film takes a visually distinctive and surreal twist on the standard “what big teeth you have” story. One of Carter’s few forays into script writing, this film makes you wish her unique talents were more widely adapted for the big screen; furthermore, it showed Neil Jordan would be a talent to watch out for.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie has an uncanny, hypnotic force; we always know what is happening, but we rarely know why, or how it connects with anything else, or how we can escape from it, or why it seems to correspond so deeply with our guilts and fears. That is, of course, almost a definition of a nightmare.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1973)

La nuit des étoiles filantes; Christina, Princess of Eroticism [alternate director’s cut]

DIRECTED BY: , (additional footage)

FEATURING: Christina von Blanc,  , Britt Nichols, Anne Libert, Jess Franco, Paul Muller

PLOT: A beautiful young girl who has been raised in boarding school in England returns to her fathers’ chateau in France after his death and is introduced to her bizarre (and horny) relatives.

Still from A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The recently deceased (2013) Jesus Franco was a curious artiste: he had an idiosyncratic talent, but he was focused on churning out sex and horror movies so quickly (201 credited features spread over 56 years) that almost all his work inevitably has a half-baked feel about it. His occult obsessions, the value he affords imagery over reason, and the ramshackle nature of his methods tended to produce movies that are at least a little bit weird. Most of these products, however, are also shoddy, boring exercises in exploitation with only a few moments of inspiration. Virgin is, perhaps, his most sustained and atmospheric work, and if a Franco film deserves a place somewhere on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made, I have yet to come across a better candidate than this one.

COMMENTS: Christina, the titular virgin among the living dead, immediately tells us she “feels like she’s in a strange dream” as a mute chauffeur drives her to her deceased father’s chateau to meet her strange relatives. This is a not-too-subtle hint of what’s to come. Although many of Franco’s movies were incoherent and filled with hallucinatory scenes, Virgin is perhaps his most dreamlike film. It’s filled with strange moments, like a funeral where the family chants a mangled Latin hymn while a cousin paints her toenails and Uncle Howard accompanies them on organ, cigarette dangling from his mouth—the entire bunch is bored, as if this is something they do every Saturday night to pass the time. The other thing they do to pass time is have lots of sadomasochistic sex, including one couple who plays a lesbian-necrophile-vampire sex game with scissors. The female cast is sexy and attractive, but star Christina von Blanc is an absolutely gorgeous creature with big blue-grey eyes and porcelain skin. She’s not a completely vapid actress, either, and it’s a shame that she only has a small handful of appearances in softcore and exploitation films to her name.

There is a running thread about Christina’s relationship to her deceased father, whose ghost she encounters; and there are many vague warnings from others for her to leave this chateau, without anyone directly cluing her in on the fact that everyone inside is dead (that’s not really a spoiler, since it’s pretty much right there in the title). However, while there is a plot, Virgin is mostly a succession of mood pieces and odd scenes (e.g. Christina discovering bats in her bed, Christina wandering in on family members having perverted sex, Christina finding an ebony dildo sitting on her floor) that could almost be played in any order. Distributors took advantage of the episodic nature of the film to splice in extra footage as needed to create variant versions. A (rather lame) outdoor orgy scenes was shot to make an even hotter version for the sex-film crowd. More notably, in the early 1980s vampire specialist Jean Rollin was hired to film a ten-minute hallucination with the dead rising from their graves, shot with an obvious stand-in wearing Christina’s white nightgown, to market the movie as a zombie film in order to capitalize on the fad for Dawn of the Dead ripoffs. (The result was retitled Zombie 4: A Virgin Among the Living Dead). Shot in a similar but distinct occult style, with no dialogue and a much thicker soundtrack, Rollin’s addition literally plays like a dream-within-a-dream, and though purists may hate it, it actually adds to the patchwork surrealism quality of Franco’s movie. Still, the most unforgettable image comes from Franco himself: the hanged man, who appears to Christina several times, including a mystical moment where he glides backwards along a forest path as she advances towards him, mouth agape and eyes wide with wonder.

