Tag Archives: Marie-Pierre Castel

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)

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