This is a guest post by the fabulous horror critic Goregirl. You can keep up with her writing at 366 Weird Movies, Tumblr, and follow her on Twitter.
Jean Rollin directed over fifty films in his career mainly in the genres of horror and adult films. Jean’s father Claude was an actor and theatre director, so he was exposed to the entertainment industry at an early age. Rollin was 16 when he got a job at Les Films de Saturne. This was followed by some work as an editor in the cinema department during his stint with the French Army. During his enlistment with the French Army he worked alongside director Claude Lelouch. It was in 1968 that Rollin would make his first feature length film The Rape of the Vampire. I have seen Twenty-eight of Jean Rollin’s films and counting, including a good chunk of his adult fare. I included a list of Jean Rollin’s films below. You will notice Rollin used several pseudonyms; most commonly Michel Gentil and Robert Xavier. These are the names he used as directorial credit for his adult films (with two exceptions I will speak on later). This article will concentrate on the films Jean Rollin made under his own name, which are mainly his horror output. For those uninitiated, Jean Rollin’s world of horror tends to be more sexy and atmospheric than bloody and action-packed. Erotic mysteries would probably be a more appropriate term. Rollin himself preferred the term mystery over horror. Rollin in fact has stated that he did not like filming “horror scenes”. His early work is practically devoid of “horror scenes” but as the seventies wore on and horror became more graphic so too did Rollin’s output (but more on that later).
Rollin’s first full-length theatrical release was the 1968 film The Rape of the Vampire; a lovely and chaotic black and white piece about four sisters, believed to be vampires. So many of the themes and imagery Rollin would revisit in subsequent work are introduced here; specifically vampires, lesbianism and the beach. His love for the creatures of the night continued with the 1970 film The Nude Vampire. Filmed in color and featuring the first appearance of the lovely Castel twins Marie-Pierre and Catherine (they would go on to appear in several other Rollin efforts). The film centers on a mysterious cult of fabulously dressed patrons with an interest in immortality. Apparently the film was influenced by Georges Franju’s Judex. Continuing his vampire love in 1971 with Requiem for a Vampire a starring role for the aforementioned Marie-Pierre Castel alongside Mireille Dargent. It was initially to be Marie-Pierre’s sister Catherine in the role. Catherine Castel said in an interview that the sisters kept their casting in Rollin’s films a secret from their mother. It is no surprise that the twins would appeal to Rollin considering his fixation with female pairings. The intimacy and friendship between two women is the focus of many of Rollin’s stories. Requiem for a Vampire was one of the first to really establish the female protagonist/antagonist duo. Marie-Pierre would once again be featured in Rollin’s 1971 film The Shiver of the Vampires; my personal favorite of Rollin’s work. Particularly eccentric characters with a heavy dose of humor compliment Rollin’s gorgeous surreal visuals in a vampire themed story about a family reunited in blood. Shiver is one of very few Rollin films to feature significant male characters. Jacques Robiolles and Michel Delahave who play the cousins in the story are very memorable and entertaining.
A change in theme came with 1973′s The Iron Rose; one of the most breath-taking of Rollin’s entire repertoire. Focusing this time on a single female character played by Françoise Pascal; it focuses on her journey into a trippy insanity after her and her lover are forced to spend an evening in a graveyard. Françoise Pascal is as stunning as the accompanying visuals and gives a particularly solid performance. 1974′s Demoniacs is his second entry to feature lead male characters. Three male “wreckers” along with cohort and bad-ass Joelle Coeur rape, rob and pillage without mercy. One day they make victims of two young women whose deaths (?!) threaten to push the quartet to the edge of sanity. Another beautiful, surreal, vampire-themed film would follow with 1975′s Lips of Blood. A personal favorite and strongly recommended viewing starring the gorgeous Annie Belle. Lips of Blood is Rollin’s only film I would really deem a love story. A photograph for a perfume ad takes our central character back to a childhood memory of a beautiful pixiesque woman. A woman he was supposed to meet many years before. He becomes obsessed with finding her and eventually they do reconnect with bloody consequences. He would change up his undead game ever so sweetly with 1978′s The Grapes of Death. Vineyards are spraying with a chemical that are bringing the dead back to life. This would be bar none his goriest effort to date which would include a decapitation and death by pitchfork among other gruesomeness. Rollin’s gorgeous surreal visuals accompanied by some gratuitous violence was a match made in heaven in my opinion. It is important to mention here the introduction of Brigitte Lahai to Rollin’s world. Rollin had a particular fascination with Ms. Lahai who from interviews he viewed as the perfect example of womanhood. Indeed, Lahai’s statuesque physique not to mention one of the finest sets of mammary glands to grace cinema were appealing on their own. It was Lahai’s seriously sexy, bad-ass and personable delivery that put her in a class all of her own. Rollin’s next masterpiece would be about bloodsuckers of a different kind; 1979′s Fascination. Fascination would feature Ms. Lahai in a starring role alongside Franca Maï. A film about women of privilege who drink Ox blood at the slaughterhouse as a cure for anemia. Like Elizabeth Bathory before them, they discover that blood does more than cure anemia it brings youth. A handsome and unfortunate thief becomes entangled in the women’s agenda. Easily one of Rollin’s most interesting, original and beautiful films. A great place to start if you have never seen a Rollin flick.
Another starring role for Brigitte Lahai followed in 1980 with The Night of the Hunted. A haunting tale about memory loss that borders on a love story. While I would not count this among his best work, there is much to admire here. Rollin’s second Zombie effort and his most sketchy work in his entire library (including the adult films); 1981′s Zombie Lake. Officially this should not be on this list, as it was made under a pseudonym (as J.A. Laser). I felt I should revisit Zombie Lake as a massive fan of Rollin’s work. The film is so sloppy there is a part of me that refuses to acknowledge that this was actually directed by Rollin. The film stars Howard Vernon who I usually enjoy but the film is so sorrowfully unrepresentative of Jean Rollin’s work I can just barely cope. That said, it is an interesting premise for a zombie flick, it just lacks the class and mood of Rollin’s other work. Moving on from this mucky-muck he concocted a lovely sad little film called The Escapees the same year. This film doesn’t get much love but I quite enjoyed it. Very much a Rollin film with a pair of gal’s escaping from a mental institute that embark on a journey that sees them joining a circus, befriending a thief and murder most foul among other adventures.
Next in the queue is without question Rollin’s grittiest and goriest film of his entire library; 1982′s The Living Dead Girl. The film stars the fabulous Marina Pierro, a huge fave of director Walerian Borowczyk (Love Rites, Immoral Women, Art of Love, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne) along with the forever watchable (and playing the titular “Living Dead Girl“) Françoise Blanchard. The chemistry between the two lead female characters is magic. Rollin may not have enjoyed filming his “horror scenes” but there are certainly a few lengthy, graphic and memorable ones in Living Dead Girl. Hélène (Marina Pierro) discovers her friend needs the blood of the living to survive. Hélène hitchhikes and is picked up by a woman who drives her to the estate and agrees to come in for a drink. This unfortunate do-gooder is munched on whilst screaming for a goodly few minutes before a vital organ is snacked on. At this point our “Living Dead Girl” has already killed two grave-robbers, a real estate agent and her boyfriend unbeknownst to her friend Hélène! I love and adore this naughty and nasty entry in Rollin’s oeuvre. This was followed up by the 1984 film Sidewalks of Bangkok, which I have yet to see. Rollin’s last eighties effort under his actual name was the sentimental Lost in New York. Rollin specifically notes several of his favorite films, (including his own) through narration early in the film. A heavy use of masks, the beach and vampires are visited in this lovely throwback to days gone by. The film’s two central characters who met when they were children reconnect when they are elderly. He followed this up with 1993′s The Killing Car. Screaming of the period in which it was made (fashionably speaking anyway) this odd film features a femme fatale type known as the car woman; it is not without its moments but is not a strong Rollin entry. The final film I have viewed under Rollin’s name is 1997′s Two Orphan Vampires. Two Orphan Vampire’s is a lushly filmed late entry about two sisters blinded by day but by night are given both the gift of sight and vampirism. A final note, Rollin did direct three films after Two Orphan Vampires, 2010′s Le Masque de la Méduse, 2007′s La Nuit des Horloges and 2002′s La Fiancée de Dracula. I have not seen this trio of films but intend to soon.
Before I finalize my thoughts on Jean Rollin’s repertoire I would like to mention a few of his adult titles I recommend and one other he filmed under a pseudonym. Definitely my favorite from the incognito film list is Schoolgirl Hitchhikers made under the name Michel Gentil. A quirky, sexy crime thing featuring the unforgettable Joelle Coeur; like Mary Tyler Moore she can turn the world on with her smile. Coeur is a personal favorite Rollin actress of mine. Her best and most memorable performance is definitely in The Demoniacs as Tina the wrecker but she is an awful lot of fun here also! All of Rollin’s work had a healthy dose of sexuality and nudity but his titillations were failing to draw audiences and financiers as the seventies wore on. This was mainly due to soft and hardcore porn making the scene. Rollin reluctantly (and having heard him speak of it in interviews, regretfully) began to make adult films. 1974′s Bacchanales Sexuelles definitely had the Rollin vibe and for what it is, basically a softcore collection of sexual vignettes is not without its charms. The most buoyant of his adult work and as I mentioned previously stars the spunky and always delightful Joelle Coeur. Another decent entry is 1975′s Once Upon a Virgin (aka Phantasmes) and the only one I am aware of where Rollin does not use a pseudonym. Phantasmes has a few horror flourishes along with an appearance by the Castel twins. Rounding out my recommends is the 1977 film Vibrations Sexuelles. A man who has lost his “lust for life” is sexually renewed after visiting a psychiatrist who he falls in love with and marries. Brigitte Lahai is the psychiatrist that “cures” our patient and she is particularly appealing in this. This one is pretty corny but it definitely has some stylish shots and the inclusion of Lahai makes it worth a look. Phantasmes and Vibrations Sexuelles are typical fuck films with long lingering close ups of clits and cocks rubbing and banging together, so if this sort of thing offends you obviously just avoid it.
A great soundtrack can add so much to the mood and atmosphere of a film. The musical accompaniment for many of Rollin’s features deserve the utmost praise. Contributors such as Acanthus, Philippe D’Aram, Pierre Raph and Yvon Gerault help set that perfect Rollin mood. I highly recommend picking up Finders Keepers’ compilation soundtrack The B-Music of Jean Rollin. A wonderful collection of some of the most hypnotic and sexy hymns you will find from 1970′s cinema. http://www.finderskeepersrecords.com/shop/the-b-music-of-jean-rollin/
Rollin’s films are surreal, sexy, luscious and lavish. His films look like a million bucks despite the fact they were made not only on a tight budget but under strict time constraints. I like exciting non-stop violent action flicks but my heart truly lies with those who make their cinematic voice heard in a more thoughtful, hypnotic and unique way. There is truly no one who can match Rollin’s feverish pitch in regards to dreamy and gorgeous visuals. His stunning locations (especially his oft used beach locale), sets and set pieces, costumes (especially those revealing gauzy gowns), electrifying scores, strong female characters, poetic dialog and engrossing tales. Looking at Rollin’s body of work it is easy enough to see which films in his repertoire he was most proud of. The films Rollin himself poured his heart into and felt the most passionate about are those he attached his name to. Not to say that all those under his pseudonyms were trash, some of them are quite entertaining. However to really appreciate Rollin’s work as a director I would certainly recommend those he directed under the name Jean Rollin. Prior to 2013 I had only seen a handful of Jean Rollin films. In July of 2013 I did a list of my favorite five, at the time I had seen seventeen of his films; I have now seen nearly double that. I now count Jean Rollin among my favorite directors; a man whose work is as robust and beautiful as a newly bloomed rose. The ravishing repertoire of Jean Rollin deserves recognition and for those of us who love him his iron rose shall never wilt.
Director (52 credits)
2010 Le masque de la Méduse
2007 La nuit des horloges
2002 La fiancée de Dracula
1997 Two Orphan Vampires
1994 Le parfum de Mathilde (uncredited)
1993 Killing Car
1991 À la poursuite de Barbara (uncredited)
1990 La griffe d’Horus (TV Movie)
1989 Lost in New York
1988 Emmanuelle 6 (uncredited)
1985 Ne prends pas les poulets pour des pigeons (as Michel Gentil)
1984 Sidewalks of Bangkok
1983 Folies anales (as Robert Xavier)
1983 Sodomanie (as Robert Xavier)
1982 Rêves de sexes (as René Xavier)
1982 The Living Dead Girl
1981 The Escapees
1981 Zombie Lake (as J.A. Laser)
1980 The Night of the Hunted
1979 Pénétrations vicieuses (as Michel Gentil)
1979 Bouches lascives et pornos (as Robert Xavier)
1979 Gamines en chaleur (as Robert Xavier)
1978 Hyperpénétrations (as Robert Xavier)
1978 Lèvres entrouvertes (as Michel Gentil)
1978 Petites pensionnaires impudiques (as Michel Gentil)
1978 Remplissez-moi… les 3 trous (as Robert Xavier)
1978 Disco Sex (as Robert Xavier)
1978 The Grapes of Death
1977 Positions danoises (as Michel Gentil)
1977 Saute-moi dessus (as Michel Gentil)
1977 Vibrations sexuelles (as Michel Gentil)
1977 Hard Penetration (as Michel Gentil)
1976 La comtesse Ixe (as Michel Gentil)
1976 Suce moi vampire (as Michel Gand)
1976 Douces pénétrations (as Michel Gentil)
1975 Lips of Blood
1975 Once Upon a Virgin
1974 The Demoniacs
1974 Bacchanales sexuelles (as Michel Gentil)
1973 A Virgin Among the Living Dead (dream sequence)
1973 Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (as Michel Gentil)
1973 The Iron Rose
1971 The Shiver of the Vampires
1971 Requiem for a Vampire
1970 The Nude Vampire
1968 The Rape of the Vampire
1965 Les pays loin (Short)
1964 Vivre en Espagne (Documentary short)
1963 L’itinéraire marin
1961 Ciel de cuivre (Short)
1958 Les amours jaunes (Short)
*List cut and paste from http://www.imdb.com/