Redemption Video’s 2013 release may be titled “A Virgin Among the Living Dead,” but actually the primary version of the film they provide is the Christina, Princess of Eroticism cut. That is the edit that plays by default, and the one that includes a surprisingly serious and in-depth commentary track from Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas. To view the better-known Virgin Among the Living Dead cut (which is substantially identical but includes the Rollin-shot sequences) you must select it from the extras. Also included as extras are the five minutes of “extra erotic footage” appended to early versions of the movie and three featurettes, one of which is an interview with Franco. Most of us old-timers never dreamed a day would come when we’d see a Criterion Collection quality edition of a Jess Franco movie, but here it is.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of Franco’s best, a terrific tone poem that’s reminiscent of a David Lynch crossed with a Hammer film.”–Bill Gibron, DVD Talk (DVD)

159. SHANKS (1974)

“Released by Paramount Pictures and utilizing top-tier talent like composer Alex North, cinematographer Joseph Biroc, and production designer Boris Leven, Shanks is an exceedingly strange film, a horror-fantasy punctuated by stretches of dialogue-free narrative, morbid black comedy, and occasional sentimentality.”–John M. Miller, TCM.com

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Cindy Eilbacher, Tsilla Chelton, Phillipe Clay

PLOT: Malcolm Shanks is a talented mute puppeteer who lives with his shrewish step-sister and her alcoholic husband. A reclusive local scientist, who is working on a device that allows him to animate dead animal bodies with electrodes activated via remote control, hires Shanks as his assistant. Shanks’ puppeteering training makes him a natural at controlling the corpses; naturally, it is only a matter of time until he finds a human subject to experiment on.

Still from Shanks (1974)
BACKGROUND:

  • This was the final film directed by B-movie gimmick-meister William Castle (Homicidal, Strait-Jacket). At the beginning of his career in the 1950s, Castle was known for his outrageous promotions such as “Emergo” (glow-in-the-dark skeletons that flew above the audience at a scary moment in House on Haunted Hill) and “Percepto” (electrified theater seats used to shock patrons’ rears in The Tingler).
  • Although famous mime Marcel Marceau played may bit parts in films (including a role in Barbarella and a notorious cameo in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie), this is his most substantial role as an actor. Marceau plays both Malcolm Shanks and the inventor Old Walker, often acting alongside himself. Marceau came to Hollywood searching for roles but found producers unwilling to hire him for parts other than cameos or appearances as his alter-ego, Bip the clown. “I was a great admirer of the silent-film comedians, Chaplin and Keaton, and I thought producers would recognize that I could also perform the same broad pathos comedy. But nothing happened,” he told an AP reporter in 1973. When Shanks came along, it “was exactly what I had been looking for.”
  • Marceau originally hoped would direct and Castle would produce; he asked Castle to direct when told Polanski was unavailable. Castle reported that Marceau was a perfectionist, eccentric and difficult to work with, and didn’t seem to appreciate the practical aspects of shooting on a tight schedule and budget.
  • Although the movie was not generally well-received, it did earn an Academy Award nomination for Alex North’s eerie score. North reused and re-worked some of the compositions he wrote for 2001: A Space Odyssey that had been mothballed when decided to use an all classical score.
  • Shanks had not been available on VHS or DVD until Olive Films’ 2013 release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The herky-jerky birthday cake cutting scene, when Shanks’ typically impeccable control over his remote control zombies breaks down for one brief moment for comic effect.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This is a movie about a mute puppeteer who learns to control dead bodies by remote control, and eventually harnesses that power to fight a biker gang. Calling itself “a grim fairy tale,” it’s a black comedy that uses silent movie aesthetics to tell a tale of reanimation of the dead. It stars Marcel Marceau, the world’s most famous mime, and is directed by William Castle, the world’s most famous B-move huckster. The chances that the results of this collaboration would not be weird approach zero; it’s like nothing else out there.


Clip from Shanks

COMMENTS: Shanks is one of those rare movies that just wants to be what it is. Although the reanimation of the dead setup suggests a Continue reading 159. SHANKS (1974)

CAPSULE: LISA AND THE DEVIL (1974)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: A tourist finds herself staying overnight at a Spanish chateau managed by a butler who is the spitting image of Satan as pictured on a local fresco.

Still from Lisa and the Devil (1974)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A mildly surreal horror, Lisa might make for interesting Halloween watching for the patient, but it’s too slow-paced with too little payoff to be counted among the greatest weird movies.

