Better known under the alternate title of The Runaways, Jean Rollin's 1981 bizarre and macabre fairy tale begins with the fairly iconic image of a young woman named Marie (Christiane Coppe) sitting in a wooden rocking chair in an otherwise empty field. A doctor and his nurse watch her from the window of the nearby asylum that Marie has called home for an unknown amount of years, and their discussion confirms that they have no choice but to leave the poor girl in the asylum for the rest of her life as she's unable to communicate, and therefore function, with anyone on any sort of passable level.
Things begin to change for Marie when a young woman Michelle decides, after being forced to take a cold shower and to wear a straight jacket, that she's going to escape from the asylum. She talks Marie into helping her and that night they sneak out of the hospital into the woods behind them. The pair travels together through the countryside where they meet up with a band of vagabond performance artists and eventually wind up involved in a strange burlesque show put on for a biker gang. The next morning, one of the biker woman, Sophie (Marianne Valiot), cons the girls into helping her with a heist she has planned. Of course, things don't always go as planned... and at one point Brigitte Lahaie makes out with another chick on a fancy couch - this is a Rollin movie after all!
Making the most out of that oddly distant quality that the director manages to infuse in so many of his films, this languidly paced and at times surreally comic tale of two insane woman on the run harkens back to some of this other films like Requiem For A Vampire and High School Hitchhikers, both of which also focus on a pair of female protagonists on the run. Throw in the institutional coldness and strange aversion to psychiatric institutions that we see explored in Night Of The Hunted, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with this picture which explores very similar themes. In typical Rollin fashion, the film works better as a series of bizarre set pieces, and the narrative comes second to atmosphere and mood.
The visuals are as striking and, in a melancholy sort of way, beautiful as you'd expect from the director. Lots of slow, languid shots and interesting compositions help with the film's tone and while on a conventional level the film's technique might seem rather unorthodox, the cinematography is actually rather creative and often times quite inspired. As far as the performances are concerned, everyone is fairly subdued here, which fits with the otherworldly tone of the picture quite nicely. This truly odd picture is doesn't have as many of the horrific elements that many of Rollin's films are known for - no living dead girls or vampires are anywhere in sight - but the erotic elements that are in many of his pictures are definitely in full swing. From the strip teases done at the burlesque performance to the more blatant scenes of lesbian sex, the film has a sensuality to it that works very well. Of course, all of the events build up to an understandably bleak conclusion wherein the girls' actions, or in some cases inactions, place them at the center of a conflict that they certainly could have avoided had they remained complacent in the asylum to which they were sent - it's a bit of food for thought, if nothing else.
The Escapees looks okay despite some mild compression artifacts present in a couple of the darker scenes and the fact that the transfer is interlaced and shows some mild PAL conversion motion blurring. The 1.55.1 non-anamorphic widescreen image (the film is not fullframe as stated on the back), transferred from the original negative, boasts great color reproduction and a very clean, colorful picture with a nice amount of both foreground and background detail present throughout. You'll probably pick up on some softness here but that's common in a lot of Rollin's work. Skin tones look nice and natural, black levels are strong and deep, and there aren't any serious problems with edge enhancement or heavy aliasing present during playback - it's just a shame that Redemptions transfers almost always have the whole interlaced/PAL conversion going on...
For a film more than two decades old that was low budget to begin with, the French language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track sounds pretty solid on this release. There is some mild background hiss in one or two scenes and if you listen for them you'll pick out the occasional pop here and there but for the most past, things sound alright. Dialogue is fairly clean and pretty consistent even if sometimes the levels fluctuate just a little bit. It's not a perfect track, but it's pretty decent none the less and it suits the film just fine. Optional English subtitles are also included, but the smudgy black border around them makes them sometimes a little difficult to read.
The main extra on this disc is an all new interview with director/co-writer Jean Rollin (28:23) who speaks at length about his films, with a particular emphasis given to this picture and to Night Of The Hunted. Shot in Paris in 2008, Rollin, sitting on a couch in a room full of books and odd statues, talks about his dislike of clichés in films, and the difficulty of collaborating on scripts. From there he takes us to a cemetery in Paris and talks about some of the movies that he shot there. All in all, it's a pretty interesting talk with one of fantastic cinema's most underrated and consistently interesting creative minds.
Rounding out the extras are trailers for a few other Redemption releases, a still gallery, some animated menus and chapter selection.
It's a shame that Redemption's transfers are consistently off, as they're otherwise doing a pretty decent job with their more recent Rollin re-releases. Considering that obscurity of this picture and the problems with the picture quality it's still watchable but it could have and should have been better. As to the film itself? It's great to have this lesser known effort from Jean Rollin on DVD at long last, and fans of his work will definitely enjoy the movie, as well as the bonus interview that's been included - for those reasons, this release comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.