December 16, 2010 Jean Rollin exploded on the French film scene during the revolutionary 1960s, with the black-and-white classic "Rape of the Vampire," a title that pretty much sums up the spirit of most of his movies: sexually charged, gothic, blood-drenched orgies that push the envelope as far as it'll go. From his earliest days, Rollin relished in delivering blood, breasts and fangs to hungry horror audiences. A Rollin film is always at least an R-rated affair, if not an X-rated one.
Unlike many shock filmmakers, however, Rollin also delivered incredible atmosphere, artistic sensibilities and moving storylines. One could argue that his movies could never have been made anywhere but France, where erotica and quality can co-exist. His movies were decidedly French, rarely dubbed and until recently hardly had any exposure in the United States. Only one of his films, "Requiem for a Vampire" saw wide theatrical release in the U.S., after the film was picked up for distribution by exploitation legend Harry Novak. In addition to being just a so-so movie, it was also one of the tamest films from the normally over-sexed director. It was at first released on video sometime in the '80s under the title "Caged Virgins."
In the late 1990s, a British horror film company called Redemption began releasing his better titles on video in Great Britain and the U.S. The new exposure has helped solidify Rollin's standing as one of the finest gore-horror-exploitation filmmakers of the past quarter century. Rollin has directed some of the best horror films ever made, in fact, but he won't ever enjoy a cult as enormous as Dario Argento's in the U.S. simply because he didn't dub his films in English except for one, the rather disappointing "Requiem for a Vampire."
Rollin managed to use historic French locales for maximum atmospheric effect. Old castles and ruins helped make "Lips of Blood" and"Grapes of Death" classics of the genre. Both films were made back to back (in between innumerable Rollin porn films, that is), and were followed by another Rollin gem, "Fascination."These three films, produced from 1976-79, marked Rollin's best period. All three films capture the essence of a good Rollin movie.
Like a Bond movie, a Rollin film also boasts some of the most beautiful women to hit celluloid -- and they always disrobe. This, of course, made his film's marketable in France and, now, in the U.S. But while sexuality in horror films usually just distracts the viewer and often just serves as a cheap gimmick that the filmmakers are afraid of using in Rollin's films it intensifies the horror. His movies are about sexuality itself and the downward spiral it can take people. His artistic and dreamlike films unflinchingly examine the erotic side of evil. The high sex content doesn't dilute the integrity of his movies.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Rollin also directed films that are trash, mainly hardcore porn. In fact, XXX-rated films were a way for him to pay the bills while he worked on the movies he was really passionate about. Unfortunately, Rollin also made some awful horror films in his time clearly just for the money. The worst film of his career, easily, is "Zombie Lake," a real heap of garbage that's so awful, it's hard to believe Rollin had anything to do with it. "Night of the Hunted" is also a real dog. Generally speaking, when a Rollin film fails, it's usually because of the budget. A director can only be so creative, and when given zero francs to deliver a product, Rollin has at times buckled under the pressure. It's a shame because these lesser efforts are so beneath what the man has proven he is capable of.
Generally speaking, whenever Rollin touched a vampire movie, it turned out to be gold or at least passable. His best vampire picture was probably "Lips of Blood," an art-horror film if there ever was one, with great acting, bizarre dream-like sequences and a genuinely fascinating, mystery storyline, not to mention a Rollin trademark: scantily clad vampire maidens moving in slow-motion past French castle ruins."Shiver of the Vampires" is also a blood-sucker classic (and a hilarious movie, thanks to some hippie vampires). Rollin's all-time best, however, might be his tribute to "Night of the Living Dead": "Grapes of Death."
Luckily for all of us, Rollin managed to keep the negatives for his films, so whenever one crops up on DVD it looks marvelous. The format has been great for keeping the cult of a number of filmmakers alive. But for Rollin, DVD has opened up his films to a whole new audience in the United States -- an audience that otherwise may never have heard of the director. Redemption Films is owed a lot for getting his movies out. Rollin continued to direct horror well into the 1990s, although his last films didnt see af significant release in the U.S.
Word has spread from the European press to American fite sites that Rollin has finally passed away. He was a giant in the art of horror movie making, and he will be painfully missed.