Judge Gordon Sullivan is trying to get vampires to drink ketchup instead. It's a pain in the neck!
"Give me the kiss of the vampire."
Some talents take time to develop. It's hard to imagine that Martin Scorsese could not have gone from making Mean Streets straight into Hugo—he needed to make Raging Bull and Gangs of New York and The Departed before he could take on a story of family and cinema. With a filmmaker like Jean Rollin, however, his work is so consistent in tone and imagery that it's hard to imagine he ever had a first film. I don't want to say that all of his films are the same, but they share a number of similarities (nudity, vampirisim, lesbianism). It's hard to claim that Rollin grew much as a filmmaker. Still, The Rape of the Vampire—Rollin's actual first film—shows that the exploitation filmmaker didn't rise fully formed. Thanks to a loving re-master and solid extras, fans can appreciate anew Rollin's first feature.
Facts of the Case
The Rape of the Vampire claims to be a melodrama in two parts. In the first part, a psychiatrist attempts to cure a group of young women who are convinced that they're vampires. In the second part, the Queen of the Vampires appears and attempts to find a cure for vampirism in a local hospital.
The Rape of the Vampire began life as an attempt by a French distributor to pad out an English film (which was itself a re-cutting of an American film). The distributor turned to editor Jean Rollin to film 30 minutes of material that would be inserted into the English/American film. Rollin came back with such strange scenes that the distributor gave him the funds to add another hour to make a complete film—or at least as complete a film as Jean Rollin would ever make. Consequently, the film is made up of parts shot to coincide with another film, which was itself a re-cutting of a different film. Of course, coherency has never been Rollin's strong suit, but at least in this case, there's strong justification for the little sense the story makes.
Though The Rape of the Vampire's production history makes it unique in Rollin's body of work, it's still very much a Rollin film. Expect the "plot" to make little sense overall. Though the setup for the first half is actually pretty compelling—the idea of someone trying to cure a vampire psychologically has potential—but in Rollin's hands. it's more of an excuse to have haunting atmosphere and more women than men. The second half makes even less sense, as the Queen of the Vampires appears to engage in some kind of dark rite and the dead rise from their graves. The stories, though, are not really important. They're a mere excuse for Rollin to roll out his trademark blend of Old World atmosphere, vampirism, and beautiful women.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The imagery is where The Rape of the Vampire excels, and this early Rollin effort is in black-and-white. Though his color films have an atmosphere all their own, there's something about the black-and-white world of this film that's gorgeous and surreal. Given the lower production values of Rollin's films, I can see how viewers might not be seduced by the sometimes cheap-looking color films. In black-and-white, however, Rollin is able to more easily hide some of the budget-produced problems (a lesson we also learn from Night of the Living Dead, released the same year). In black-and-white, the ruin of Europe looks more ruinous, the pale women look even paler, and the surreal quality of Rollin's shots looks less out of place. Though in many ways, it's not as accomplished as his later works, The Rape of the Vampire contains imagery that is pure Rollin.
Finally, eagle-eyed viewers will notice French comics genius Philippe Druillet (contemporary of Moebius and co-founder of the French Heavy Metal magazine) in a crowd scene. He also designed an early poster for the film.
Redemption released the film a decade ago on DVD, and The Rape of the Vampire (Blu-ray) is a step up in every direction. Released as part of a hi-def Rollin campaign (including Requiem for a Vampire and Demoniacs), the film has been restored by Kino Lorber. The AVC-encoded 1.66:1/1080p high definition transfer has strong detail and consistent black levels. This transfer looks a bit darker than the previous DVD edition, but that suits the film. The source print is in pretty good condition, with only a few specks here and there. Overall, the film looks fantastic. The PCM 2.0 Mono track is uncompressed compared to the previous disc, and it's fine for a post-dubbed film in French. The balance is okay, and dialogue is generally clear.
Extras start with an intro to the film by Rollin that runs 3 minutes. We also get an interview with Rollin and one with Jean-Loupe Phillipe, an actor who worked with Rollin. There is a pair of early Rollin short films—"Les Amours Jaunes" and "Les Pays Loin"—that are of only historical interest (though they do show some of the development of Rollin's style). The centerpiece of the disc is "Fragments of Pavements Under the Sand," a 24-minute documentary on the film that covers the making of the film, and, more importantly, gives viewers a strong sense of what was going on in the French film market at the time. The release also includes a small booklet with an essay by Tim Lucas. The same booklet is included in all three of this round of Redemption films. The essay covers the history of each of the three films, along with publicity material.
Before The Rape of the Vampire, I would have claimed that seeing one Rollin film was as good as seeing another. After this experience, I can say Rollin's body of work is more varied than I appreciated, and for that alone this disc is worth recommending. Even fans who have the previous DVD will want to upgrade for the better audiovisual presentation and bulked-up extras. Those new to Rollin's work would do better to start with some of his later work before returning here, though.
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