December 2, 2007
With two new Jean Rollin films on DVD in the past couple of months -- "The Iron Rose" and "The Nude Vampire" -- this seemed like the right time to look back at this legendary French horror filmmaker, arguably the best filmmaker of sexually charged vampire films of all time. Rollin also has a new film on the way: 2007's "The Night of the Clocks" (La Nuit des Horloges). Unfortunately, there's no word of a distributor yet.
Here is the film's story: A young woman (the noted pornographic actress Ovidie) dives into a very curious journey through the fictional universe of a deceased film director who shes been led to believe is her cousin. Visiting the locations the demarcated the imagination of the filmmaker, she encounters the strange characters who inhabit his filmography. These people exhibit unsettling behaviour and engage in mysterious rituals that carry terrible menace for the woman. Her voyage beyond the gates of the unknown may well prove fatal.
The film premiered at Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival this year. Rollin said the film was his final film.
Jean Rollin Horror Filmography
Rape of the Vampire
Year Released 1969
Year Released 1970
Shiver of the Vampires
Year Released 1970
Requiem for a Vampire
Year Released 1971
Year Released 1973
Year Released 1973
Lips of Blood
Year Released 1975
Grapes of Death
Year Released 1978
Year Released 1979
Night of the Hunted
Year Released 1980
Year Released 1980
Living Dead Girl
Year Released 1982
Two Orphan Vampires
Year Released 1997
Fiancee of Dracula
Year Released 1999
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 has 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 usually delivers 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 are 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 manages 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 has 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 touches a vampire movie, it turns 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 latest films have yet to see any kind of significant release in the U.S.
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