Salvation Films // 1981 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // May 1st, 2009
No more bastards!
While director Jean Rollin (Zombie Lake) earned a cult reputation through his erotic and poetic Sapphic vampire films, his body of work is much broader. Many ventures outside this realm are far from stellar, but as long as he doesn't shake up his formula too much, he still creates a solid and enjoyable film full of surreal imagery, beautiful actresses, and completely absurd plotting.
Michelle (Laurence Dubas, The Letter for L) is wild, angry, and hates her life at the insane asylum. She knows she's not crazy and those fire hose showers just aren't for her so, with the help of the vacant and naive Marie (Christiane Coppé), she escapes her confinement. Together, the girls venture into the woods where they meet a woman playing the bongos. She tells them to stick around because her friends are about to show up and they can help. Their help comes in the form of a clandestine burlesque show they put on in junkyards and in front of train tracks for drunken louts all over. They are conscripted into working for them but, quickly, their jobs escalate into robberies that neither one is ready to commit. Soon big trouble comes when they try to escape.
While Rollin's films are often classified in the horror genre, there isn't much reason to do so. He doesn't attempt to be scary, there is little blood, and violence is kept to a minimum. While there are exceptions, his vampire films are especially difficult to call horror. It's easy to look at the vampires, ignoring whatever else occurs in the story, and classify it that way. It's amazing how apparent this is after watching The Escapees. In almost every way, the film copies Rollin's vampire work, minus the vampires. With this simple omission, it bears almost no resemblance to horror at all.
This dreamy quality, present in many of his films, comes from a story told in incongruous vignettes. While Rollin pretends to connect the scenes together, there really is no link between the girls escape from the asylum and their committing a clothing heist. Rollin makes the connecting scenes so strange and enjoyable, however, that the otherwise unrelated events flow together seamlessly. Now matter how often I asked myself how we got a particular scene, I could always accept it and move on with ease. At his best, the director easily charms his audiences this way and The Escapees, with all of its madness, represents some of the director's finest moments.
Plot has never brought the bacon home for Jean Rollin and, like the best of his vampire work, The Escapees is full of surreal atmosphere and anachronistic imagery. When the girls make their way through the woods, they are draped in a thick fog. When it clears, this lone woman playing the bongos appears. Acting like nothing's weird about this, they accept the invitation to stay. It gets even more strange with the show is an outdoor strip club and, finally, I found myself laughing and delirious when a train screams behind the stage, drowning out the music and leaving the strippers dancing to a very strange beat. This is the kind of outlandish fun that makes Rollin's films.
The performances are standard Rollin fare: beautiful women and dopey men. Laurence Dubas plays Sophie as a loose cannon, acting friendly to Marie one second and threatening to abandon her the next. She is not the usual vacant heroine of a Rollin film, but Christiane Coppé picks up that slack for the both of them. Her vacancy serves the character, who really is off her rocker. Coppé also appears do perform her own ice skating, which comes around during a scene in which we discover what drover her insane (I never did figure out where the ice rink came from). With a brief appearance by genre favorite Brigitte Lahaie (The Grapes of Death), in a slinky red dress no less, we get the full spectrum of Rollin beauties.
The Escapees sees its first Region 1 release from Salvation Films and, not surprisingly, it falls right in line with the rest of the label's other releases of Jean Rollin's work. The anamorphic image is very good, with a solid transfer that is better than many that his films have received. The picture has a soft look and a little grain but good colors and no discernable transfer errors. The French audio is presented in a flat stereo mix that is audible, but little more. The single extra is also a very good one. A nearly hour long interview from 2008 with the director discusses what he remembers about the making of the film and his work in general. Rollin speaks in both French and English intermittently; he's difficult to understand but most of what he says has subtitles. He's genial and intelligent and, for fans of the director, it makes for a swift hour of information.
The Escapees is one of Rollin's more obscure films and finally makes its way to DVD in the US. Rollin fans who were previously unable to find international copies of this hidden piece of the director's work will delight in an all new absurd fantasy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Salvation Films
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated