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.