International Horror Review: The Two Orphan Vampires (dir by Jean Rollin)


Louise (Alexandra Pic) and Henriette (Isabelle Teboul) are two orphaned sisters.  They’re both blind and, as the nuns at the orphanage explains to Dr. Dennary (Bernard Charnacé), innocent to the ways of the world.  When Dr. Dennary adopts them, everyone tells him that he’s made the right choice.  Never have there been two sisters as sweet and beatific as Louise and Henriette.

Of course, what neither the nuns nor Dr. Dennary know is that, when the sun goes down, Louise and Henriette’s vision returns.  They sneak out of Dennary’s home, exploring the nearby cemeteries and meeting other beings who can only move freely during the night.  The sisters tells each other stories of their past and we see memories that seem to suggest that they have been alive for centuries.  But, the sisters also often talk about how they can’t remember their past and it’s suggested that their “memories” are just stories that they’ve created to give themselves a history that they don’t otherwise possess.

At times, you wonder if they’re even sisters.  Perhaps they’re just two vampires who manged to find each other at some point over the past few centuries.  Still, you can never doubt the strength of their bond.  When one of them is weak from a lack of blood, the other allows her to drink from her neck.  When they find themselves being pursued by angry villagers, they refuse to be separated.  Even if it means dying, at least they’ll die together.

Throughout the film, the orphans eagerly await for night to fall so that they can see and sneak out of the house.  But, at the same time, they know that their time is limited.  When the sun rises, they will again lose their sight.  These vampires don’t need to sleep in coffins.  In fact, they don’t need to sleep at all.  But they need the night to see the world around them.

Unfortunately, Dr. Dennary may be kind-hearted but he’s still not happy about the idea of the two orphans sneaking out of his house during the night.  When the sisters go to drastic means to ensure their freedom, they find themselves in even greater danger….

First released in 1997, The Two Orphan Vampires is perhaps my favorite Jean Rollin film.  Rollin, himself, once described it was being one of his best films because it was a film that told a story that went beyond his own personal obsessions.  That may be true but this is definitely a Jean Rollin film.  It’s not just the use of the vampirism or the fact that frequent Rollin co-star Brigitte Lahaie has a cameo.  It’s that the film centers not just on the supernatural but also the way that our memories and our fantasies can provide comfort in an uncertain world, which was a favorite Rollin theme.  Whether their memories are true or not is not important.  What’s important is that the two sisters share them.

In typical Rollin fashion, the movie unfolds at its own deceptively leisurely pace.  The imagery is frequently dream-like, with the orphan vampires discovering an underworld of paranormal creatures.  The film also reflect Rollin’s love of the old serials, with frequent cliffhangers.  By the final third of the movie, you can already guess what’s going to end up happening to the two orphan vampires but I still had tears in my eyes by the time the end credits started to roll up the screen.

For whatever reason, Two Orphan Vampires seems to get a mixed reaction from several Rollin fans, who perhaps are disappointed that it’s considerably less bloody and/or sordid as some of Rollin’s other vampire films.  The film is one of Rollin’s more contemplative films and it has more in common with The Night of the Hunted and The Iron Rose than some of Rollin’s other vampire films.  That said, Two Orphan Vampires is my personal favorite of Rollin’s filmography.  It’s a film that bring me to tears every time that I watch it.

 

International Horror Film Review: Zombie Lake (dir by “J.A. Lazer”)


Oh, Zombie Lake!

I approach this 1981 Spanish-French film with some trepidation because, while it’s undeniably one of the best known of Eurocine’s low-budget horror films, it was also directed by one of my favorite directors and, by most accounts, it was not an experience that he particularly enjoyed being asked about.  He did not care for this film and (spoiler alert) his name was not J.A. Lazer.

In fact, for several years, it was assumed that this film was actually directed by Jess Franco.  And while it’s true that Franco was originally hired to direct Zombie Lake, he left the project because he said the budget was too low to execute his vision.  Consider that.  A budget too low for Jess Franco!  Franco left the project and went on to direct Oasis of the Zombies.  Apparently, the film’s producers did not understand that Franco had actually left the project because, on the first day of shooting, they were shocked to discover that they didn’t have a director.  In a panic, they called another fiercely independent horror director and asked him to come direct the film.  Jean Rollin agreed.

By his own account, Rollin only had a few days to prepare for shooting and since he had already made a classic zombie film called The Grapes of Death, he didn’t worry too much about trying to do anything too spectacular with Zombie Lake.  He simply filmed whatever scenes were required for the day, played the minor role of doomed police inspector, and, six days later, Zombie Lake had been filmed.

As for the film itself, it takes place in a French village that appears to be exclusively populated by cranky old men and naked young women.  There’s a lake nearby.  Despite seeing (and tossing aside) a big sign with a skull and crossbones on it, one of the naked women decides to go for a swim.  This apparently awakens the green Nazi zombies who lives at the bottom of the lake.  Soon, the zombies are randomly emerging from the lake and killing villagers.  The town’s mayor (Howard Vernon, of all people) is concerned.

It all links back to World War II, when the members of the French Resistance (led by the mayor) gunned down a squad of Nazis and dumped their bodies in the lake.  Somehow, this led to the Nazis coming back as zombies.  One of the Nazis had a daughter with a French woman shortly before he was killed.  Despite the fact that he was killed in 1943 and the movie clearly takes place in 1980, his daughter is only 12 years old.  That’s the type of film that Zombie Lake is.

Watching the film, you can tell why Rollin wasn’t particularly interested in claiming any credit for it.  It’s a messy film, largely because the green zombie makeup keeps washing off whenever the zombies have to emerge from the waters of the lake.  As for the lake itself, the underwater scenes were clearly shot in a swimming pool.  Beyond that, there’s not really any logic as to why the zombies keep emerging from the lake.  Whenever it’s plot convenient, the zombies suddenly emerge and attack anyone who has recently undressed.

Howard Vernon in Zombie Lake

And yet, there are some good things about Zombie Lake.  (Shut up, there are too!)  For instance, it’s kind of charming how each actor cast as a zombie brings their own interpretation to the role.  Some of them walk slowly with their arms outstretched.  Others move a little bit stiffly with a thousand yard stare.  Some of them just casually stroll around, doing their business.  As well, we’re so used to assuming that any character played by Howard Vernon is going to be decadent and sleazy that it’s kind of fun to see him playing an outright hero here.  Finally, even the frequent nudity is so gratuitous that it actually become rather humorous.  One could easily use Zombie Lake to play a drinking game.  Whenever anyone takes off their top, drink!

Finally, even though this was clearly just a film he did for the money, there are a few instances where Rollin’s signature style manage to peak through.  For instance, when we first see the Mayor’s office, the camera lingers on all of the historical artifacts on the wall.  The fact that one of the zombies has cloudy memories of his former lover and only wants to see his daughter actually works a lot better than you might expect, largely because that seems to be the only storyline that Rollin — with his fascination with memory and history — seems to really care about.

Zombie Lake is a mess and certainly not representative of Rollin’s best (or more personal) films.  But I still kind of like it.

International Horror Film Review: The Living Dead Girl (dir by Jean Rollin)


Jean Rollin’s 1982 masterpiece, The Living Dead Girl, is one that makes me cry every time.

This is one of Rollin’s non-vampire films but it still features the themes for which Rollin was famous.  You’ve got a gothic castle.  You’ve got the beautiful French countryside.  You have two female friends, one of whom is haunted by her memories of the way things used to be and the other is horrified by what her present has become.  It’s one of Rollin’s most heartfelt films and also one of his saddest.

