International Horror Film: The Shiver of the Vampires (dir by Jean Rollin)

This is the one with the vampire in the clock.

Now, admittedly, a female vampire emerging from a grandfather clock is an image to which filmmaker Jean Rollin would frequently return.  It was one of his most iconic images and, in many ways, a perfect visual for his uniquely dream-like aesthetic.  Seeing as how Rollin’s films always seemed to be, at least somewhat, concerned with how the past bleeds over into the present, it only makes sense that every grandfather clock — that ultimate symbol of the past — would have a vampire lurking somewhere within it.

As far as I know, though, 1971’s The Shiver of the Vampires was the first time that Rollin ever featured a vampire emerging from a clock.  Rollin often cited The Shiver of the Vampires are being one of his personal favorites from his filmography so it makes sense that he would continually return to that film’s best-known moment.

Though I prefer later films like Living Dead Girl, Two Orphan Vampires, and Night of the Hunted, The Shiver of the Vampires is definitely one of Rollin’s best films.  It’s certainly the first of his films in which Rollin feels like a truly mature filmmaker.  This was his third film and, like both Le Viol du Vampire and The Nude Vampire, it plays out like a cinematic dream.  At the same time, it’s more coherent than either of those earlier films, without the occasional moments of pretension that sometimes threatened to make those two films feel like elaborate student exercises.

The Shiver of the Vampires takes place in all of the usual Rollin locations.  There’s an isolated castle and decrepit castle, a symbol of the past which still features very modern graffiti on some of the walls.  There’s the chapel, which seems to be specifically designed to accommodate human sacrifice.  And, of course, there’s the beach.  As with so many Rollin films, all paths lead to the beach, a location that Rollin presents as being both comforting and menacing.

The Shiver of the Vampires tells the story of a honeymooning newlywed couple, Isle (Sandra Julien) and Antoine (Jean-Marie Durand).  Isle is looking forward to visiting her two cousins at their castle but, upon arriving, Isle and Antoine discover that the castle is now the home to two young women and that Isle’s cousins died just the day before.  Upset at both the news and a strange meeting with another woman named Isabelle (Nicole Nancel), Isle decides to spend the night sleeping alone.  However, while Isle is getting ready for bed, Isolde (played by the singularly-named Dominique) emerges from the grandfather clock.

Isolde is the vampire who not only killed the cousin but who, along with her two servants, has taken over the castle.  While Isolde leads Isle to the cemetery, Antoine wanders around the castle and just happens to run into the two dead cousins…

At its heart, The Shiver of the Vampires is an old Universal haunted castle movie with a bit more nudity and the sexuality move to the forefront as opposed to just being subtext.  It’s a horror film with plenty of blood and one rather nasty death via piercing by pointed nipple covers.  At the same time, it’s also a rather sentimental film.  Ultimately, Isle is vulnerable not because she has any secret desire to be a vampire but instead because her cousins, regardless of what they’ve become, are the only family that she has left.  Married or not, Antoine is just an interloper.

As with all of Rollin’s films, The Shiver of the Vampires plays out at its own dream-like pace, with the camera loving examining every inch of the old castle.  On the one hand, the film may be a dream of dark and disturbing things but, at the same time, it’s also a sad-eyed look at family and the impossibility of escaping the past.

And, of course, you’ll never forget that grandfather clock.

One response to “International Horror Film: The Shiver of the Vampires (dir by Jean Rollin)

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review: 10/21/19 — 10/27/19 | Through the Shattered Lens

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