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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: The Rape of the Vampire

The greatest bad movie ever is Plan Nine from Outer Space, but coming in a close number two is Jean Rollin’s exquisitely ridiculous The Rape of the Vampire, which has been released on Blu-ray no less, by Kino Lorber Incorporated as a Redemption title. For one thing, it is in that hoity-toity language, French, which connoisseurs of badness embrace as the language of their superiors. For another thing, it has lots of topless women, which in itself is not a bad thing at all—just ask a nursing infant—but is really dopey when there is no particular narrative reason as to why the women should choose not to drape themselves respectably, particularly when there are a bunch of grunting, farmer-looking types, chasing after them with pitchforks.  You also tend to wince when they cavort naked at the beach, not because naked at the beach isn’t fun in concept, but because the women are near old pilings and large stones and other favorite barnacle attachments.  There isn’t any beach sand, either, just pebbles and more rocks.  There is, in fact, one sequence where two of the naked ‘vampire’ girls are making out with a couple of guys on boulders next to the ocean, which encourages one not to pant with the excitement of erotic sublimity but rather to cringe with the thought of hard, sharp objects rubbing against tender flesh.  There were probably enough scratches and cuts when the shooting was over to attract every vampire in miles.

Like Plan Nine, the 1968 film is brilliant, if accidental, Surrealism, and hypnotically captivating from its first frame to its last.  It only runs 95 minutes, yet it has two parts, with a second set of title credits showing up in its center.  Why, or rather, pourquoi?  Who knows, it’s just je ne sais quoi, as they say.  In the first part, there are four or so scantily clothed women who believe themselves to be vampires and a psychologist who thinks he can ‘cure’ them of this, by taking them out in the sun and other aggressive therapies.  Oh, there is this one vampire girl who is blind and likes to practice bowling in the garden, or in the surf, because the editing shifts the bowling pins between those two locations.  The portions of the film that don’t take place at the beach are set in a large mansion-like farmhouse or institution or something.  To get back to the story, in part two, a topless ‘queen of the vampires’ arrives on a boat, gets into a convertible, and bosses everyone around.  What makes the movie’s badness great is that the black-and-white cinematography is genuinely lovely, so that the movie looks like it really ought to be profound—another Orpheus or Vampyr something like that.  But then when you try to concentrate on what is happening, you realize that it was only the cinematographer who had talent, and nobody else on the set had any idea what they were doing.  Except making a masterpiece, of sorts.

The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.66:1.  Despite a few stray scratches and speckles, the image presentation is gloriously satisfying, conveying the beauty and smoothness of a theatrical presentation, and making the film all the more mesmerizing.  The source material on the old Image Entertainment DVD release has a few more pronounced markings on it, but is still in reasonably good condition.  The Image picture is lighter, which normally we would prefer because it brings out more detail, but the BD’s picture has such a compelling theatrical feel to it that the film becomes a more involving experience, especially on a larger screen.  The BD’s monophonic sound is relatively stable and coaxes as much out of the film’s audio as is to be had, with the sound on Image’s DVD seeming much weaker and hollower in comparison.  Next to the cinematography, the one component of the film that is not immediately condemnable is the musical score, a mostly jazz style soundtrack that changes tone with seeming randomness—sometimes it’s sophisticated, sometimes it’s primitive—but does not insult the ears.  Did we mention that the film is in French?  There are English subtitles, but of course you don’t really need to use them, n’est-ce pas?

The BD has several satisfying special features, including a good 24-minute retrospective documentary and an additional 7 minutes of interviews with Rollin.  Basically, a producer with money took a look at Rollin’s initial footage and told him he didn’t understand what was going on, but if he’d put topless women in the movie, they would be successful selling it.  Thus began Rollin’s lifelong addiction to putting naked people in his movies.  In May of 1968 when the film opened, the Parisian streets were filled with rioters.  When the rioters had to run away from the police, they would duck into movie theaters, and thus the film became a hit.  Vraiment.  There is also a 4-minute trailer that is kind of the movie in miniature, a 9-minute interview with actor Jean-Loup Philippe, and two short films Rollin made.  One, The Yellow Loves, from 1958, runs 9 minutes and was shot at the same beach location where Rape of the Vampires was made, intercutting footage of a man wandering around the beach with an extensive montage of simple drawings, as a voiceover narrator talks about love and loneliness.  The second short, The Far Country, from 1965, isn’t bad.  It is a dreamlike depiction of a couple attempting to find their way around a labyrinthine city, suggesting, metaphorically, the difficulties the younger generation has in finding its place in the world.

One Response to “DVD Geek: The Rape of the Vampire”

  1. Daniella Isaacs says:

    And I thought it was just me who couldn’t follow what was going on. I will say a couple of the later Jean Rollin films I’ve seen, like THE IRON ROSE and LIPS OF BLOOD, are actually halfway decent. I’ve thought about buying the blu-ray just to have on at parties, in the background, figuring it would look pretty cool and get some “what the f***?” comments.

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
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