Helene (Mairna Pierro) sits in her office in Paris, thinking about her childhood friend, Catherine Valmont (Françoise Blanchard).  Catherine died two years ago and, as far as Helene knows, is still in the coffin that sits in the crypt of her family’s estate.  When her phone rings, Helene answers.  At the other end, no one speaks.  But Helene can hear the sound of a music box playing, a music box that once belonged to Catherine.

Yes, Catherine is once again alive.  She was brought back to life by ….. well, it’s not really explained.  It has something to do with some toxic chemicals that were accidentally spilled by two incompetent thieves who broke into the crypt.  The chemicals returned Catherine to a sort of life, except now she’s a silent zombie who needs to feast on blood to survive.  Though Catherine has hazy memories of her past, she’s not sure who she is and why she’s suddenly been brought back into the modern world.  Catherine promptly kills the two thieves.  She also proceeds to kill a real estate agent and her boyfriend.  It’s not that Catherine wants to kill.  Instead, it’s what she has to do in order to survive.  She’s like a cat pouncing on a bird.  It’s all instinct.

By the time Helene arrives at the castle, there’s already quite a mess that needs to be cleaned up.  But it doesn’t matter to Helene that she’s got four dead bodies of which to dispose.  Instead, she’s just happy that her friend has come back to life!  Even though Catherine is miserable at the thought of being one of the living dead, Helene is happy that her friend has returned to her and is willing to do whatever has to be done to keep her alive.  Helene even tries to offer Catherine a dead bird but Catherine shakes her head.  She needs human blood.  Fortunately, there is a village….

It’s a sad and deeply sentimental film.  Ignore the bloodletting.  Pay not attention to the toxic chemicals.  Overlook the zombiefication.  This is a film about friendship and the love that only best friends can share.  Admittedly, Helene can be seen as being a selfish character.  As much as Catherine wishes that she could return to the peace of death, Helene refuses to let her go.  But, at the same time, who hasn’t had a friend who they would do anything for?  If I came back as living dead girl, I might not enjoy having to drink blood but I’d love the friends who kept me supplied.

Rollin’s direction is heartfelt and, as was often the case with his best films, unapologetically mixes sentiment with gore.  Mairna Pierro and Francoise Blanchard give two of the best performances that Rollin ever captured on film.  Admittedly, there is a somewhat distracting subplot about two annoying American tourists but what would you expect from a director as wonderfully French as Jean Rollin?

From beginning to end, The Living Dead Girl is one of Rollin’s best and a personal favorite of mine.

6 Good Horror Films That You May Not Have Seen Yet


Halloween City by Karl Pfieffer

Well, Halloween’s fast approaching and that means that it’s time for people to start thinking about what they’re going to watch on the big night.

Now, of course, you can always watch the old favorites, like Halloween or Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street (or any of their numerous sequels, remakes, and reboots).  In fact, if you’re expecting a lot of trick-or-treaters, I can understand why you might want to go with the old dependables as opposed to trying to focus on something that you haven’t seen before.

However, if you’re looking for a new film to watch on Halloween, here are 6 good horror films that, sadly, don’t seem to be as well-known as they deserve to be.  If any of these movies are new to you, October 31st might be just the day for you to experience them!

1. Strange Behavior (1981)

This is a horror film that I recommend to everyone.  It’s a slightly satirical story about college students being turned into homicidal murderers.  Along with all of the blood and the expected jump scenes, Strange Behavior is also a quirky portrait of life in a small town.  It’s the type of film where a collection of 1940s character actors (including the great Charles Lane) share the screen with 70s character actors like Michael Murphy and they all try to figure out how a seemingly dead scientist is programming the town’s children to be murderers.  The dialogue is frequently witty, the soundtrack is amazing, and there’s even an impromptu dance scene that comes out of nowhere!

