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Blu-ray Review: The Cinema of Jean Rollin – Wave Two

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Following up their initial wave of five Jean Rollin titles, Redemption Films and Kino Lorber have brought us a second batch of Rollin Blu-rays — three titles each accompanied by a nice collection of extras. Like the bulk of Rollin’s work, style triumphs over substance or even sense most of the time in these three films, but for fans of the bizarre, these are the films for you.

Rape of the VampireThe Rape of the Vampire (1968)
Rollin’s debut feature — shot in anomalous black-and-white — is even less narratively focused than his future work. Consisting of two distinct segments shot months apart with characters that die and suddenly reappear without an explanation later, The Rape of the Vampire is pretty sloppy even by generous standards.

Reportedly, the script was lost two days into shooting, and it shows, as a barely coherent story about a doctor trying to dissuade a group of women from their vampiric tendencies in part one devolves into a muddle of sacrifice and ritual in part two. However, Rollin’s flair for the surreal and a tendency to experiment technically are out in full force. He’s not nearly as assured here, and the seemingly nonsensical blocking and cutting can get a bit tiresome, but the seeds of Rollin’s unique style are present, even if he would prove to be more suited to color.

The 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer of the film is quite good, presenting strong detail and impressive clarity. Blacks can crush a little in darker scenes, but grayscale separation is generally solid, and damage is limited to light speckling. The mono audio is adequate and mostly clear despite some background hiss.

The disc includes two of Rollin’s surviving short films — Les Amours jaunes and Les Pays loin — along with several Rollin interviews, a making-of doc, an alternate cut of one scene and an interview with actor Jean-Loup Philippe, who appears in the film under a pseudonym. A selection of trailers and a booklet with essays by Tim Lucas is also included.

Requiem for a VampireRequiem for a Vampire (1973)
Rollin’s favorite of his films, Requiem for a Vampire is an excellent example of the dreamlike mystery he could evoke at his best. Beginning with the disorienting sight of two female thieves dressed as clowns (Marie-Pierre Castel, Mirielle d’Argent) trying to make an escape, the film follows the pair to a cemetery and a chateau where they attempt to hide, but inadvertently discover the last of the vampires.

Lengthy sections of the film play out with almost no dialogue at all, but Rollin sustains a mood well enough that the film doesn’t feel as rambling and unfocused as it kind of is.

The film’s 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer is quite good, with vibrant colors and healthy levels of fine detail. Reds especially pop off the screen and the image is mostly sharp and clear, save for a few minor digressions. The mono audio is fine, with a minimum of background noise intruding in.

Extras include an English-dubbed version, interviews with several cast members, an introduction by Rollin, several trailers and Lucas’s booklet.

The DemoniacsThe Demoniacs (1974)
An atypical Rollin film in a number of ways — not the least of which is there isn’t a vampire in sight — The Demoniacs has a much more robust narrative than its companions in this batch of releases, although it doesn’t quite pay off like one might hope. Introductory voiceover lays out the narrative pieces neatly, but like usual, Rollin is content to meander for some time before really kicking the plot into gear.

As the film opens, a band of “wreckers” lures another ship to crash into the rocks, plunders their cargo and rapes and murders a pair of sisters who survived the wreck. The sisters’ ghosts soon appear, eager for revenge, and they find help in the person of the devil, who has been locked away to prevent him from wreaking havoc. The film’s final act tends to be more gratifying than its glacially paced early moments, but Rollin does capture some striking imagery as the captain of the wreckers continually sees the ghosts disappear and reappear before his eyes.

The 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer isn’t much to speak of, with the majority of the film looking quite muddy and undefined. Colors aren’t distinct and all but a handful of shots are very soft. Fine detail barely rises above DVD quality for the bulk of the film. Damage is pretty much nonexistent however, save for a few light speckles. The mono audio has a slight hiss, but is generally clean.

Special features includes a Rollin intro, two deleted sex scenes, a couple minutes of outtakes, interviews with Natalie Perrey and Jean Bouyxou, the original theatrical trailer and the booklet.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.