Shiver Of The Vampires is, in Rollin's own words, his 'most accomplished film' and while the man would make more interesting and often more accessible movies later in his career, it's hard to argue with him. Those who appreciate Rollin's truly unique style will find much to love about this movie, his third feature length production, as it really typifies what he's become best known for over the years.
The story follows a young couple, Antoine (Jean-Marie Durand) and Isla (Sandra Julien of I Am Frigid... Why?), who have just been wed. They're off on their honeymoon and she insists that they stop off at a decrepit old castle so that she can visit her two cousins who she hasn't seen since she was a young girl. When they arrive, one of the locals tells Antoine that his wife's cousins are dead. She's distraught by the news but they opt to spend the night in the castle anyway and thanks to the unusual hospitality of the two female servants (Marie-Pierre Castel and Kuelan Herce) they're allowed to use the facilities as they see fit.
Later that night, Isla is taken by a woman named Isolde (Dominique of Requiem For A Vampire) who emerges out of a creepy old clock to cast her otherworldly spell. Once this happens, things begin to get increasingly stranger until it turns out that Isla's cousins aren't quite as deceased as she was lead to believe. She and Antoine learn this the hard way when the two men (Jacques Robiolles and Michel Delahaye) show up and insist on having dinner with the couple. The more Isla interacts with her cousins and their servants, the more odd her behavior becomes until she no longer wants to go out during daylight, claiming that the light hurts her eyes. Antoine knows that something is up, as does Isabelle (Nicole Nancel), a woman who was once in love with both of Isla's cousins, but figuring out just what exactly is happening is going to prove to be far more difficult than Antoine could ever imagine.
Rollin's style would mature and he'd make more polished films than this, but Shiver Of The Vampires is really a superb example of his aesthetic and of the elements that would go on to become so associated with his work. It's also interesting to note that the finale, like many important scenes from his filmography, plays out on a beach. The film's narrative is an interesting blend of surrealist nonsense and standard horror movie trappings, which when combined, result in a truly unusual story that seems to operate very much on its own plane. While the creepy gothic castles that much of the film takes place in are a standard enough location to place a horror movie, having an antagonist emerge from a clock is certainly a rather odd way to introduce a character, made all the more unusual when we learn who this character really is and what she's after in the first place. There are a few kinky set pieces here that artfully blend the sex and violence that later films like Living Dead Girl would take to the next level, such as the death by spiky bra scene and a nasty little rape. Lesbian vampirism is, of course, a big deal in the film and that remains what the director is best known for despite doing plenty of work outside of that sub-genre.
What makes the movie work, outside of the concept and the direction, is the visual aspect of the film. If you put too much thought into the movie, it becomes too cluttered and too nonsensical to work. It's easy to find yourself wondering aloud about the logic of the film, like why if this old castle has been inhabited for so long is there so much graffiti evident on the walls or why does Antoine stop to put on his fancy sheer scarf before reaching for his pistol? Shiver Of The Vampires is a movie that works more as a treat for the eyes and the soul, rather than the brain. There doesn't appear to be a deeper meaning to any of it, and it might seem that things happen in the film for no reason. Everything feels like a strange dream and on that level it works really well. This dream-like atmosphere is further enhanced by the use of some unusual primary lighting effects, the kind that Italian directors like Bava and Argento have also used to great effect. While many of Rollin's movies are quite colorful, Shiver Of The Vampires differs in the way that he uses the color to bath the locations in red. It's a nice touch that sets the gothic castle apart from other horror movies that make use of similar settings. It's a much brighter film than many of his other works.
As far as the cast is concerned, Julien and Durand are decent enough in the lead roles. Castel and Herce are quite mesmerizing, spending most of the film in quite revealing attire and looking perpetually stoned, in their own world. The most unusual performances in the film belong to Robiolles and Delahaye who play their parts with so much flamboyant enthusiasm that one has to wonder if it's meant to be taken seriously or not. Dominique is their equal, in terms of bringing a truly odd screen presence to the movie, using her gaunt face and lithe body to do most of the acting as her part has little dialogue. Placing these performers in the odd locations and setting everything to a fuzzed out, guitar heavy soundtrack (courtesy of a French band called Acanthus) was a great move, as Rollin achieves some impressive, if admittedly very weird, results with this film.
Kino/Redemption presents Shiver Of The Vampires in an AVC encoded 1.66.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer mastered from the original 35mm negative. Despite some minor specks here and there, the image is a strong one, showing nice depth and strong detail throughout, though again, as it's been with some of the other Rollin Blu-ray's, some scenes that have always looked soft still do. For an older low budget film, however, the movie looks very good here. You can make out the texture in the negligees worn by the female characters in the film and you can almost smell the mold in the dank confines of the castle. The makeup on the faces of the male characters towards the end has never looked more bizarre than it does here, and the red lighting used throughout the movie has a very lush feel to it. Black levels are strong and if shadow detail isn't always completely perfect, it's very close. Fans of Rollin's films should be very happy with Kino's efforts on this one, it looks very good.
The best audio option on the Blu-ray disc is a French track, in LPCM 2.0 Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only, though an English audio track is also provided, again in LPCM 2.0 Mono that is on par with the original language mix in terms of clarity and quality. Both tracks sound quite good here, offering properly balanced dialogue and sound effects and really allowing the tone of the score to come through with more clarity than before. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note and everything sounds nice and clean and clear. It should also be noted that the subtitles translate the French language track (they're not dubtitles) and that there are some conversational differences between the two language options.
Extras start off with a quick introduction from Rollin, who speaks for about two minutes about this picture and its place in his filmography. More substantial is a forty-one minute interview with the director conducted by film scholar Dr. Patricia McCormack. Rollin is quite jovial here, speaking in English about his tendency to use lesbian vampires in his films, his interest in the subject and other recurring themes in his film. McCormack keep shim talking and treats his films with the respect they deserve and he feeds off of this rather nicely resulting in a pretty interesting discussion of the man and his career.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are HD trailers for the feature and for The Shiver Of The Vampires, (English and French versions) The Nude Vampire, The Iron rose and Lips Of Blood. Animated menus and chapter stops are included and inside the keepcase is a twenty-page full color booklet of liner notes from writer Tim Lucas which do a great job of making the case for the legitimacy of Rollins work and the artistic value of that work and which also do a fine job of detailing his life, times and some of his more popular films. A great addition to the package, this is a solid read and it's nicely illustrated as well. The last page of the booklet contains a brief note from Nigel Wingrove regarding his early 90s efforts to bring Rollin's films to the masses.
There were a few interesting supplements that originally appeared on the Encore PAL format special edition release, but sadly, they haven't been ported over to this Blu-ray. Those with the Encore release will want to hold onto it for the extras exclusive to that set including an audio commentary with the late director, three alternate scenes, a still gallery and a different set of liner notes. Additionally, the old Redemption release included a short film entitled Les Amoures Janunes on it which has not been carried over to this Blu-ray release and a different twenty-minute interview with Rollin, also absent from this disc.
As accomplished and interesting as anything Rollin has made before or since, Shiver Of The Vampires is widely and understandably regarded as one of his better films. While Kino's Blu-ray doesn't gather up all of the existing extras that have appeared on past versions, it makes up for that with some new ones and with nicely upgraded audio and video. If you're a fan of the man's work, consider this one highly 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.