The Resurrection of French Horror Maestro Jean Rollin

Redemption Films and Kino Lorber continue their resurrection and remastering of French horror maestro Jean Rollin with two films about the intense bond between creepy “sisters”.

The Living Dead Girl is Rollin’s idea of contributing to the 1980s zombie craze (after his lovely viral-zombie effort The Grapes of Death). It begins with a clumsy unconvincing expository reel to raise the beautiful girl from her coffin, and periodically it indulges in requisite gory murders perpetrated on passive victims who stand there screaming rather than defend themselves. But never mind. Rollin doesn’t care about these things and implies that neither should you; he’s after bigger game.

This zombie girl becomes a full character of existential anguish. As blood consumption gradually returns her to human characteristics, such as being able to talk, she is horrified by what she has become. She is protected by a friend/lover who is her “blood sister” (the girlhood ritual shown in flashbacks) and who is sucked into protecting her and even luring new victims. Thus a zombie flick becomes a lesbian/necrophile delirium. One must kill to prolong the state she’s repelled by. The other kills out of love for her, which has an element of selfishness. Which is the greater monster?

While this film includes some commercial compromises (detailed in the making-of segments), Two Orphan Vampires feels completely like Rollin’s vision, even being based on his own novel, and it’s one of his least exploitive efforts. The orphan girls are blind during the day but see at night, when everything appears blue. Then they go hunting and spinning yarns. They appear to be vampires in that they use retractable fangs to bite people, but it’s not clear whether the stories they tell themselves are mere fairy tales, or how much of anything can be real. They wander the nights having strange, sometimes fatal encounters, often running into other supernatural women who might be delusional.

Both films are beautiful tragedies of thwarted female power. Both are presented with extras, including interviews with the late Rollin, and both include liner notes that compare and contrast the films usefully. Perhaps a more revealing contrast is with Renato Polselli’s Black Magic Rites (aka The Reincarnation of Isabel), released by Redemption the same day. This montage of naked flesh and gore, scripted randomly and edited “psychedelically”, with historical flashbacks and reincarnations of witches, demons, and vampires in an old castle, approaches some kind of avant-garde statement. It’s perhaps best approached as a cockeyed remake of Bloody Pit of Horror, since both star Mickey Hargitay and dungeons. At any rate, it’s the crude and noisy nightmare to Rollin’s elegant dreams.

RATING 6 / 10