2. Messiah of Evil (1973)

This is another film that I frequently recommend to my horror-loving friends.  This is perhaps the most surreal zombie/vampire film ever made.  A woman comes to a town to visit her father and she soon discovers that everyone in the town is acting strangely.  This one features plenty of hippie action, a surprisingly large amount of clips from a Sammy Davis, Jr. film, an albino who eats rats and talks about how much he loves “Wagner” (which he pronounces with a “W” instead of a “V”), and some of the strangest imagery that you’ll eve see in a low-budget horror film.

3. The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972)

Shirley MacClaine is a spoiler socialite who discovers that her younger brother, Perry King, has been possessed by the spirit of a murderer.  Though this film is often dismissed as being just another Exorcist clone, it actually came out before The Exorcist and, in many ways, it’s even more disturbing than the seminal shocker.  The ending will give you nightmares.

4. Martin (1977)

George Romero takes on vampires and the end result is unlike any vampire film that you’ve seen.  Martin thinks he’s a vampire.  His grandfather thinks he’s a vampire.  Is Martin really a vampire?  In the end, the film suggests that it might not really matter.  A disturbing and sad film that has unexpected moments of humor, Martin also features Romero himself in the role of a well-meaning priest.

5. The Grapes of Death (1978)

From the great Jean Rollin, it’s France’s first zombie film!  In this one, people are being turned into zombies by contaminated wine.  How many of your friends would become zombiefied as a result?

6. Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983)

Finally, if you just have to watch a slasher this Halloween, why not check into the Mountaintop Motel?  Evelyn will be more than happy to check you in and check you right back out.

“Happy Halloween!”

International Horror Film Review: Requiem For A Vampire (dir by Jean Rollin)


1971’s Requiem for A Vampire opens with a car chase.

In one car, there’s a male driver and then there’s Michelle (Mirelle Dargent) and her girlfriend Marie (Marie-Pierre Castel).  Who is pursing them?  Who is shooting at them?  Why are both of the girls wearing clown makeup?  These are all good questions and they’re never clearly answered in the film.  We shouldn’t be surprised about that, however.  This is a Jean Rollin film, which means that the imagery is far more important than the storyline.  In the end, the girls are wearing clown makeup because Rollin often worked clown imagery into his films.  And they’re fleeing together because Rollin’s films often celebrated female friendship.  As for why they’re being chased, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear some mention of a murder but it’s never made clear who was murdered or why or even by whom.  It’s not important.  This is a Jean Rollin film.  You either get it or you don’t.

After the car crashes, the girls wash off their clown makeup, change clothes, and set the car on fire.  They also set the driver on fire.  They claim that the driver was killed in the car accident but the actor playing the driver visibly twitches while they pour the gasoline on him.  Was that simply a mistake on the actor’s part or did Michelle and Marie essentially burn a man alive?  Does it really matter?  Michelle and Marie survived, that’s what’s important.

Marie and Michelle walk through the French countryside, stealing food and avoiding detection.  As always, Rollin’s camera loves the the beauty of the countryside.  They explore the forest.  They go down to the cemetery.  Michelle nearly gets buried alive.  It’s a dangerous world out there.

Eventually, they stumble across a gothic castle and, as you might guess from the title and the fact that this is a Jean Rollin film, the castle is full of perverse vampires who take Marie and Michelle prisoner. It’s here that film reaches a level of peak Rollin as we’re confronted with scenes of dungeons, dark hallways, and vampires transforming into bats while (literally) going down on their victims.  The castle is ruled over by a vampire woman who plays an organ and a male vampire who wants to use Marie and Michelle to continue his bloodline, specifically because neither has ever been with a man.  Michelle is totally happy with the idea of living forever but Marie is a bit less enthused and starts looking around for a random male.

What’s interesting is that, for a vampire film, the vampires themselves are largely red herrings.  For that matter, so is the car chase and the cemetery and almost everything else that Michelle and Marie have to deal with over the course of the film.  Instead, the film is really about their relationship and whether or not it will survive all of the challenges that it faces.  Marie and Michelle may both have differing views on whether or not to become a vampire but what’s the most important is that nothing be allowed to come between the bond that they share.  This was a theme to which Rollin would often return.  Dargent and Castel are both perfectly cast as Marie and Michelle, who reminded me of myself and my BFF.  If I ever get into a car chase while wearing clown makeup, I would definitely want my best friend at my side.  She makes stuff like that fun.

