Tag Archives: Jean Rollin

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)

CAPSULE: NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (1980)

La nuit des traquées

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Vincent Gardère, Dominique Journet, Bernard Papineau

PLOT: A beautiful woman is imprisoned in an unofficial asylum housed in a skyscraper with dozens of patients; because they all suffer from short-term amnesia and can only remember events from the last few minutes, no one knows why they are there.

Still from Night of the Hunted (1980)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Jean Rollin. There’s not room for too many movies from this peculiar director on the List, and while Night of the Hunted is of oddball interest, it’s neither memorable enough not typical enough of the artsploitation auteur’s vampire-centric output to be the representative of his oeuvre.

COMMENTS: A woman has just been shot in a courtyard. A storm arises. We hear thunder rolling and a gale howls through the wind tunnel formed between two skyscrapers with an unnatural keening. We see shots of the brewing storm churning water in a fountain pool. Cut back to the dying woman. Her hair is gently rippling in a light breeze. It’s moments like these that make you wonder if the incongruities that continually crop up in Jean Rollin movies result from incompetence or sly surrealism. In Night of the Hunted the director latches on to an intriguing idea: a group of people suffering from a persistent form of short-term memory loss that leaves them unable to remember what happened two minutes ago. Imprisoned in a secret asylum on the top floor of a tall building hidden in plain sight in the middle of Paris, the lost souls shuffle around the halls and the communal room, unable to remember each other, their children’s names, or where their room is. Their situation is uniquely tragic, bearing an existential dimension that’s reminiscent of later classics like Memento and Cube, while their submission to the doctor and his assistant suggests an anti-authoritarian political fable. Rollin fashions surprisingly affecting dialogue out of  a conversation between two amnesiac women; doomed to be strangers forever, they make a desperate game out of trying to construct a shared past. And yet, there are so many problems with Night of the Hunted script, it’s almost hard to decide where to begin. The most obvious issue is Rollin’s insistence on inserting so many sex and nude scenes that the movie frequently turns from horror into soft porn. There is no doubt Rollin knows how to photograph a nude woman, but he doesn’t know how to gracefully integrate nude women into his stories. The movie’s porniness is at war with its artiness. In the opening, the beautiful amnesiac heroine, Elisabeth (Lahaie), has temporarily escaped captivity, together with a soon-forgotten companion—who is (inexplicably) naked. Robert (Gardère), a kindly motorist, picks her up and takes her—not to a hospital, or the police station—but to his bachelor pad. He’s lucked into a beautiful blonde with a blank mind who lives only for the present and doesn’t know any other man in the world exists but him. A five-minute sex scene (the kind where, no matter what new position the lovers try out, a potted plant always winds up between our eyes and their genitals) follows. The tender rutting completely breaks up any intellectual flow the story was developing. Furthermore, there’s really no way to spin this scenario other than that Robert is taking advantage of Elisabeth for an easy lay; yet, in the modern fairytale world of this movie, we’re supposed to view their love as pure. The gallant knight will spend the rest of the movie trying to rescue the forgetful princess from the tower where she’s been imprisoned. And the funny thing is, the movie works on an emotional level, despite its essential illogic and sleazy interludes. We feel for Elisabeth and her predicament. All the usual complaints against Rollin—his ignorance of or disregard for storytelling conventions, proper pacing, and logic—are on display here. But there are also sublime moments, such as when a dying redhead’s tresses slowly fall down a nearby drain like spilled blood, that make you think there is a genius buried somewhere in there. Rollin’s flaws are the flip side of his virtues, and largely reinforce them; that’s what make his movies unique, and uniquely weird.