COMMENTS: “The entire setting is so right for a tall tale of gloom and perdition,” says one of the guests at a banquet as a manservant played by Telly Savalas serves her slices of rare meat. “We could make one up as we go along.” Given the almost random way the script unfolds, you might suspect that this line of dialogue is a confession rather than a throwaway bit of dinner conversation. It’s not always clear whether the frequent lapses of logic in Lisa and the Devil are meant to be part and parcel of the unsettling atmosphere, or are merely the result of lazy, indifferent screenwriting. After one of their party is found murdered, the owner of the estate in the middle of nowhere suggests to the rest of the party stranded there that there is no need to call the police—and they all accept that view calmly without offering much in the way of a counter-argument. Niggling unanswered questions proliferate: How do the chauffeur and the wife find time for a lovemaking liaison when he’s supposed to be fixing the car? Why is Lisa terrified of a pocketwatch she sees on a table? Whether these minor story issues add to the film’s dream logic or merely frustrate you as you try to settle on a context for this fright tale may determine how you react to the movie. Lisa builds to a perverse and spooky third act as the shameful secrets of the chateau are slowly brought to light, but the first two thirds of the movie are slow and often confusing. The main living denizens of the villa, a blind mother and her fey son, are an intense couple, but top-billed Savalas (who sucks on his trademark lollipop here) makes by far the biggest impression as a slyly diabolical butler. He’s not conventionally sinister or overtly threatening, but like most servants he knows more about the secret workings of the chateau than his masters do, and his blasé glances and mysterious smiles suggest a man whose subservience is an ill-fitting mask for a deeper purpose. As Lisa, star Elke Sommer, on the other hand, is little more than a blank pretty face—not her fault, as the script gives her nothing to do other than gasp, scream and fall unconscious. Lisa has no history and no reason is given for her straying from her tour group, and she is swept along by events with a bewildered expression, offering no resistance. Passivity is her only real character trait. Her lack of dialogue stands out: other characters divulge shocking confessions to her, and she has nothing to say in response. It’s not clear if her silence is a deliberate choice to make her a mysterious tabula rasa, or whether the character is simply underwritten. If it was a conscious decision, I’m not sure the gamble pays off; we are given little reason to care about the fate of this ambiguous protagonist. On the plus side, Bava’s films are always visually luscious, and Lisa is no exception. The dusty Spanish town and the aristocratic villa give him plenty of lush color to work with, and in her mod short blue skirt and mint green blazer, Sommer looks perfectly out of place romping through these classical vistas. She’s as dislocated in her fashion as she is in her psychology. A flashback/dream sequence set in a sylvan glade supplies a visual highlight, and foreshadows a later scene of a nude Sommer waking in a similar-looking ruins. Savalas’ offhand conversations with his collection of life-sized dummies and an ending that induces shivers despite being somewhat obvious are other memorable bits in this oft-odd spook story. The movie has assets: Savalas, the cinematography, and a few moments of thrilling disorientation. At its best it plays like the dream of a mad ghost; but overall this sepulchral tale is too lifeless for a general recommendation. Fans of slow-paced atmospheric horror may find it a worth taking a chance on, though.

Lisa and the Devil was a flop in Italy and was not picked up for American distribution. Producer Alfredo Leone then decided to try to salvage the movie by re-cutting it and shooting new footage with Sommer and Robert Alda (as a priest) to turn the film into an Exorcist clone; the resulting mess was released in the States as The House of Exorcism. It flopped. The 2012 Kino Classics release contains both versions of the film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The Bava art on full display, voluptuous and oneiric…”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion.com (DVD)

CAPSULE: TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES (1997)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alexandra Pic, Isabelle Teboul, Bernard Charnacé

PLOT: Two eternally reborn vampire girls who are blind during the day but see at night pose as

Still from Two Orphan Vampires (1997)

orphans and are adopted by an eye doctor who believes he can cure them.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Two Orphan Vampires is a very odd, low key movie, but it won’t be confused for Jean Rollin’s best.

