Kino bundles together four of their previously released special edition Blu-ray releases of Jean Rollin's cinematic oddities, reissuing them as a boxed set under the banner The Cinema Of Jean Rollin: The Vampire Collection. The discs in this set are identical to the previously released individual film releases that came out a couple of years ago, but this is still very much a worthwhile collection for anyone who doesn't already own those discs. Here's a look at what is contained underneath that slick color box are…
The Rape Of The Vampire:
The first feature film made by the late Jean Rollin was 1968's The Rape Of The Vampire, a bizarre black and white ‘melodrama in two parts' (according to the on screen text that appears at the beginning of the movie, and it does have two distinct parts) that was originally intended to be nothing more than a collection of additional footage that producer Sam Selsky (credited on screen as $am $elsky) intended to splice into a film he had acquired entitled Vampire, Spawn Of The Devil. This was basically just the French dubbed version of 1943's Dead Men Walk, which starred George Zucco which was too short to hit the requisite ninety minute feature length running time Selsky knew would be required to get anything out of this picture at the French box office. Rollin was employed as an editor at the time and accepted Selsky's offer to pad out the American film, but this project soon took on a life of its own as it became increasingly bizarre and ultimately fairly surreal. When Selsky saw what Rollin had done, he was intrigued with what the first time feature director had turned in on such a low budget and he decided to give him the freedom to extend his thirty minutes of footage into an hour and a half long feature film independent of Vampire, Spawn Of The Devil, and thus was born The Rape Of The Vampire.
Why the history lesson? Well, knowing how the film came to be makes it a little easier to forgive its flaws and to appreciate its oddly disjointed narrative and bizarre atmosphere. Despite the fact that this was Rollin's first feature, it's got loads of ambience and tone, but the storyline is more than just a little bit surreal. The first part of the film follows a psychiatrist named Thomas (Bernard Letr) who heads out into rural France with two fellow doctors to investigate the claims of a quartet of beautiful women who reside out there who insist that they are centuries old vampires spawned by rape in the time of Louis XV. These four women, who are able to wander around in the sunlight unharmed but who do drink human blood, are at the beck and call of a man they refer to as the Lord of the Manor (Doc Moyle) and they worship a pagan statue placed oddly in the middle of a field. Shortly after Thomas and his companions arrive, a crowd of armed villagers decide to get rid of the four women and launch a small scale war against them, pinning them down inside their castle. Thomas figures they only way he can help make it out this situation alive is to have one of the women turn him into one of their own and after she obliges, they head to a familiar rocky beach for the showdown.
The second part of the film picks up where the first part left off with the arrival of the sexy and exotic Vampire Queen (Jacqueline Sieger) arriving in time to witness the aftermath, finding the four women she was looking for dead. Disheartened, she decides to force a doctor (Jean-Loup Philippe) to help her find a cure for vampirism while the dead are brought back to life and mad science runs amuck which all leads to a strange and macabre wedding inside Paris' infamous Theatre du Grand Guignol.
So when you consider that the film was shot in two parts, with the first part finished without much regard to any sort of follow up, you can understand why the second part of the movie makes due without the characters from the initial storyline. This doesn't mean that the second part will make any more sense, because it won't, but it does at least partially explain the environment which birthed this beautiful disaster of a film. Even when the film is making little to no sense, Rollin's expert command of imagery runs rampant throughout the film ensuring that the visuals do indeed go a long way towards making up for the improvised and very surreal storyline. Even when the narrative is going in a few different directions at once and never really finalizing any of them, we're treated to shot after shot of stark black and white imagery that really suits what little story there is. Gorgeous shots of run down cemeteries, strange laboratories, beautiful women and eerie settings are all wonderfully framed and lit and help to pull us in to this fever dream of a movie. Periodically pretentious and almost always disjointed, The Rape Of The Vampire isn't a ‘good' movie as far as storytelling goes but it is a beautiful looking film that undoubtedly charts the course on which Rollin would travel in almost all of the pictures he made later on in his career. As frequently silly as it all is, you can't help but get pulled in…
The Nude Vampire:
While Jean Rollins' second feature length film is far from his best efforts, it's an interesting look at what was to come from one of European genre cinema's most gifted and fascinating directors.
The film isn't heavy on plot, but it follows a man named Pierre (Olivier Martin, Jean Rollin's brother!) who becomes involved with a woman (Caroline Cartier) who is constantly being chased by a strange group who hide their faces with animal masks. Pierre's wealthy father (Maurice Lemaitre, who co-wrote The Iron Rose) is on a quest for immortality and so he holds the girl captive as he believes that her blood holds the secret to eternal life. Pierre is in love with her, however, so he sets her free but things don't go as planned and the sect that Pierre's father is involved with turn out to be very diabolical indeed.
The visual trademarks that Rollin would become well known for (long and lingering shots of empty beaches, gothic architecture, completely unnecessary but rather exquisite nudity) are all prominently featured through the picture. Working in color for the first time in his career, Rollin shows here a natural ability to eschew the confines of black and white cinematography and completely embrace the options that color photography allows. The film looks fantastic, stunning even in certain scenes, allowing us to look past the very obvious constraints of the film's low budget and soak in the strange, surreal atmosphere of which there is no shortage. Be it the eerie masked characters that populate the film or the loneliness that stems from those shots on the desolate beach Rollin would become so fond of, the film's visuals more than make up for whatever shortcomings might be obvious in the story.
The film doesn't always make a whole lot of sense but it's an enjoyable romp through graveyards and castles never the less. The title might be a little misleading, there aren't really any nude vampires in the movie to speak of, but the atmosphere, ambience and sheer weirdness make up for that. It's also interesting to see 'the twins' show up here. Rollin would use them in a few different films and they always bring a very alien feel whenever they appear. The finale, where they play a key role, wraps up the fairly obscure plot rather nicely and as a precursor of things to come from the director, The Nude Vampire works rather well.
Shiver Of The Vampires:
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.
Requiem For A Vampire:
Also well known as Virgins And Vampires and released on VHS in the U.S. by Something Weird Video under the far more exploitative Caged Virgins moniker, this earlier effort from French filmmaker Jean Rollin is high on powerful imagery, but short on linear storytelling. Basically a series of well executed dream like set pieces, 1973's Requiem For A Vampire is the story of two female thieves named Marie and Michelle (Marie-Pierre Castel and Mireille Dargent). When we first meet them they're decked out in clown garb and on the run from the local police who are keen to catch for reason explained later in the plot. When their male driver gets shot and dies, the girls end up burning their car and hiding out in a nearby French chateau (much like the character in Fascination) where they soon encounter its primary resident, the last of the vampires, and his loyal cult members. Strange imagery and gratuitous nudity ensues, followed by some reasonably well executed violence and of course, some requisite lesbian antics.
As it is with many of Rollin's films, there isn't a whole lot of dialogue in this movie, especially the first third, and while some might be put off by that, in a strange sort of way it enhances the experience and makes it all the more surreal. Those expecting the more traditional vampire movie trappings like rampant neck biting and the like will be disappointed, as Rollin's focus here is on more macabre and erotic atmosphere than on flat out horror but there are still plenty of memorable set pieces and images to capture our imagination. While to some, scenes like the one in which an obviously phony rubber bat lands on a naked woman's crotch might be laughable, somehow it fits in with the surreal tone and unearthly vibe that Rollin manages to evoke from the rural locations and unorthodox cast.
An interesting mix between the horror films that Rollin made out of love and the sex films that he made out of financial necessity, Requiem For A Vampire aptly demonstrates his talent at filming both the horrific and the erotic. Slow moving, bizarre and at times rather ridiculous, it's an acquired taste maybe, but definitely a unique and original work of horror/erotica blended with that odd art-house sensibility that Rollin has used to make so many of his films. This particular film may not be the best starting point for those unfamiliar with his films, but for seasoned fans of his output, it's rich with imagery and leaves itself open for much interpretation.
Notable also is the cast which Rollin assembled for this particular picture. The two female thieves were originally intended to be played by Marie-Pierre Castel and her twin sister Catharine Castel but Catharine had to back out when she got pregnant, and Mireille Dargent was cast in her place. This doesn't hurt the film in the least as Mireille turns out to be just as doe eyed and fascinating to watch as Catharine Castel was when Rollin used the two sisters in The Nude Vampire three years earlier. The ladies wander through the film in an almost trance like state, stopping for a brief Sapphic rendezvous in the middle of the castle when they come across an empty bed. When they're later captured by the vampires and taken into their coven, eventually tortured and raped in the basement dungeon, they respond in kind and act out accordingly but for the most part, there's a dreamlike playfulness to their work here that fits in really well with everything else that is going on visually and tonally.
As a narrative piece, Requiem For A Vampire falls pretty flat on its face, but those accustomed to Rollin's unique style will definitely still enjoy the film on a purely visual level, it simply looks beautiful. Shot almost entirely in the French countryside the movie makes great use of the old castle where most of the action is staged and also does a great job capturing some interesting imagery in an old cemetery. Rollin always does a good job behind the camera and while not all of his films make a lot of sense, they're always dependably well shot with excellent cinematography and moody atmospheric locations. Requiem For A Vampire illustrates these characteristics of his work very well and for that reason, comes recommended.