Rollin liked the atmosphere created by two women making their way through the world in a daze, reminiscing about a past they may have invented, so much that he reused the idea in Two Orphan Vampires (there, the girls try to remember past lives instead of the past minute, but since they are immortal and their time scale is different, the effect is the same).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…it possesses a wonderful and wonderfully disconcerting charm… In tandem with its bizarre storyline, the film offers a largely unique meditation on the importance and yet fictional nature of human memory.”–Gary D. Rhodes, Kinoeye  Vol. 2, Issue 7 (Apr 2002)

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

CAPSULE: THE DEMONIACS (1974)

Les démoniaques; AKA Curse of the Living Dead

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: John Rico, Joëlle Coeur, Lieva Lone, Patricia Hermenier

PLOT: A crew of “wreckers” rape and apparently kill two female shipwreck survivors, but the two

Still from The Demoniacs (1974)

girls seek revenge with the help of the evil spirits who live in nearby ruins.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Jean Rollin expands his narrow directorial palette slightly with The Demoniacs, moving away from his usual vampires and stepping out of his musty old castles for the fresh air of the seashore. The film doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the usual Rollin romp, however, and despite the pirate spice the result in a fairly typical film that exhibits all the artsploitation auteur’s usual virtues (visuals and atmosphere) and vices (pacing and continuity).

COMMENTS: The Demoniacs explores a new aesthetic for Jean Rollin, one that I’d dub “beach Gothic”: there are scenes set in a ship cemetery, a battered girl in a nightgown crawling along the shoreline past a congregation of carefully arranged crabs, and a pirate’s tavern decorated with bat wings and death’s heads. The villains of the piece are a quartet of sinister salts called “wreckers” who scheme to lure ships onto the shallow reefs of their island home at night, then salvage the loot that washes up onshore. On the night this tale begins, the crew is rooting through their latest catch when two beautiful young blonde girls in pristine white nightgowns stride out of the sea, looking as if they’re walking on water. True to their corrupt natures, the pirates’ response to this eerie and angelic vision is to rape the two innocent survivors, brutally beat them, and leave them for dead. (The rape scene is overlong, and somehow seems even more unpleasant and perverted because the abuse is so badly choreographed). Whether the girls were killed or not remains ambiguous; later, the Captain sees visions of them in a drunken stupor and is convinced they’ve come back to haunt him, but a villager also spots the girls walking about. That sighting leads the wreckers to track the fugitives to a graveyard of shipwrecks—an amazing location, although the most suspenseful question arising in the chase is whether the busty female brigand’s impractical bodice will be able to contain her heaving bosoms during the ensuing three-way gal slap fight. The girls flee into the “cursed ruins” where even the wreckers fear to follow; there, they are met by an orange-haired female clown (!) who introduces the suddenly mute cuties to a sleeping evil who promises to give them a chance at revenge. This sets up a third act with a resolution that’s bewildering even by Rollin’s nonlinear standards. Along the way we get a psychic brothel proprietress, bloodless pigeon heads, and macabre background details like the cheerful noose that hangs over the Captain’s bed as a decoration. One of the film’s biggest assets is Joëlle Coeur as the wanton female wrecker; she’s one in a long line of remarkably beautiful and uninhibited leading ladies Rollin managed to dig up. She’s tempting, she’s perverse, and she’s hard to take your eyes off of whenever she’s onscreen.

After you’ve seen several of them, Rollin’s 1970s movies start to blur together; they become almost interchangeable, like hazy fragments from an uneasy night of nightmares, so that one’s preference for one over another is based on subtle and almost arbitrary criteria. I consider this one of his better efforts, but newcomers will take a while to adjust to the slow pace (it seems like the Captain even gropes his mistress in slow motion). Rollin’s vampire movies may be a better place to start, since the familiar bloodsucker lore provides the viewer with something of a safety net when logic leaves them hanging.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“For all its dreamlike Rollinesque tendencies ‘Les Demoniaques’ is actually a solid and entertaining (if somewhat lackluster) viewing experience. The premise is handled well and the narrative is welcomingly coherent; Rollin’s direction is pretty much faultless throughout and the cast cackle their way through the script in fine fashion (with as ever much topless shenanigans on show to keep art house fans discreetly aroused)…”–Alan Simpson, SexGoreMutants.com (DVD)

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)