COMMENTS: After having some mild success with his unusual, surreal erotic vampire movies in the early 1970s, Jean Rollin fell out of fashion later in the decade and increasingly turned to grinding out hardcore porn films to pay the bills, directing his beloved horrors only sporadically. Although it’s not his final fright film, Two Orphan Vampires feels like a swan song, an old man returning to the themes that haunted him in his youth. Adapted from his own graphic novel, the director’s usual obsessions are all back, undiluted after almost 30 years: Sapphic heroines, world weary vampires struggling with existential burdens of near-immortality, indifference to pacing. The film was obviously made on the cheap, adorned with a poor music score that’s 1/2 funk, 1/2 80s synth-pop and shot on low quality film stock that gives it a direct-to-video look. The cheapness is not helped by the fact that almost half the movie is tinted ultramarine, which is Rollin’s realization of the vampires’ night vision but also unfortunately brings to mind the low-budget trick of using a blue filter in order to shoot day for night. The concept of vampires being blind during the day is novel—more, it’s practically inexplicable, one of many strangely conceived features of this movie that could only have come from this particular director and his skewed view of the Gothic. Orphan Vampires is also unusually talky, even for Rollin, with the girls expressing angst, filling us in on their backstory, and remembering (perhaps imagining) their various reincarnations in lengthy dialogues. Still, the core scenario of these two eternal child-women wandering through the human world as if in a dream is appealing. In their travels they stumble upon other immortal monsters—werewolves, ghouls—all women, all wanderers like themselves. Never has the correspondence between blood and sexual fluids been as pronounced as in this film: lines like “it’s good to be sticky from the lifeblood of this woman,” “I adore you—smear me with some blood” and “you think we could drink each other?” reinforce the connection none too subtly. Other oddities include an strangely staged stalking and slaying taking place in a circus tent conveniently set up in the middle of a Paris street, the vampire girls taking time out to experiment with alcohol and cigarettes like typical teenagers, and the orphans’ continual insistence that they are actually Aztec gods. Two Orphan Vampires is slow, cheap, badly dubbed, and the vampire-vision blue filters get old, true, but there is an almost endearing strangeness and obsessiveness to the movie’s eccentric conceptions. Unfortunately, it goes on too long and wears out its welcome even for those who are attuned to this director’s plodding style, making it yet another of Rollin’s noble failures.

A couple of actresses from the past show up in Two Orphan Vampires, reinforcing the notion of this film as a Rollin retrospective piece. Natalie Perrey from Lips of Blood appears as a nun, and porn actress/topless Grim Reaper is an orphan vampire victim. An even more obscure cameo comes in the Midnight Lady’s choice of bedside reading: Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill’s “Immoral Tales,” an influential survey of seventies Eurohorror that included an appreciative chapter on Rollin.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Though the two orphans are beautiful to look at and their condition tragic, there’s nothing else to hold onto as a viewer. I’m sure some viewers hold on and glean something from this bizarre film, but it never quite gets as weird as [Rollin’s] best work.”–Gordon Sullivan, DVD Verdict

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; Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (1968)

LIST CANDIDATE: REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (1973)

AKA Caged Virgins

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mireille Dargent

PLOT: Two lesbian killers dressed as clowns flee the law and wind up in the hands of a vampire who needs virgins to perpetuate his race.

Still from Requiem for a Vampire (1973)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One of the problems with evaluating Jean Rollin’s fantastique vampire films is that none of them really stick out; each film contains a similar non-plot exploring Gothic iconography and exploiting French models’ nude bodies. It’s almost as if Rollin spent his lifetime shooting one long montage of erotic vampire-themed scenes and arbitrarily edited them into individual movies. Requiem for a Vampire starts out as one of the director’s weirder and artier efforts, but just when the movie goes totally porno on you and you think you can write it off, Rollin whips out the vagina bat, and you’re right back where you started.

COMMENTS: Requiem for a Vampire was Jean Rollin’s first (and only) movie to be dubbed into English and theatrically released in the United States, under the sleazy (but somewhat accurate) title Caged Virgins. It’s a lot of fun to imagine confused 1970s horndogs fuming at the drive-in or grindhouse as they watch Requiem‘s first thirty minutes, which are mostly dialogue-free scenes of two fetching girls wandering around the gorgeous French countryside dressed as clowns.

