Tag Archives: Jean Rollin

CAPSULE: FASCINATION (1979)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jean-Marie Lemaire, Franca Maï, , Fanny Magier

PLOT: A highwayman burns his fellow brigands and holes up in a chateau, where he meets two

Still from Fascination (1979)

seductive women who are expecting mysterious guests at midnight.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s one of Rollin’s most polished and conventional horror movies; the surrealistic dalliances are kept to a minimum, and the rough edges of his earlier lesbian vampire films (like the crazy Nude Vampire) have been smoothed out. That makes it a good choice for fans atmospheric horror of with lots of sex—who will find it a fairly odd period terror–but lacks true fascination for the weird film fan.

COMMENTS: Fascination starts out fascinatingly enough, with a woman opening a tome on witchcraft and caressing the pages sensually with her lace-sleeved hands, followed by a credits sequence with two women waltzing on a stone bridge. After this prologue comes an eye-widening first scene where two women—one dressed in bridal white and the other in funereal black—stand in a slaughterhouse and drink ox’s blood as a doctor helpfully informs them, “today, in April 1905, we find it’s the best way to cure anemia.” Unfortunately for lovers of the bizarre, however, the ride smooths out after that opening and we get a familiar-feeling story about a desperate man who seeks refuge in a house inhabited by fairy tale femme fatales. This is a well made film: as per usual with Rollin, the cinematography, sexual choreography, locations (featuring another memorable château, this time isolated on an island with a stone bridge being the only approach) and music (ranging from medieval inspired chants to waltzes to heavy horror cues) are all top notch. But lovers of the bizarre will find this love triangle in a misty universe of sex and death only mildly titillating; devotees of erotic Eurohorror will get far more satisfaction from the ample female flesh on display (the stage blood, on the other hand, is both thin and rare for this type of production). Fascination does show remnants of Rollin’s slightly illogical, dreamlike signature style, with impassioned romances compressed into hours and a clueless protagonist who remains irrationally cocky even as evidence mounts that things are not as they seem. Characters say things like “beware, death sometimes takes the form of seduction” and “the love of blood may be more than that of the body in which it flows” and “it’s all very melodramatic…” Brigitte Lahaie supplies Fascination‘s highlight when she transforms into a buxom grim reaper; armed with a scythe, she goes on a killing spree wrapped only in a thin black cloak that reveals her bosom when the slightest breeze blows. The fatalistic (if predictable) final scene, set in what seems to be some sort of bizarre, cavernous aviary, is also a keeper. For the most part, however, Fascination is a polished product, containing little that the mainstream horror fan would find alienatingly weird. Predictably, this leads some to proclaim it Rollin’s best film. But the absence of surreal gambles doesn’t make it his best; it merely prevents it from being his worst.

Although she’s not the featured star, curvaceous and sensual Brigitte Lahaie steals the show, ruling the screen whenever she’s on it. Lahaie began her career in hardcore porn, in the era when adult films had scripts and the players actually acted in between sex scenes. Rollin, who also directed adult films to pay the bills, gave her her first role in a horror film in 1978’s The Raisins of Death, then gave her a larger part in Fascination. Although France’s top adult actress at the time, Lahaie always seemed too beautiful, elegant and talented for porn, and she indeed retired from hardcore in 1980. She appeared mainly in horror and softcore films afterwards, but landed a bit part in the NC-17 arthouse hit Henry and June (1990) and a small but memorable role in the very weird Calvaire (2004). She currently hosts a French radio talk show about sexuality. Fascination may well mark the high point of her acting career.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The sex scenes are more intense and explicit than Rollin’s previous horror outings but remain suffused with a heady surrealism that makes the encounters play like animated works of art… this DVD is a sight for sore eyes and should serve as a nice aid for introducing new viewers to Rollin’s strange, wonderful cinematic world.”–Mondo Digital (DVD)

CAPSULE: THE IRON ROSE [LA ROSE DE FER] (1973)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Françoise Pascal, Hugues Quester (as Pierre Dupont)

PLOT: Young lovers go mad when they are trapped in a cemetery overnight.

Still from The Iron Rose

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Iron Rose‘s wonderfully funereal setting and muted weirdness isn’t powerful enough to overcome its lack of events. The slow-paced visual poetry here is hit-or-miss, resonating strongly with some viewers while boring others stiff. I’m in the latter camp, I’m afraid; I believe there are brisker, more agreeable vehicles to represent Jean Rollin on the List.

