The Rape of the Vampire:
Casual Jean Rollin fans will be up to their elbows in WTF dealing with this, the director's first full-length feature. Though containing many of Rollin's themes and obsessions - basically naked vampires - the movie goes so far beyond crackpot that it's almost impossible to dig into for most viewers. Serious scholars, or those suffering from an overdose of cold medication, will find their money's worth in this melodramatic tale of naked vampires. Others might become lost and aggravated.
With plenty of black-and-white ambience and style, Rollin starts on a strong note. Four comely, scantily clad lasses wander around the French countryside, claiming to be vampires. They shuffle slowly through a field, often pausing to genuflect in front of a creepy statue. Soon enough, disbelieving psychiatrist Thomas (Bernard Letrou) and compatriots arrive to settle the girls' hash. But will he sort things out before the fed up villagers go on a rampage that's apparently been a long time coming? It's hard to say, hard to tell, and hard to really care too much, either, due in large part to narrative techniques and editing choices that put the 'frack' in fractured. (Helpful background information reveals that the movie was expanded from a previously shot half-hour short, for what it's worth.)
Rollin's eye for heavily symbolic and ultra-stylish imagery is in effect. Oddly, this particular penchant integrates more seamlessly with the movie in this early effort (perhaps because Rollin's constantly trying to keep up with the plot) than it does in later works, where continuity and comprehensibility often suffer at the hands of a beautifully composed shot. A weird-beard mishmash of soundtrack elements only adds to the movie's overall schizophrenic atmosphere, though there are always those naked ladies to bring things back into focus.
Lastly, it wouldn't be a Jean Rollin film if we didn't end up on a cold, desolate beach, on which nude vampires promenade about with all the sensuality of one of those 'Polar Bear' swimming events. A sacrifice is made, blood is spilled, and viewers wonder what the heck just happened. Jean Rollin happened, that's what! His oeuvre would evolve into more pleasing forms as his career went on, but there's no mistaking this for anybody else's work. If you're a fan, and a hardcore fan you'll have to be to appreciate The Rape of the Vampire, then it's for you, fan, and you alone, that this is Recommended.
Mastered in HD from the uncensored 35mm negative, bits and pieces of the 1.66:1 ratio movie do show their age. Speckles and minor damage crop up here and there, in what is otherwise a fairly crisp, good-looking transfer. Black levels are deep when necessary, and all those tiny particles of film grain and subtle gradations of gray information reveal details faithfully.
Digital Mono Audio is decent for an oldie, low-budget feature such as this. Subtitles will take care of most of you English speaking lunkheads, while those speaking the French will find some dodgy overdubs and a little bit of hiss, but nothing else to complain about. The mix and levels are otherwise well done.
As usual Redemption has packed this DVD with a nice little complement of extras, starting with the 16-page Booklet of Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas' essay on Rollin - the same booklet as included in all other current Redemption Rollin releases. Next up is a short Introduction by Jean Rollin, and Two Short Films by Rollin, Les Amours Jaunes (nine minutes, 1958) and Les Pays Loin (16 minutes, 1965). You get a two-minute Alternate Scene, and other Rollin Trailers. A 24-minute Documentary, "Fragments of Pavements Under the Sand" comprised of interviews with Rollin, Jean-Denis Bonan and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, which fills in the blanks concerning the film, and French cinema at the time of Rape's release. Another four-minute Interview with Jean Rollin concerns his influences and love of vampires, while a ten-minute Interview with actor Jean-Loup Philippe covers his experiences working with Rollin.
Serious fans of Jean Rollin will appreciate his first full-length for what it is - a glimpse into the formation of his body of work. Casual fans of European horror will find some naked vampires wandering around through a coo-coo, fractured plot, and a whole lot of gorgeous black-and-white style over substance. The movie doesn't rise to the level of classic, regardless of how you slice it, but those of you who have sought out other Rollin films, those who can't get enough, can consider this package Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
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