Frustrated sleaze patrons might have assumed they’d been tricked into watching some sort of Bergmanesque existential art film and left in disgust; but if they stuck around for the movie’s second act, they were rewarded with lesbian lovemaking, whippings, a dungeon full of naked women in chains repeatedly groped and violated, and, of course, that unforgettable vagina bat torture. Even more than most Rollin films, Requiem seesaws between sensationalized sexploitation and earnest eeriness, mixing brilliance and shoddiness together until you’re not sure which is which. After our lesbian clowns (it’s important to stress that the anti-heroines in this movie start as lesbian clowns) escape from the law, they wander across a meadow to a tranquil stream. They gaze into the water and suddenly it turns milky white, then blood red. It’s a delightfully strange moment, cleverly edited so that you don’t realize until later that what you’ve seen is the ladies washing off their clown makeup in the creek. That’s Rollin being brilliant, but soon after comes a scene where one of the pair accidentally falling into an open grave that is soon filled in by two gravediggers, who can’t see the girl in the miniskirt and sexy white knee socks lying on top of the coffin despite staring directly at her. She is somehow able to hold her breath as they fill in the grave with six feet of earth, then wait for her companion to dig her out. This is the type of impossible scene that suggests not so much deliberate surrealism (of which there are no other examples in the film) as a sloppy indifference to logical cause and effect.

The two scenes discussed above, plus the long dungeon orgy with its clumsily staged and repetitive rapes, all occur before the title vampire is even properly introduced; once he makes the scene he turns out to be a tragic, passive and defeatist immortal who’s easily outwitted. The guy needs virgins to fulfill his evil plan, and he thinks he’s lucked out when he finds two lesbians who’ve never known the touch of a man; surely there is no simple trick the girls could pull to avoid a fate of eternal damnation, is there? With its cornball vamp plot and acres of abused nude flesh, Caged Virgins had obvious appeal as an exploitation export, but its arthouse pacing, stylistic experimentation and a disregard for logic that offended even drive-in patrons ensured that it would be a flop. Today, it’s a great introduction to Rollin for vintage horror and sleaze freaks, who will find that this film “delivers” more than the auteur’s artier efforts.

Like almost everything else, Rollin had an uneven approach to sex scenes. He shoots nude bodies with the eye of an artist, but his attempts to shoehorn nudity into his stories are often laughably awkward. The placement of the sado-orgy in Requiem for a Vampire makes some narrative sense, but a sudden ten minute sex scene (the most explicit in Rollin’s softcore catalog) plopped into the middle of a brooding terror tale that’s been only mildly titillating up to that point is tonally jarring, included at the producer’s insistence. The sex scenes sold the film to the American market but got it totally banned in Britain. Then, it was released in the UK in a cut version (even today, the officially sanctioned British cut of the film is missing six minutes of sex and torture). Brit film fans rightfully complained about the censorship, but ironically, the cut version probably produces a more powerful experience, as the dungeon depravity is hopelessly fake and repetitive and generally detracts from the Gothic atmosphere.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this faintly surreal sex-vampire movie achieved a minor cult reputation thanks to its blend of vampirism and sado-eroticism.”–Time Out Film Guide

CAPSULE: LIPS OF BLOOD (1975)

Lèvres de sang

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jean-Loup Philippe, Annie Bell (as Annie Brilland), Natalie Perrey, ,

PLOT: Sparked by a castle he sees on a poster, a man has visions of a long-forgotten girl he

Still from Lips of Blood (1975)

fell in love with as a boy; mysterious forces try to stop him from finding the locale in the photograph, while a vampire coven helps him from afar.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Slow, atmospheric, with vampires in see-through nighties; Lips of Blood seems a little strange to the ordinary horror fan, but by the surreal standards Jean Rollin set for himself, it’s a bit blasé.

COMMENTS: For a movie about the living dead, Lips of Blood is lifeless. For a supposedly erotic movie, most of the time it just lies there. Only Rollin’s trademark dreamy cinematography and a few bold images save this action-and-suspense-free horror from being a complete bore. The scenario sets up a mystery that is not very mysterious, and posits a timeless romance in which we feel only a theoretical involvement. The movie is peppered with poorly scripted moments that don’t come across so much as absurd as simply awkward. For example, when protagonist Frédéric tracks down the photographer who snapped the photo of the castle he sees in his visions, she just happens to be photographing a nude woman masturbating (in a surprisingly explicit moment). When he asks the photographer, herself a beautiful woman, for the location of the mysterious château, she promises to tell him later at a midnight rendezvous, strips naked, and gives him a long wet kiss! Not only is this whole diversion a shameless device to shoehorn in two more nude scenes, it actually damages Frédéric’s character, since he’s supposed to be pining for the mysterious dream girl with whom he has a deep psychic connection, not fooling around with nude models. In a more exploitative movie this brand of brazen sleaze would be entertainingly incongruous, but in a film with serious ambitions as a moody psychological horror, it’s a misstep. The intended eroticism is somewhat better Continue reading CAPSULE: LIPS OF BLOOD (1975)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE NUDE VAMPIRE [LA VAMPIRE NUE] (1970)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Olivier Rollin (as Oliver Martin), Maurice Lemaître, Caroline Cartier, Ursule Pauly,  (as Cathy Tricot), (as Pony Tricot),