The Rape Of The Vampire looks excellent on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Presented in 1.66.1 widescreen and mastered from the original 35mm negative, there are some minor specks here and there but no seriously distracting print damage. As seems to be the norm with these Kino releases of Redemption titles, there hasn't been a ton of cleanup work here so expect to see very minor print damage throughout, mainly just specks here and there. The elements used were obviously in great shape, however, and the healthy bit rate ensures that this movie looks excellent in high definition. The contrast looks very strong here, despite a few spots where the original photography lets the whites get a bit hot, while black levels are strong throughout. Detail is vastly improved from previous standard definition presentations as is texture and skin tones. The image is consistently sharp and shows good shadow detail in the darker scenes. All in all, this oddball little low budget oddity looks excellent on Blu-ray.
The Nude Vampire is also presented in an AVC encoded transfer in its original 1.66.1 widescreen aspect ratio in 1080p high definition. Once again, there's a pretty substantial upgrade in image quality here when compared to the previous DVD releases. The original R1 Image/Redemption disc was flat and bland looking and this high definition presentation trumps it in every way possible. Detail is much stronger, not just in close up shots where you expect it but in medium and long distance shots as well. You'll notice the dripping wax on candles, you'll notice the pilling of certain fabrics and textures and you'll notice the little crags and crumbles of various rock formations along the beach. Skin tones look nice and natural, there's no evidence of noise reduction or overzealous edge enhancement and what we wind up with is a nice, clean, colorful presentation of the movie that still manages to preserve that film like quality that's so important. There are shots that were originally out of focus and shots where the lighting wasn't quite right. This stems back to the original photography and so is inherent in this new transfer. Rollin's fans should be very impressed with this restoration.
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. Once again, fans of Rollin's films should be very happy with Kino's efforts on this one, it too looks very good.
Last but not least, Requiem For A Vampire also looks quite good on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Presented in 1.66.1 widescreen and mastered from the original 35mm negative, there are some minor specks here and there but no seriously distracting print damage. Grain is present, as it should be, but never overpowering and the increase in detail over previous DVD issues of the film is quite impressive. Colors look excellent, you'll notice it right away when you see the two girls in their clown suits as Marie's sequin covered outfit really looks quite good but this carries throughout the movie. Black levels are generally nice and strong, and there are no issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction.
The only audio options for the The Rape Of The Vampire and Shiver Of The Vampires are French language LPCM 2.0 Mono tracks with optional subtitles provided in English only. These tracks would seem to be about as good as it's going to get, as parts of the movie earlier were obviously dubbed in post and the films were made with low budgets. There's a little bit of hiss here and there but it's not all that distracting unless you're overly susceptible to such things. The dialogue is generally pretty clean and clear and there are no issues with the levels, which are properly balanced throughout. The scores sounds quite good, they're very effective pieces of work and enhances the films a lot, and the subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.
The Nude Vampire and Requiem For A Vampire both get audio options provided in both the original (and preferable) French language and by way of dubbed English tracks, both in LPCM 2.0 Mono and with optional subtitles available in English only. The audio is a bit more problematic than the video for The Nude Vampire in that there are occasional pops and level fluctuations in addition to some clarity issues but again, this is a noticeable improvement over that past DVD issue of the film. The movie, like the others in the set, was made on a low budget and on a quick schedule and as such, some defects will pop up but for the most part the dialogue is pretty easy to understand and the score sounds fantastic (and for those who haven't seen this film before, the score plays a very important part in the atmosphere that the movie manages to create so effectively). Requiem is noticeably cleaner sounding.
The extras for The Rape Of The Vampire start off with a great documentary entitled Fragments Of Pavement Under The Sand which is basically comprised of interviews with the late Jean Rollin as well as with Jean-Denis Bonan and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou. More than just a retrospective look back at the director's debut feature, this also gives us some insight into what the French film market was like at the time, specifically the market for horror films. Of course, the documentary also covers how the film came to be and how it was originally intended to pad out a film that producer was importing and wanted more footage for, but additionally we learn about the director's intentions with the picture and what it was like to be involved with the film. This is a very well put together piece and quite a valuable addition to the disc. It runs almost twenty-four minutes in length and is presented in HD. This is complimented nicely by two standard definition interviews carried over from the European Encore Filmed Entertainment DVD release from a few years ago, the first of which is a four and a half minute interview with Rollin who talks about films that influenced him as well as his obsession with vampire, the second of which is a nine minute piece with Jean-Loup Philippe who talks about his experiences working with Rollin as an actor in a few of his films.
