Sometimes I wonder if French auteur Jean Rollin, as a Euro-Horror icon, wasn't just coasting on the strength of racy lobby cards. I first caught wind of the master through such stills from his 1982 release, The Living Dead Girl. Provocative title? Check! Picture of a hot naked blond woman covered in blood? Check-a-roonie! However, those who are familiar with his work know things aren't exactly as aggressive as Rollin's lobby cards might make you think. You need to have a seriously open mind, probably tons of caffeine, and a dedicated appreciation for cinema with a capitol 'C' if you want to penetrate Rollin's obtuse horrors, including Requiem For a Vampire, which nicely features much of Rollin's kinky quirks and quixotic work.
So, have you got your art-house hats on? Popcorn with nutritional yeast and balsamic vinegar? Then let's begin. Requiem - like all of Rollin's films - is emblematic of both the director's sole motivation and also of his crippling weaknesses. Crammed full of symbolic illogic, Requiem meanders for an alternately confusing and beautiful 45 minutes before throwing us for a loop by introducing a plot. From the opening moments, we're thrust into something from a delirious dream, as two hot girl-clowns work to extricate themselves from a frantic car-chase/gunfight. Eventually they find themselves in the type of chateau that Rollin loves, one that's half ruins, and half fur-covered boudoir in which the clowns might strip naked in order to caress each other.
Childlike naked girls wandering around having sex; this is Rollin in a high-concept nutshell. This time, the girls have also stumbled upon a secret enclave controlled by a vampire. Rollin fans will note this is the exact same plot of every film Rollin ever committed to celluloid. Somehow, this engages the viewer's intellect for a moment, when it becomes apparent that the girls are divided in their approach to their newly appointed mission: catch victims for the vampire to eat. (They might have to find pretty soft victims, since this sharp transfer reveals the vampire's fangs to be most likely made of cardboard.) If things are to come to an acceptable conclusion, it's up to the girls to eventually actually speak on camera, briefly explaining everything that's happened.
Rollin films are a difficult to acquire taste, and they can be maddening. Watching two in a row, as I attempted for this review, will test the most-stout cinephile. Yet quite often, Rollin really nails it, as he does consistently in Requiem. Languid, carefully composed shots of the girl-clowns wandering around the chateau evoke aching nostalgia and dream-like beauty. Rollin's penchant for allegories of sexual awakening are plain, and it doesn't get more clear than while watching girl-clowns strip down to explore their bodies before being caught out by the 'adults'. Yet I'm guessing behind the director's kinks and adherence to surrealist imagery is a severe longing for the simple magic of childhood. His best shots equal early 20th-century surrealist painter De Chirico's works in their ability to turn areas of light and shadow into the bewitching, endless torpor only kids aimlessly roaming on a Summer's evening can know.
Other images don't quite as powerfully hold sway, though they're all compelling in their own ways. The girls in their clown get-ups prefigure '80s fashion, and as such are captivating and horrible. They walk up to a mysterious puddle of goo. Is it blood? Milk? Or both? (I don't know because I turned my head from the screen for that half-second.) They then slowly walk backward up an embankment. Entering a decrepit barn as clowns, they exit as Euro-hotties from 1973. Yowza! This welcome eye-candy softens the blows of Rollin's numerous soft-core sex scenes, which range from stilted and tedious to fairly torrid. (A dungeon scene between a chained lass and some weird bearded guy cranks up the heat on the old cauldron of boiling oil, if you understand where I'm coming from.) Yet, even near-constant nudity can't justify filming a woman being raped by a bat. Actually, the bat action in this movie, though brief, could be considered a major selling point to schlock fans.) More sumptuous visuals, frankly awesome nudity, and weird crud with vampires brings us back to Rollin's story, which gains some unique fairy-tale specificity before sending us back into the cold woods.
Requiem For A Vampire covers a lot of ground in Jean Rollin land. It's both: aimless and confusing, and actually driven by a somewhat complex storyline. It features rampant nudity and sex - both steamy and ridiculous - while striving to remind us of the simple mysteries of childhood. It's full of sumptuous symbolic imagery, and the most laughable bat special effects ever committed to celluloid. In other words, it's vintage Rollin.