PLOT: A young man discovers his father has kidnapped a vampire and is studying her in hopes of learning the secret of immortality.

Still from The Nude Vampire (La Vampire Nue) (1970)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: As we explained in our review of Shiver of the Vampires, we’re expecting to add one of Jean Rollin’s surreal erotic vampire films to the List (though we’re open to the possibility of more than one making it). We want to consider all of the director’s major horror works first, however, before picking the best movie to represent Rollin’s arty and irrational vampire vision. 1973’s Shiver showed a notable improvement in Rollins’ technical filmmaking skills, but Nude, with its suicide cult and multi-dimensional twist ending, holds a slight edge as being the more delirious film. Compared to Shiver, Nude is amateur and raw, but this may be a case where worse is better—or at least, weirder.

COMMENTS: The Nude Vampire opens with a scene of a hooded woman stripped naked in a laboratory by other hooded figures; they take a sample of her blood. Next we find ourselves following a woman slinking through oddly deserted Paris streets in a sheer orange negligee. She’s carefully and quietly followed by men wearing animal masks: a chicken, a bull, some sort of cross between a frog and an insect, and a lavender stag with enormous, impractical horns rising from his head. She meets a strange man outside the Metro and touches his face; together they flee the masked cultists, until the stag-man catches up with her and shoots her on a bridge. Oh, and this entire 8 minute introductory sequence contains no dialogue, just atonal free jazz explorations, first from a wailing baritone sax and then from a screeching violin. If you’re not at least a little intrigued by that opening, well then, you may be browsing the wrong site. Nude tantalizingly rides the fine line between sense (the plot points do connect from one to the next) and nonsense (the entire premise of a suicide cult kidnapping a mutant transdimensional vampire is preposterous). Some scenes are exquisitely haunting: the stag-man standing on cobblestone streets, the slow torchlit march of the undead. Other scenes are staged with an embarrassing amateurism, as when a woman committing suicide fails to react on time to a badly dubbed gunshot to her own temple; or, when two miniskirted women are killed after a third waves a torch in their general direction, causing them to roll themselves down a flight of stairs (flashing their white panties as they work their way around a bend in the staircase) in a way that defies the physics of murder.  From moment to moment the movie could be categorized as either a pretentious student art film or a bad b-movie fever dream (scenes where topless dancers wearing avant-garde pasties gyrate before businessmen weave both strands into one variegated thread). The result of these competing elements is an ambiguous style that makes the distinction between “good” and “bad” irrelevant. Moments of brilliance and flubs are both subsumed into the atmosphere of general weirdness. There’s always something new popping up on screen to raise your eyebrows, like the sexy twin assistants whose favored uniforms are scale mail miniskirts with mobiles covering their breasts, a nude model who goes into a spontaneous interpretative dance, and a suddenly sci-fi ending that might remind you of Phantasm (1979). You’ll sympathize with the minor character who, near the end of the movie, asks the rhetorical question “do you understand any of this?” Rollin’s films failed financially in their day because they proved too pretentious for general horror fans and too exploitative for arthouse patrons, but today they hit the sweet spot for cult movie enthusiasts who crave utter unpredictability in their scare flicks.

Although it’s not chaste by any stretch, there is less sex and nudity in this production than would show up going forward in Rollin’s oeuvre. In the interest of truth in advertising, the movie should have been titled The Vampire in the See-through Nightie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a strange work of conspiracy, family rebellion, and innocence imprisoned, both a vampire film and a strange science fiction fantasy…”–Sean Axmaker, Parallax View (Rollin retrospective)