Also included on this disc is Jean Rollin's very first short film, Les Amoures Jeunes, which clocks in at just over ten minutes in French with English subtitles and is presented in a decent if slightly beaten AVC encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer. The film takes place on the very same beach that appears in the feature and which Rollin returned to so often throughout his filmography. Shot in 1958, this one is pretty odd but it sure looks fantastic from a technical perspective with so much emphasis put on capturing the natural beauty of the area. Sadly, there's no Rollin commentary provided for this short, which is a shame as it would have been nice to hear his thoughts and memories on this first project of his. Also included is a second short, Les Pays Loins, which runs just under sixteen-minutes in length and was directed by Rollin way back when in 1965. It's also presented here in a black and white 1.78.1 AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen transfer and it tells the story of a man and a woman who find themselves in an alternate world. No one speaks their language, and they're obviously scared, wondering how they got here and how to get away. It isn't difficult to pick out some of the ‘Rollin touches' in the movie such as the decaying architecture, the gothic churches, and the strange sexual inferences, as you definitely get that sense of emptiness and that other worldly look that has made his work so fascinating for so many of us. Watch for a truly odd scene with a band of black musicians about half way through. It seems out of place but then again, maybe it's supposed to. The film is also presented in its original French language with English subtitles.
Rounding out the extras for the feature are a two minute alternate scene (a more subdued version of what happens in the operating room), a trailer for the feature and trailers for the other Rollin films that Kino/Redemption have offered up on Blu-ray, all in high definition. Rollin himself provides a quick three minute HD video introduction for the film and menus and chapter selection are also included.
Extras for The Nude Vampire start off with a two minute introduction from the late Jean Rollin (with a strange man in a white mask sitting near him), who talks too briefly about his intentions with this film and his motive for making it. More interesting and more substantial is a twenty minute interview with Rollin conducted by Daniel Gouyette who was Rollin's assistant during the later part of his career and who taped quite a few of their conversations. It's from these tapes that this featurette has been created which covers not only this film but Rollin's career in general, the themes and ideas that populate so many of his movies, his interest in atmosphere and surrealism and of course his appreciation of the lesbian vampire overtones that he's always been known for. It's a good discussion and Rollin comes across as very comfortable here. Natalie Perrey, who worked with Rollin for decades and on many of his films, also appears here for a quick four minute interview in which she talks about working with her friend on the film, the small part she played in the movie, and what it was like helping out on this project.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are HD trailers for the feature and for The Shiver Of The Vampires, Fascination, The Iron Rose and Lips Of Blood. Menus and chapter stops are also included.
Extras for Shiver 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. Menus and chapter stops are included again.
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.
The most substantial extra on the Requiem disc is a seventeen minute featurette entitled The Shiver Of A Requiem which is a documentary that features interviews with the late Natalie Perrey and Jean-Noel Delamarre. Both interviewees come off as quite grateful to have worked with Rollin on the film, discussing with some noticeable affection the low budget shoot and how Rollin liked to surround himself with people he knew while working on this and other pictures. There's some discussion of the female leads, as well as the locations and a good bit of time talking about Rollin's directorial efforts on the picture. It's quite a good featurette and one certainly worth watching.
Also included here is a ten minute interview with actress Louise Dhour where the actresses discusses her role in this film (her first), how she got the part, what it was like to work with Jean Rollin and the benefits of a night's worth of free champagne! Her memories are sharp, and pretty much all pleasant ones, and it's refreshing to see her discuss her love of 'fantastic films' and show some sincere appreciation for the films that she appeared in during her career. The interview, which previously appeared on the Encore special edition release of the film in Europe, is in French with optional English subtitles. Included on that Encore release but not carried over to this Blu-ray disc is a collection of three alternate scenes which are essentially just clothed versions of some of the nude scenes that appear in the feature version of the film.
Rounding out the extras are English and French theatrical trailers as well as the alternate Caged Virgins trailer that Box Office International created for the movie and trailers for the other seven Rollin films that Kino/Redemption have offered up on Blu-ray so far. Rollin himself provides a quick video introduction for the film and menus and chapter stops are also included.
Each of the four discs in the set also comes with a color booklet of liner notes from Video Watchdog founder and essayist Tim Lucas that offer up some critical analysis and background information on the movies. Well worth reading.
The Cinema Of Jean Rollin: The Vampire Collection is just a repackaging of four previously released discs from Kino/Redemptions line showcasing the late director's work, so if you have those past releases, you don't need this set. However, for those looking to get into his films or those who for whatever reason didn't get these releases the first time around, this is a great set. Rollin's films are certainly not for everyone and they often wear their low budgets plainly on their sleeves, but for those with a taste for surrealism and eroticism mixed into their horror, his films are a treasure trove of fantastic imagery and strange, unique storytelling. The discs themselves offer very nice improvements over their previous DVD releases and contain quite a nice collection of supplemental materials as well. 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.