Sunday, April 12, 2009


Jean Rollin's first full length feature film "The Rape of the Vampire" (1968) is a difficult to comprehend, experimental, and beautifully atmospheric, French black and white movie. This is the least accessible film I have seen of Rollin's. It is difficult to follow and the dialogue is ridiculous (fifty percent was improvised on the spot). The look of this film, the dreamlike logic (or lack thereof) of the story and imagery, and the moody experimental soundtrack are what make this movie tick.

This movie is actually two movies in one. In the first part, we follow four beautiful women who inexplicably think they are vampires. Are they really vampires, and how did they become what they are? They don't know. They don't have the usual phobias and weaknesses of vampires. They live in a mansion with a man that oversees them. One of the women is blind. There are disturbing looking crosses all over the property. They are always dressed in loose robes and worship a bizarre looking deity in the middle of a field. They like to loose their clothes at times. There are three visitors coming and their overseer tells them not to let the visitors try to cure them. When the visitors arrive, chaos ensues. They want to put the women in an institution or kill them. There are many bizarre scenes that unfold. One of my favorites is when the four vampires inexplicably start fencing with each other in a field lit by burning crosses. One of the vampires is accidentally killed in the playful fencing match. Eventually the three other vampires are killed. The last one to die does so after falling in love with and turning one of the three visitors. They are both shot dead in a starkly beautiful beach scene. The credits roll, the movie is over, then the movie starts again...part two.

The second half is where this movie really begins to spin out of control. All logic and convention are thrown out the window. Your patience is tried again and again. Yet you can't stop watching... This segment picks up right where the first left off, with our vampire couple dead on the beach. Their overseer comes to check on them. First, many hooded figures appear out of nowhere surrounding the man. Next, from out of the sea comes a vampire ship bearing the black lesbian queen of vampires and her minions. She kills the man, leaving him to die on the beach. The two dead vampires are stripped naked for no apparent reason. All three are left for dead. The dead overseer's blood trickles down the rocks, revivng the two vampires, and off they go. The other vampires who were killed in the first part of the movie have been resuurected as well.
It seems that the vampire queen wants to engineer a race of vampires. There is a cure for vampirism out there, but she does not want her minions to find out about it. Those that do are punished and killed. One female leader of the insurrection is stripped and flailed mercilessly ( on the beach of course). At about this point this movie deteriorates into maddening symbolism and senseless dream like imagery. I gave up trying to follow the story and just began soaking in the stark black and white, beautiful surrealistic images. Jean Rollin has a strong visual sense, and the power of his images are enough to distract you from the story anyway.

Before I knew it, the movie was over. Was I a changed person? No. Did I walk away from this movie thinking I had seen something great? No. I view this movie as more of a low budget art film. The look of this movie is all that impressed. I found myself really enjoying the soundtrack, which is an intense and unsettling blend between free jazz (Sun Ra came immediately to mind) and unnerving, discordant, screeching violins. If you haven't seen any Jean Rollin before, skip this one and watch some of his later, much stronger efforts first, such as "The Grapes of Death". If you like what you see, then dive into "The Rape of the Vampire". But don't say I didn't warn you.

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