Especially during the film’s early scenes.  Requiem for a Vampire plays out almost like a silent film.  The dialogue is kept to a minimum and the emphasis is put on the imagery with Rollin emphasizing the beauty of the countryside and the stately menace of the imposing castle.  The film is a visual poem, a celebration of friendship, and one of Rollin’s best.

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.

International Horror Film Review: The Nude Vampire (dir by Jean Rollin)


In the middle of the night, a woman (Christine François), wearing an orange nightgown walks down a dark, Paris street.

She is followed by three men, all of whom are wearing strange, bird-like masks.

The woman turns a corner and runs into Pierre (Olivier Rollin).  Pierre and the woman stare at each other, without saying a word.  Though it may be their first time to meet each other, both their attraction and their bond is instantaneous.

Both Pierre and the woman run down the street.  The men in the marks follow them.

Finally, in a deserted alley, the men corner the woman and Pierre.  Though Pierre escapes, the woman is shot by one of the men and promptly collapses.

The men pick up the woman’s body and carry her to a nearby, gated building.  A bearded doorman lets them through.  Several other people, all wearing tuxedos and fancy gowns, come to the gate and, after showing the doorman their invitation, are allowed to pass through.  Pierre tries to follow but is told that he cannot enter because he has not been invited.

And so begins Jean Rollin’s 1970 film, The Nude Vampire.  This was Rollin’s second film, following the controversial Le Viol du VampireThe Nude Vampire, while once again featuring all of Rollin’s pet obsessions, is still a far more assured piece of filmmaking than Rollin’s first film.  It’s interesting to watch The Nude Vampire directly after Le Viol du Vampire because you can can truly see Rollin developing as a director.  Once again, Rollin is telling an odd story about a frequently disrobed vampire and once again, all of the action leads to the beach.  However, the plot is far easier to follow in The Nude Vampire than in Le Viol du Vampire.  If the first film often seemed to be too indulgent for its own good, The Nude Vampire is just indulgent enough to work.  Of course, as with any Rollin film, your mileage may vary.  What seems rather coherent and almost tame to a Rollin fan may seem like the exact opposite to someone who has never seen a Rollin film before.

As for Pierre, he is determined to figure out what happened to the woman, even though his own father says that it is sometimes best to just leave well enough alone.  After punching out a partygoer and stealing his invitation, Pierre gets into the building and discovers that, despite having been shot in front of him, the woman in the orange nightgown is not dead.  In fact, she doesn’t even appear to be injured.  Instead, she drinks the blood of a party guest who has just committed suicide.  It turns out that the party is actually a cult and they worship the woman.

As if that’s not shocking enough, Pierre discovers that his own father is in charge of the cult!  His father explains that the woman is actually a vampire but that there might be a cure for her condition.  But, in order to cure her, she must be kept safe from the vampires who are trying to capture her….

And that’s not all!  But I won’t share any more of the plot.  I only have limited space here, after all.  The film plays out like a serial, with twists and turns and a lot of scenes involving people being chased from one location to another.  As I mentioned before, it all leads to the beach because this is a Rollin film and Rollin’s vampiric visions always ended with the beach.

As one should always expect from a Jean Rollin film, The Nude Vampire plays out at its own deliberate, dream-like pace.  As a director, Rollin was such a strong visualist that somehow even his film’s lapses in coherence seemed to make a strange sort of sense.  If every movie is a dream then who are we to complain when they employ dream logic?  As with any Rollin film, The Nude Vampire is not for everyone but fans of Rollin’s unique aesthetic will definitely find much to enjoy.