Monday, May 20, 2013

Requiem For a Vampire (1971)

AKA Caged Virgins

While The Iron Rose (1973) may be my all time favorite Jean Rollin film in general, of all the vampire films for which he is perhaps most well known, Requiem For a Vampire is my personal favorite, and its known to be Rollin’s favorite as well. I bring up The Iron Rose for a reason, as its often considered by many, not just fans but also several of Rollin’s collaborators to be Rollin at his most pure, and I happen to believe that Requiem For a Vampire also shares this distinction. Rollin even compared the two films himself based on the simplistic way both films were constructed stating in a 1998 video introduction on an early DVD release of The Iron Rose stating “I can make parallels between (The Iron Rose) and Requiem. Its the same simplicity somewhere, you know? Requiem, no dialogue, and Rose de Fer only two people, you know? Its practically the same meaning for me.” I’ve mentioned before that Rollin was one of those filmmakers that forever changed the way I view cinema and Requiem For a Vampire was one of his films that played a huge hand in turning me into a Rollin convert. Its true that all of Rollin’s films, not just his vampire films, stand out in their own unique ways, but there was always something about Requiem that made it stand out just a bit more.

After the driver of their getaway car is killed in the midst of a shootout, two young girls (Marie-Pierre Castel and Mireille Dargent) on the run disguised as clowns quickly dispose of their vehicle and make a go for it on foot, eventually finding themselves outside a seemingly abandoned massive chateau. Not long after exploring the grounds the two encounter a vampire woman and are soon chased by three brutish men. The woman, Erica (Dominique) along with another, Louise (Louise Dhour) and the brutes are the minions of the Last Vampire, a once powerful creature who’s strength has dwindled over time. The girls are taken prisoner and forced to lure victims to the castle, while the Last Vampire prepares to eventually turn the two girls into vampires so the bloodline will not die off.

If The Shiver of the Vampires (1970) is where Rollin found his directorial style than Requiem For a Vampire (Requiem pour un Vampire) is where he settled in and perfected it. For the most part all of the elements that would become his trademarks throughout his career are present, the one omission obviously being Rollin’s favorite beach near Dieppe. Rollin was quoted as saying he wrote the script in two days, writing whatever came to him basically with no filter, letting the film become what it was to become and the film plays out like that on screen. While Requiem isn’t as loose as say Rollin’s debut feature The Rape of the Vampire (1968), as there is a (thin) story, narrative obviously isn’t the films main intention. There is hardly any dialogue during the films first half hour or so, and even after that spoken lines are sparse, yet despite that and the fact that no explanation is given as to why the two girls were on the run in the first place, none is really needed if you’re willing to jump right in and go with the film, just as Rollin’s wrote it. There is an odd component to Rollin’s otherworldly stream of (sub)consciousness style that is apparent throughout Requiem, which is that it has the ability to make you connect with not just the characters (and that includes both the girls and the vampires) but the environment that Rollin has created on an emotional level, no matter the ambiguity.

Despite the absence of the Dieppe beach, Rollin’s other visual motifs are in abundance here. Rollin again proves how great an eye he has for location as the chateau he chose to shoot in fit the strange tone of the film which is aided immensely by Rollin’s set decoration (especially loved the cloaked skeletons standing before an altar) and of course his one of a kind choice of lighting. While this film may not be as overtly candy colored as Shiver of the Vampires, there’s certainty no shortage of moments beaming with a variety of lively colors, including a particularly notorious segment taking place in a dungeon wherein Rollin bathes the entire screen in red as well as the choice colors during the vampyric initiation ceremony in the cemetery towards the films finale, where cast member Louise Dhour plays a haunting yet beautiful piece on a grand piano. Its quite the sight (and sound) to behold and truly a scenario only Rollin could envision. Even the weather seemed to be on Rollin’s side during the shoot. Little things such as the wind blowing the extra long blades of grass in the cemetery during one of more nightmarish, hypnotic moments early on in the film combined with the overcast skies, the surrounding tombs and creaking gates just lend an extra hand in creating the films aura. Rollin even tips his hat to the brilliant French surrealist painter Clovis Trouille by way of a strategically placed bat upon a woman’s pelvic region.

Apparently the filming of Requiem was one of those rare occasions where for the most part everything went pretty smoothly. So often you hear horror stories of Rollin’s films having numerous problems during the production but that didn’t seem to be the case here. According to Natalie Perrey, Rollin’s right hand gal for many a year Rollin was as happy as can be during the films production. On the recent remastered DVD courtesy of Redemption, which by the way, is hands down the best way to view this film as its the best the film will probably ever look and sound, Perrey tells some humorous stories about the films production, such as the two cameramen, one whom had previously dated actress Dominique and the other her new husband constantly competing against each other in an effort to make her look as good as possible (not that they had to do much), and that the locals from the village where the film was shot believed Perrey to be a witch. When a film is written and produced as fast as Requiem For a Vampire was, that would perhaps raise a red flag as to its quality but with Requiem that wont be necessary. As with all Rollin it unfortunately won’t appeal to all but for those who’s tastes lean towards the unorthodox and non traditional, Requiem For a Vampire is a no-brainer. Absolutely essential Rollin.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Rape of the Vampire (1968)