COMMENTS: To many fans, La Rose de Fer represents the distilled essence of Jean Rollin: trancelike atmosphere, poetic visuals, and quiet, dreamy symbolism. With its couple making love all over a graveyard, rolling around in passion amongst the skulls and femurs, it’s also the most blatant example of the director’s desire to play matchmaker between Eros and Thanatos. And, while it’s correct to say Rose is pure Rollin, the very integrity of vision shown here exposes the director’s flaws even more than his virtues: his seeming indifference to character and story, his stilted faux-Symbolist dialogue, and, especially, his tortoise-influenced method of pacing. Rose begins on Rollin’s famous beach that appears in almost all of his movies; Françoise Pascal, the stunning and exotic half-Mauritanian actress/model, finds the titular mineral flower washed up on shore. She then walks through a field and a deserted French town; six minutes later, the plot begins as a young poet toasts her at a wedding reception with a ditty about death. The two arrange for a date and, after hitting it off quickly, end up in a magnificent French cemetery for a picnic and a little lovemaking inside a tomb (despite the girl’s initial reticence). The boneyard is almost deserted except for a few odd visitors, including a clown in full makeup who places flowers on a grave. When they emerge from the crypt in post-coital bliss, they find that night has fallen early, the boy has lost his watch, and the path they came in on appears to be missing. Although the scenario sounds like an promising blend of Freud and the Twilight Zone, it takes thirty minutes of plodding setup to reach this point, and when we finally do, Rollin offers us too little payoff for our patience. The boy Continue reading CAPSULE: THE IRON ROSE [LA ROSE DE FER] (1973)

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)

LIST CANDIDATE: SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES [LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES] (1971)

AKA Strange Things Happen at Night

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sandra Julien, Jean-Marie Durand, Dominique,  (as Marie-Pierre Tricot), Kuelan Herce, Jacques Robiolles,

PLOT: A honeymooning couple stops at a creepy castle to visit the bride’s distant cousins, but

Still from Shiver of the Vampires (1971)

find their hosts have been turned into vampires.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The films of Jean Rollin come with a reputation/warning: their mix of artistry and exploitation isn’t for everyone, and they’re all variations on the same idea. The director’s formula is thick Gothic atmosphere, beautiful visuals, mild surrealism, nude female vampires, and an indifference to rational plotting. In terms of making the List, what this suggests is that one Rollin movie might be appointed to represent the director’s entire canon; but, is Shiver the chosen one? We’ll have to see them all to decide for sure.

COMMENTS: Plotheads need not apply to a Jean Rollin movie. Shiver of the Vampires does have a story, but it’s thin and generic, full of the usual staples of the vampire genre: coffins, stakes through the heart, crumbling castles, crucifixes. Rollin approaches this film more like a painter than like a storyteller, and you have to engage with the film as if you’re looking at an art exhibit rather than listening to a ghost story. Certain startling imagery jumps out at you by design—the vampire emerging from the grandfather clock, the goldfish bowl containing a skull, the deadly spike bra—but the decadent backgrounds are just as appealing to the eye. It’s the kind of film where curvaceous maidens in diaphanous gowns walk through dusty corridors carrying candelabras, and there’s always mist wafting across the tombstones at night. There’s ample nudity—the women of Shivers doff their duds at the slightest excuse—but it’s shot with an artist’s rather than a voyeur’s eye for the female form. Otherwise, however, the sexuality of vampirism isn’t presented with much subtlety; a female vamp is dispatched in a phallic staking ritual, and when nude vampires are exposed to sunlight they writhe in a torment that looks remarkably like orgasm. With liberal use of red gels, aquamarine backlights, and pigmented fogs, the color schemes are brilliantly unreal (proving the Eurohorror tradition of crazed chromatism well predates 1977’s Suspiria). A prog-rock guitar, drum and bass trio dither ecstatically over the action; the electrified score contrasts with the Gothic atmosphere, but it works well to ground the otherwise timeless tale in its contemporary era. There are also unidentifiable, animalistic howls that show up on the soundtrack at strategic points. A pair of nameless “bourgeois vampires” who bow and scrape, finish each other’s sentences, and lecture on the worship of Isis adds further oddness to an already strange story. Shiver is partly a tribute to and partly a parody of bloodsucker conventions, but the film’s overall tone is hard to pin down, except to say that it’s detached and dreamlike. The human victims’ reactions to their predicament are dazed and out of sync with reality, as if they’re drugged or hypnotized. Isle appears not at all terrified when a strange woman emerges from a grandfather clock in her room (and her modest attempt to cover her bare bosom is woefully inadequate).  After the groom witnesses a vampiric ritual he returns to the conjugal chamber but, rather than rousing his bride to flee, strokes her naked sleeping body. Terror transforms into lust quickly inside Shivers hermetic dream. For decades, Rollins’ slow-paced, arty, irrational musings on the vampire myth have frustrated horror fans looking for old-fashioned bloodletting, but they are subtly strange artifacts that reflect the unique preoccupations of their creator. These fetishistic documents are ultimately of more interest to fans of neo-surrealism than of horror.

The French title, Le Frisson des Vampires, does literally translate as “Shiver of the Vampires,” but “frisson” has a secondary connotation of “thrill” (like the pleasant spine tingles provided a good horror movie shock). Rollins’ two previous features had more salacious titles: Le Viol du Vampire (Rape of the Vampire) (1968) and La Vampire Nue (The Nude Vampire) (1970).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… [a] vexing piece of psychedelic nonsense…”–Robert Firsching, Rovi