Monday, January 12, 2015

Two Orphan Vampires (1997)

Jean Rollin may have made a name for himself with his highly personal take on vampires in the early to mid 70’s with films like The Rape of the Vampire (1968), The Nude Vampire (1970), The Shiver of the Vampires (1970), Requiem for a Vampire (1971) and Lips of Blood (1975) so its interesting that Rollin took an extended break from vampires after having been incensed over Lips of Blood having been meddled with and edited into an adult feature titled Suck Me Vampire. Following Lips of Blood, Rollin helmed a slew of unique films in various subgenres ranging from the slightly vampiric Fascination (1979), zombies in The Grapes of Death (1978) and The Living Dead Girl (1982), the cold, Cronenbergian Night of the Hunted (1980) and The Escapees (1981). Rollin was also a prolific writer and in the mid-1990’s began a series of five books revolving around the characters of Henriette and Louise, the two blind orphan vampires which would eventually lead to Rollin’s return to vampire films when he decided to adapt one of his own books to the screen resulting in Two Orphan Vampires the film. Despite the fact that the film was Rollin‘s first vampire film in 22 years, the film has been neglected somewhat since its release when compared to his earlier vampire films which is unfortunate as the film is one of Rollin’s purest and most poignant.

Henriette (Isabelle Teboul) and Louise (Alexandra Pic) are two blind orphans living in a church owned orphanage. What the nuns who oversee the orphanage are completely oblivious too is the fact that once night falls Henriette and Louise’s sight is restored and along with it comes a taste for blood. The two eventually leave the orphanage after being adopted by a doctor who hopes to one day cure their blindness. Once out of the orphanage, Henriette and Louise’s bloodthirst as well as their penchant for troublemaking grows and the duo’s nightly adventures become more violent and dangerous as they encounter various other creatures of the night.  

Two Orphan Vampires (Les deux orphelines vampires) is an interesting film in the sense that it essentially sees Rollin taking the style of his 70’s vampire films and transporting it into the 90’s, the main difference being the downscaling of the eroticism often found in his 70’s works. Setting that aside Two Orphan Vampires is still unquestionably a Rollin film. The pacing this time around is a little more languid even by Rollin standards and yet never once does the film become boring. In fact the leisurely pace couldn’t have been more suitable for the random nature of the film and the orphans surreal run-in’s with other fantastic creatures like a hunted she-wolf, a lonely, mournful ghoul and most memorably, the “midnight lady”, a powerful vampire-like creature sporting large bat wings, just one of many quintessentially Rollin visuals seen throughout the film and oftentimes with the screen saturated in blue as it being the color the orphans see in. The film is also one of Rollin’s most satisfying when it comes to his usual devise of having a film centered around two females with Henriette and Louise being two of the most fully realized of Rollin’s reoccurring “two girls” motif, thanks in no small part to the fantastic performances of Teboul and Pic. Its never revealed just what the relationship between Henriette and Louise is and it didn’t need to be, their sisterly devotion and beautifully poetic exchanges of dialogue is both convincing and touching ultimately making the film all the more powerful.

During this period Rollin wasn’t in the best of shape suffering from kidney disease which forced him to undergo dialysis treatments which prevented him from traveling to shoot the scenes taking place in New York City which were handled by assistant director Jean-Noël Delamarre. Another mishap taking place on the set involved Véronique Djaouti, the “midnight lady” who also doubled as the stills photographer for the film. While they may not look it on screen, the bat wings her character wore were so heavy that during filming for one of her scenes she cracked two vertebrae, although she soldiered on through the entire scene. On another somewhat negative front, composer Philippe D'Aram doesn’t look back on his soundtrack for the film too fondly referring to it as a “demo” rather than a finished film score due to the films miniscule budget which is a shame as the music is one of the films strongest attributes. Two Orphan Vampires might not be as highly regarded as Rollin’s 70’s vampire films but in the grand scheme of things it is undoubtedly one of Rollin’s most important films as not only did it mark his return to the subgenre where he found his style but in true Rollin fashion the film is a journey into the fantastique featuring two of his finest protagonists making it a film that lingers in the mind long after its over.

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