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"Tenuous, Elliptical, Dreamlike" - Three More from Jean Rollin

More sisters, vampires, and vampire sisters from the poet of melancholy dreams.


The Rape of the Vampire

Director: Jean Rollin
Cast: Bernard Letrou
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Rated: Unrated
Year: 1968
USDVD release date: 2012-5-29

Requiem for a Vampire

Director: Jean Rollin
Cast: Marie-Pierre Castel, Mireille d'Argent
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Rated: Unrated
Year: 1973
USDVD release date: 2012-5-29

The Demoniacs

Director: Jean Rollin
Cast: John Rico
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Rated: Unrated
Year: 1974
USDVD release date: 2012-5-29

Kino Lorber's series "The Cinema of Jean Rollin", reviewed here by PopMatters, continues with three titles best appreciated by those who have already become familiar with the filmmaker's tenuous, elliptical, dreamlike, obsessive proclivities in storytelling.

Nobody was familiar with them when he made his debut, The Rape of the Vampire, and the result was a film nobody liked or understood, according to Rollin and critic/friend Jean Bouyxou in bonus interviews. Yet it was a fluke hit, according to Bouyxou, because it played during the May 1968 riots in Paris, and rioters would get off the streets by hiding in the theatre. There, the film's confusing and amateurish nature (amateur=one who does it for love) caused more riots inside the theatre. By zeitgeistian serendipity, the movie climaxes with anarchic armed revolution against the Vampire Queen, which made it seem like a sign of the times.

When the first plot wraps up at the 40-minute mark with everybody dead, and suddenly the movie begins a second part with new credits, the viewer's disorientation might obscure the point that they decided to continue shooting until they had a feature. After the first few days, they worked without a script as Rollin basically improvised the film in the manner of Surrealists he admired. He mentions the Belgian painter Paul Delvaux as a visual influence. He also mentions that the nudity was required by his American producer Sam Selsky in order to sell the film widely, thus embarking on the schizophrenic straddling of art and exploitation that marks his melancholy and tenebrous output. Two of his early short films are included here; one is recited poetry set at the beach where he usually made his films, and the other a Kafka-esque nightmare in a North African town.

Requiem for a Vampire is almost a perfect Rollin, created intuitively with one surreal sequence leading to another, often without dialogue. The first half is certainly perfect, as two silent women in clown make-up take part in a shoot-em-up car chase before wandering through a cemetery and into a ruined castle of vampires. The sexploitation element kind of takes over at that point, such that you never know whether the next sequence will be delicately beautiful or risible or possibly both. The U.S. distribution title was Caged Virgins. Still, this remains an unpredictable, mournfully existentialist film.

There are no literal vampires in The Demoniaques, a 19th Century tale of shipwreckers on the Breton coast. Two beautiful young victims of shipwreck prove surprisingly impervious to attempts on their life by the depraved gang of ruffians who over-act like the drunken sailors they play (amid softcore interludes), until a mysterious demon in an abbey gives the women his supernatural powers for one night. As one of Rollin's associates states in an interview, this film is a mix of pure Rollin (picturesque, lovely, inscrutable, sad) with "other elements".

These discs are curated with love and respect for a highly individual horror auteur, and the expansive liner notes by Tim Lucas (in a small pamphlet) provide perspective that's both sensitive and sensible.

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Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
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