Despite the fact that Jean Rollin is one of my favorite filmmakers I haven’t written much about the late, great Frenchman on here. In fact, the only film of his I’ve covered since starting up this site is his minimal masterpiece The Iron Rose (1973) which happens to be my personal favorite film of his. Over the last decade or so there’s been a renewed interest in Rollin’s work which is a great thing of course, even better that he lived long enough to see just how many admirers his films had so naturally there’s been a good amount written about Rollin in both print and on the web. There’s even a fantastic blog dedicated to man. Much like the recently departed Jess Franco and other masters of the fantastique, Rollin’s films, for better or worse depending on the viewer as Rollin’s unique surreal style, a style that is entirely his own, is most certainly an acquired taste, forever alter you perception of cinema and what can be achieved within the medium. Personally speaking, it was altered for the better. Rollin’s debut feature film The Rape of the Vampire is certainly one of, quite possibly his most bizarre film, yet its also one that leaves one of the strongest lasting impressions, and it rounds out my Rollin top 3 along with the previously mentioned The Iron Rose and Requiem For a Vampire (1971).

Thomas, a psychoanalyst along with friends Marc and his wife Brigitte travel to a small village in an attempt to convince 4 sisters living in isolation in a remote chateau who believe they are vampires that they are not vampires but rather suffering from severe delusions after experiencing years of persecution and abuse from the superstitious villagers. This attempt ends in disaster when the villagers storm the chateau and during the ensuing melee Thomas finds out the sisters are indeed vampires when he is bitten and turned. All the chaos prompts an intervention from the Queen of the vampires, who at a nearby hospital is conducting research on her kind, while Thomas, now resurrected as a vampire, works with another doctor at the hospital whom the Queen has taken captive to quickly discover a cure for vampirism.

The Rape of the Vampire (Le Viol du Vampire) is a strange film even by Rollin standards. It’s defiantly the epitome of a just go with it type of situation, whether or not is resonates with you is a completely different story. By now it should be pretty common knowledge among Rollin fans that one, The Rape of the Vampire is actually two short films spliced together in order to make a feature length film and two, very early in the shoot everyone managed to somehow lose their scripts and the majority of the film was improvised, something that is very apparent very early on in the film. While there actually is a plot to be found in the midst of all the oddness on display, it’s as thin as can be, narrative cohesion obviously wasn’t what this film was going for, yet in no way is that a hindrance to the experience at all, in fact its quite the opposite. The very loose structure works very much in the films favor if viewed as a stream of consciousness piece brought to the screen which is basically how the film plays out. The term “dreamlike” is often used when discussing Rollin (so much so that it’s become a bit cliché) and do forgive me for once again going to that well but that description couldn’t be more fitting for a film such as The Rape of the Vampire, what with the sheer randomness of the situations and the way Rollin presents everything.

While Rollin’s subsequent films would feature extravagant and highly unorthodox candy colored lighting, The Rape of the Vampire stands out in Rollin’s filmography for being shot in black and white, although its almost immediately apparent that Rollin was a master at both mediums. The black and white photography works wonders for the film, especially during the first segment, which is the more “classic” feeling of the two. Even with this being his first film, Rollin’s genius at not only finding the best shooting locations but getting the most out of them no matter the low budget is on display, most notability in the form of the 4 sister’s chateau, with the black and white especially coming in handy during the interior shots, which combined with the lighting during nighttime exteriors, along with Rollin’s showcasing of the surrounding wooded areas of the chateau give the film a very gothic horror-esque aesthetic. The second segment is the more contemporary (well “contemporary” for 1968 anyway) even featuring a delirious free jazz score, yet there’s also a slightly futuristic element to it as well considering some of the sci-fi aspects Rollin enters into the proceedings. This abrupt change in tone may be a bit jolting for some but it makes perfect sense when taking into consideration the films free-form style.  While not as overtly atmospheric as the first segment of the film, the second is by no means any less otherworldly, which goes back to the way Rollin has everything play out, the “dreaminess” of it all.

Another well known yet nonetheless always fascinating tidbit of information regarding the film is the story of its initial theatrical release. When the film was first released in May of 1968, it was during a time of intense social unrest in France, complete with general strikes and student protests. Then president Charles de Gaulle even fled the country! To say the audience reaction to The Rape of the Vampire was unkind would be the understatement of understatements. Apparently a surreal arthouse vampire film isn’t what French filmgoers were expecting when they paid for their ticket, nor was it what they wanted to see during such an intense time period as riots broke out in the theatres with the seats even being ripped from the floor. Quite the reaction for a debut film. The Rape of the Vampire isn’t exactly the best place to start for Rollin newcomers, in fact it may even be a challenge for those already accustomed to Rollin’s one of a kind style, and its liable to scare first timers away from the mans work forever, yet despite all that its an important film that should be seen by all Rollin fans and those with an interest in his work at some point.  Its defiantly a film for the most adventurous of viewers but its an adventure that’s well worth taking if you’re willing to go along for the ride.