by Jim Pyke
Over the past few years I have been fortunate enough to meet some of the great directors of modern European horror films. I am still surprised with each meeting to find that the creators of such unsettling films are some of the nicest guys I will probably ever meet. My personal theory is that they exorcise their inner demons through their films, leaving the rest of their lives nominally carefree. This theory is probably an exaggeration, but upon meeting Jean Rollin
If Rollin were inclined to be a bitter man, he would have some reason to be so. There were riots at the premier of his first feature, LE VIOL DU VAMPIRE (The Rape of the Vampire, 1968), and while these were more the result of the general student strike in Paris that spring, the film was also universally panned by the critics. A lesser man might have been deterred by such a response to his creation of the first French vampire film. Fortunately for the world of cinema, however, Rollin has persevered to make more than a dozen atmospheric and erotically charged horror movies over a career spanning nearly three decades. Recently, his efforts have received some long-deserved positive attention both at home in France, with the recent high-profile re-release of several of his films on video, and abroad in the United States and England, with major video releases and media coverage in magazines like European Trash Cinema, Necronomicon, and even the more mainstream Fangoria.
Like his favorite female lead Brigitte Lahaie, Rollin has also shot a number of porn films, but unlike her, he is not particularly proud of them and in large measure only did them for the money (as is evidenced by the fact that he refused to put his own name to them, preferring the pseudonym, "Michel Gentil"). Throughout the 1970s Rollin shot porn films assigned to him (which unfortunately did not help his reputation much) while waiting and working for new opportunities to create his own unique visions.
The genre films Rollin makes are often weighed down with a sense of loss: of friendship, of love, of innocence, even of life itself. His style comes more from the older French cinematic tradition of poetic realism (directors like Marcel Carn and Jean Renoir) than the New Wave movement of his contemporaries, who include Truffaut and Godard. In keeping with this, Rollin's movies are always imbued with a strange feeling of nostalgia, even in the science-fiction tale LA VAMPIRE NUE, in which the nostalgia is for an imagined utopian future rather than an artificially sweetened past.
Now in his late fifties, Rollin is completely surprised by his renewed popularity, andafter having recently completed his first new feature in years (LES DEUX ORPHELINES VAMPIRES)he is happily hard at work developing a mini-series for French television conceptually based on "The Twilight Zone."
LA VAMPIRE NUE
Rollin's second feature tells the enthralling tale of a wealthy man trying to gain immortality for himself and his peers by chemically replicating the blood of a vampire he is holding captive. For the majority of the film, however, this plot is kept shrouded behind mysterious events, such as late-night costumed rituals in a secret villa, kidnappers darting about wearing rough-hdwn animal masks, and scantily clad women performing swirling dances. Part of what holds everything together so well is the fact that (as in most of Rollin's work) the side effects of the film's low budgetcheap color film stock and a visibly hurried style of shootinglend it a powerful sense of urgency often lacking in more polished works.
LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES
Another handling of what seems to be Rollin's favorite subject: the overtly erotic vampire film. This time the tale concerns a love pentangle
REQUIEM POUR UN VAMPIRE
The completely improvised story begins with a car chase/shoot-out instigated by two women dressed as clowns. Soon, they ditch their car, set fire to it, and run off into the forest, where they encounter an escalating series of dangers, culminating in a brush with an aging vampire who needs their virtue to perpetuate his specier. Thanks to his wildly wandering story, Rollin has ample opportunities to inject REQUIEM with images both surreal and beautiful, disturbing and erotic. The film's strongly atmospheric quality is furthered by the fact that it is largely free of dialogue. Even without the aid of words, by the time we reach the end of it, we have passed through much of Rollin's favorite thematic territorytouching on ideas of undying friendship, honorable and melancholy vampires, and women who are ultimately far stronger than the men who apparently endanger them.
LES RAISINS DE LA MORTE
After several years of shooting pseudonymous porn films, Rollin returned to horror with this, the first Francophone gore-fest (). It is also Rollin's first venture away from vampire films to the neighboring land of the zombies. In this chapter of the zombie mythos, it is poisoned wine (hence the alternate title PESTICIDE) that precipitates the decaying, undead state of the film's antagonists. In an even more original twist, the wine affects only its male victims physically; the women simply go invisibly, murderously insane. This allows for one the film's most striking images: an homage to Italian horror mūstro Mario Bava, in which the stunning Brigitte Lahaie goes on the prowl with her menacing black attack dogs. For those who may be wondering; although this was her first nonpornographic role, she does strip down briefly in order to ostensibly prove that she is unaffected ("look no open sores") by the plague.
Near the beginning of the 1900s, there was a big health fad among the rich that involved a pilgrimage to the local slaughterhouse for a goblet of freshly drained animal blood.
LA MORTE VIVANTE
With this film Rollin deals in greater depth than ever before with his recurring theme of the unbreakable bond of friendship between two women. This time, however, the bond is between one living woman and another who is undead (the result of a toxic waste spill in her crypt). In a smart and sensitive twist, the living woman turns out to be the greater menaceshe is on a quest for victims with which to slake the bloodlust of her friendwhereas the undead woman simply laments her cursed state and seeks only the everlasting peace that death will bring. Ultimately, the only way she can find this peace is to destroy her only friend (who drags her undead companion from the lake where she has attempted to drown herself) in a blood feast that is simultaneously frenzied and melancholy. This is at once Rollin's most repellently gory and most deeply touching film.
LES DEUX ORPHELINES VAMPIRES
Rollin's most recent film once again features his favorite protagonists: a pair of young, beautiful women. This time they are the blind and deceptively docile residents of a Catholic orphanage
These films and others by Rollin are available on video in the U.S. from Video Search of Miami (PO BOX 16-1917, MIAMI FL 33116).