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.

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