Kino Lorber // 1997 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 6th, 2012
"A poetical consideration of death, termination, and unreality."
It has long been theorized that the camera opens onto a world, and when film is projected back, we see that world before us. Notice, of course, that it is a world, not the world, for you can't go and touch the world projected on the screen. The world that cinema creates is often -- more or less -- like that of the world we see around us. Causes follow effects and logic largely rules the day. Not all films are like that, though. Some, like those of Jean Rollin open up onto their own bizarre world that only slightly resembles the one of taxes, mortgage payments, and morning commutes. Two Orphan Vampires is another in a long line of Rollin films that shows us a world that only Rollin can visit. He returns from these voyages into cinematic flights of fancy with strange images that play like an acid-trip family vacation reel. Some of the shots are beautiful, but there's very little narrative. Two Orphan Vampires, one of the last, takes the Rollin concept to extremes, paring down the narrative until it is almost nonexistent, offering the audience little more than a concept and a series of images. Two Orphan Vampires (Blu-ray) a decent HD presentation, but even Rollin fans may have trouble with this gossamer film.
Two Orphan Vampires is one of the more literal film titles you'll find. It's about two orphan vampires; they're both blind young women who survive in a charity house. However, unbeknownst to their caregivers, these two girls can see at night (in blue, no less) and must feed off the blood of the living to survive. That's pretty much it; there's not a lot of story to Two Orphan Vampires beyond the two orphan vampires.
Two Orphan Vampires will separate the diehard Jean Rollin fans from the mere fair-weather admirers. This film has stripped his cinema down to its barest essentials. All the Rollin elements are there: we have the two gorgeous young women (in an ambiguously sexual relationship), we have the vampire habit, the European locales (including graveyards and Parisian streets), and the stabs at gore. Unlike other Rollin films, though, we don't get that much else. Jean Rollin will never be known as the master of the narrative arts, but in previous films, there was usually something like a story to hang everything on, even if it was convoluted and/or ambiguous. All that disappears in favor of a focus on the two vampire orphans in the title. We see them in the day, blind young women everyone thinks are innocent, and then we see them in the night, when their blue-tinged vision takes over and they must kill to survive.
I really wanted to like Two Orphan Vampires. Though he's not my favorite director, I've always had a soft spot for Rollin's weirdness. Since Two Orphan Vampires is one of his last works, I wanted him going out on a high note. Sadly, the elements don't quite hang together here. The haunting beauty that marks his best work and the striking images that seem to erupt out of his nonsensical narratives are absent for most of the picture. Though the two orphans are beautiful to look at and their condition tragic, there's nothing else to hold onto as a viewer. I'm sure some viewers hold on and glean something from this bizarre film, but it never quite gets as weird as his best work.
Don't tell the folks at Kino Lorber that, as they've lavished a significant amount of attention on this Blu-ray release. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is solid, though perhaps more solid than the film can support. Lacking much of the beauty of his earlier work, Two Orphan Vampires can sometimes look a bit amateurish, with the feeling only reinforced by the clarity of the Blu-ray transfer. With that said, colors are appropriately saturated, black levels consistent, and grain well-handled. No significant digital artifacts pop up to mar the presentation. Things, are, however, a bit soft, and the print used for this transfer is far from pristine. The LPCM 2.0 French soundtrack is similarly a study in contrast. Yes, it's clear and free of noise, but issues of mixing and balance were not on the front of anyone's mind. Dialogue can be quiet, with the music occasionally becoming overpowering. However, that's almost certainly the fault of the source rather than this audio transfer. This disc also includes an English dub, but it's not particularly interesting.
Extras start with a 40-minute documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with the cast and crew. Then, there's a 20-minute interview with Jean Rollin, and a twelve-page booklet with an essay by Tim Lucas. The disc rounds out with the film's theatrical trailer and nine other Rollin trailers.
I wanted to like Two Orphan Vampires not just because of my affection for some of Rollin's other work. Rather, I think there are some good ideas buried in the flick. The whole "vampires see things differently" idea is a good one. So is the idea that these two girls are blind during the day but can see at night. That's a novel twist on the usual Dracula-inspired formula of having the vampire most vulnerable during daylight. If the weirdness surrounding these conceits had been more inspired, or if there had been a slightly more fleshed-out narrative, I would be giving Two Orphan Vampires a hearty recommendation. As it is, it's only for the most diehard of Rollin fans, and even they might find it lacking compared to his other films.
Two Orphan Vampires is not a great movie, even by the admittedly bizarre standards of the cinema of Jean Rollin. Fans of the film will appreciate this Blu-ray upgrade, and more general Rollin fans might want to pick it up for the excellent extras featuring interviews with the cast and crew, including Rollin himself. The disc is worth at least a rental for anyone interested in Rollin for the extras alone. Those new to Rollin's films are urged to seek elsewhere for a better introduction to his work.
Guilty for leaving viewers orphaned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated