• Rape of the Vampire (The Films of Jean Rollin)



    Released by: Kino-Lorber/Redemption Films
    Released on: 5/29/2012
    Director: Jean Rollin
    Cast: Solange Pradel, Bernard Letrou, Jacqueline Sieger
    Year: 1968
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    The Movie:

    Four sisters live in an old mansion on the outskirts of town, and they are all centuries-old vampires. One man believes they are not really vampires, but instead brainwashed by someone to believe they are vampires. He intends to prove it and cure them of their mental state and spends the first third of the movie's running time doing so. The women are controlled by a messed up looking scarecrow that speaks to them, but it is in fact the man who owns the chateau who is keeping them there and making them believe they are vampires, for reasons not entirely clear. The psychoanalyst on the scene isn’t exactly wrong about the girls, but he isn’t exactly right either. There’s something more going on, but the townspeople don’t intend to let things go any further and take matters into their own hands (one of the goofy locals is the director himself). People die, and the movie seemingly ends. But it doesn’t. A half an hour or so into the movie there is a second credits sequence and the story continues, sort of. The second part continues with resurrected characters from part one, now fully vampirized, adds some new characters to the mix, including the Queen of the Vampires. She came looking for the sisters, found them, and decided it would be a good time to find a cure for vampirism, which involves a memorable operation scene. And that’s about all the sense the second parts makes. It seems incredibly disjointed and tough to follow, to the point where trying to really make sense out of the story seems futile.

    This is one of those movies that will either frustrate a viewer (or bore them), or it will suck the person in and keep that person visually stimulated for 90 minutes. But to appreciate the film more, knowing a bit about the production helps to understand at least some of the reasons why the movie comes across as it does. In the essay found in the booklet that comes with the disc (the same one found in the remastered versions of Demoniacs and Requiem for a Vampire), Tim Lucas gives a great summary of the events that led to the film being made. In short, Rollin was approached by an American producer to add thirty minutes to a 20-year old film he had been sitting on that needed to be 90 minutes long to be released as a feature. What resulted is the first part of Rape, but when the producer saw what Rollin had made and for next to no money, he gave him the means to make another 60 minutes and release both of Rollin’s pieces as a single movie, shelving the 20-year old flick.

    So with that in mind, it’s easier to forgive a lot of the problems with the narration of the film. But as with any Rollin movie, at least one’s watched so far by these eyes, its not so much about the story as it is about what the director puts in every frame. To use a cliched-to-death phrase, “it’s visually stunning”. It sucks to have to use that tired and overused description, but it is so true with Rape of the Vampire. Maybe the black-and-white film stock makes it all the more beautiful, maybe the amazing job Kino did with restoring it plays into it, but most probably it's because Rollin knew so well how to show a story as opposed to how to tell a story.
    So many of his trademarks from his subsequent works can be seen in his very first piece of feature filmmaking: derelict cemeteries, impressive and fascinating old buildings, deserted beaches, lesbian vampires, lots of nudity, long sequences of no camera movement, and unique characters. One character in particular that stands out in this picture is the vampire queen, played by Jacqueline Sieger in her only film role. She embraces the job with zest and captures the essence of a nasty, evil vampire perfectly. Her atypical looks along with the fangs makes the Queen seem viscous and full of venom, and it's all done without an over the top performance. She really steals it, as far as any actor can steal from Jean Rollin.

    Is this his best film? Far from it, but it isn’t without merit. Mainly that merit is the style of it. Rollin could make film seem at times like a still photograph, but an incredibly captivating one; one that draws in his viewers to the point where the story takes a backseat and enjoys the ride with the rest of us. If you can appreciate his work on that level, then Rape of the Vampire should slake your thirst.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Blu-ray has an AVC encoded 1080p image, with a ratio of 1.66:1. As mentioned above, the restoration to HD is excellent. The movie looks fantastic, and even though this is the only format the film has been seen in by this viewer it has to look better than it ever has before. Shadow detail is great, the black levels are nice and deep, and the clarity (aside from natural grain) is outstanding. Minor spots of damage from the negative are present but nothing to worry about. Low budget roots be damned, Kino-Lorber did a fine job with this one. There doesn’t appear to be edge enhancement or noise reduction at all, and they should be applauded for that as well. The audio is a mono track that plays over two channels. It does the job, but there’s nothing conversation-worthy about it. There’s the normal 40+ year old, low budget popping and fussing, but nothing to be concerned about. No authoring issues to note.

    For extras, the manufacturer has loaded this one up pretty well. First is an introduction by Jean Rollin, and as with the other releases under “The Films of Jean Rollin” banner with director introductions, some guy in a mask is sitting next to him doing absolutely nothing. After three minutes of that, the next item is a documentary called “Fragments of Pavements Under the Sand” which lasts nearly 24 minutes (and is in HD). It’s a nice overview of his blossoming career in film and the state of movie making in France in the 60s. Next is an alternate scene from the operation sequence (two minutes) which tones it down a bit. A couple of interviews, seemingly ported over from a previous release, are included here for a total of just under 15 minutes. Rollin spends about four-and-a-half minutes of that time discussing his subject matter, while the rest is the time is with actor Jean-Loup Philippe. Two short films buy the man himself are included, in HD no less: “The Yellow Loves” (1958) and “The Far Country” (1965). Trailers for the films in the series (also in HD) are here to watch over and over (they’re awesome). The aforementioned booklet with an essay by Tim Lucas of “Video Watchdog” is also available with this release, which is a great read.

    The Final Word:

    This first feature film from Rollin is not without its troubles, but its still impressive. Weird and mostly nonsensical, but impressive all the same. His use of locations, settings, and framing lend themselves nicely to the beauty that black-and-white delivers and it would have been interesting to see another black-and-white film from him. Sadly this is the only one. The Blu-ray looks excellent and the extras are great. 100% recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!