While on the road en route to their honeymoon, Isle (Sandra Julien) asks her new husband Antoine (Jean-Marie Durand) to make a quick little detour: stop off at the castle where her two favorite cousins (Jacques Robiolles and Michel Delahaye) live. Upon their arrival at the castle, they are informed by the two maids (Marie-Pierre Castel and Kuelan Herce) that both cousins passed away just 24 hours ago. Distraught, Isle visits the graves, where a beautiful woman
named Isabelle (Nicole Nancel) tells her she was to marry both of them. She tells Antoine she needs to be alone that evening to collect her thoughts. After he retires to another room, she is visited by a vampire named Isolde (Dominique), who begins the three-day process of turning Isle into a ceature of the night.
The Shiver of the Vampires (also known as Strange Things Happen at Night, or the original French title Le Frisson des Vampires) is a bizarre funhouse of tones and ideas. From the first twang of the film's awesome rock 'n roll soundtrack, it's clear that this isn't going to fit people's traditional idea of what they expect from a "vampire movie." The next morning, the two cousins reappear, looking rather pale and hinting so strongly at their newfound lust for blood that the ensuing conversation is borders on slapstick comedy, complete with ridiculous physical comedy on the part of Robiolles and Delahaye. All in all, the film's three bloodsuckers spend more time working their jaws talking about what it's like being an undead creature than actually sinking their teeth into anyone's neck.
While the cousins and Isolde muse about their new nightlife, director/co-writer Jean Rollin proves himself as much a visual artist as a philosophical one, bathing the film in vivid colors and never resisting the chance to capture an unforgettable image, like the reflection of candle flame in the eye sockets of a skull in a fishbowl, or Isolde's unique and unforgettable entrance, which is both so brilliantly simple and wonderfully creepy that I wouldn't dare spoil it. Four of the film's five actresses frequently wander around nude, and Rollin captures it in a way that seems more hypnotic than salacious. Some of his images are even funny: a scene where Antoine is trapped in a library concludes with a note that is both logical and intentionally silly.
Although the combination of conversation and iconic imagery may sound a little disjointed, the story is also handled very well, moving along at a matter-of-fact pace despite all of the little detours. As one day turns into several, Antoine becomes suspicious of Isle's cousins' motives, and starts trying to convince Isle that they need to leave before it's too late. Admittedly, Julien's performance is on the flat side, reciting her devotion and love for her cousins in an emotionless way (it's hard not to want more of that backstory, given how unsatisfying her delivery is), but she shows some signs of life during a scene where her growing bloodlust crosses paths with a dead bird that's simultaneously skin-crawling and amusing. Thankfully, Durand does the dramatic heavy lifting, going from confused but supportive to emotionally devastated as his new wife starts slipping away from him.
The most frightening aspect of many modern horror films is their predictability: hack, slash, repeat. Only after seeing a film like The Shiver of the Vampires does one appreciate all the places horror can go; it reminded me of the recent cult discovery House in all the best ways: not only is it artistic, but it's also just plain fun to watch (I have to admit I found myself yelling at the characters a couple of times!). Although the film isn't going to please any random filmgoer looking for straightforward thrills and chills, but film fans and horror aficionados will eat it up. It's a delirious, infectious, and totally bizarre concoction that leaps off the screen with a sense of "anything-goes" inventiveness and creativity.
Shiver is one in a series of Jean Rollin's vampire films being put out on DVD and Blu-Ray by Kino Video. All of them have a banner for Redemption Films at the top, and there is a blown-up capture from the film on the front. Although I would've preferred the poster (shown smaller on the back cover), this is still an attractive-looking package that accurately sells the unique tone of the movie. Inside the eco-case (the kind with holes punched in it), there is also a 20-page booklet with an essay by Tim Lucas and a note from Nigel Wingrove, managing director and founder of Redemption (I am a little confused as to why this booklet is so small, though, taking up only two-thirds of the height of the case. Cheaper, I guess).
The Video and Audio
Kino's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 French audio track are both excellent for an older film that likely hasn't been kept in the kinds of conditions afforded a major studio production. Colors are bright and vivid, especially the reds, which are impressively stable, never bleeding or blotting out detail. Blacks may get a little crushed, and there are flecks of print damage, but fine detail is very high. I would be surprised if the film has looked better than this since its release in 1971. Audio is clean of hiss and crackles, with every wild riff on the Acanthus score blasting out of my speaker system loud and clear. An English dub is also provided, which I did not listen to, and English subtitles for the original French audio.
An introduction by Jean Rollin (2:35) does a nice job of summarizing his intent and memories of the film. This segues into a 2004 interview with Rollin and Dr. Patricia McCormack (41:02) discussing Rollin's interest in vampires (particularly female vampires), and sexuality. Sadly, the interview audio is not nearly as clear as the film's audio; the supplement really calls out for subtitles to help understand Rollin.
Original theatrical trailers for The Shiver of the Vampires are included in both French and English. There are also four bonus trailers, for Rollin's films The Nude Vampire, The Iron Rose, Lips of Blood, and Fascination.
If you consider yourself a true genre fan and you're looking to round out your cinematic education, there's no better place to start than a film like The Shiver of the Vampires, which is surprisingly accessible, well-made, and bursting with all sorts of memorable visuals and characters. Although the disc's major supplement would benefit greatly from captions, the presentation of the feature film is excellent, and so is the film in question. Highly recommended.
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