Released in France in May of 1968, THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (Le viol du vampire) was the first full-length feature by prolific young director Jean Rollin. Rollin, a life-long cinema lover who had already dipped his feet with short films and documentaries, went for the ever-popular vampire theme, something he would revisit numerous times throughout the first half of the 1970s. Redemption, through Kino/Lorber revisits Rollin’s macabre maiden voyage for this new Blu-Ray disc (which is also being made available simultaneously on DVD), which includes a bevy extras.
In an old chateau, four sisters are convinced that they’re vampires, fearing crucifixes and the sunlight, despite them not having any noticeable effect on them. One of the girls is blind, and believes she was raped by her sword-dueling ancestors, turning her into an ageless, blood-drinking creature. A young psychoanalyst named Thomas (Bearard Letrou) tries to convince them that vampirism is unreal and that they are being brainwashed by the superstitious, torch-bearing villagers (extras which include the director, producer and editor). Further manipulation is caused by an older villager who gives the ladies orders to kill pesky visitors, faking that the boisterous commands are coming from a hideous idol from which he hides behind (ala “The Wizard of Oz”). The statue is a Christian symbol converted into something resembling a mutant in one of those Larry Buchanan AIP- TV movies. In Thomas' attempts to prove that vampires don’t exist, he allows one of the so-called accursed women to bit him on the neck, and he does become afflicted, a victim of his own disbelief.
In the longer, second part of the film, the Queen of the Vampires (Jacqueline Sieger) arrives by boat to a beach shore where the old villager from the first part of the act, is pinned downed to a slab by her hooded followers, and is sacrificed (she then seals the deal by licking the blood-soaked sacrificial dagger in one the film’s most familiar snapshots). The blood from the body of the old villager revives the naked Thomas and his lovely, equally stripped-down female assailant, and they set out to rebel against the Vampire Queen after she fails to dismember their bodies to prevent their return to life. In the meantime, the vampires have taken over a medical clinic where a young human doctor (Jean-Loup Philippe) is secretly searching for a cure for the undead. The Vampire Queen plots to have the doctor married to his female assistant (who also happens to be accursed) in a ceremony on stage, involving them nailed shut in a wooden coffin. A sneak attack involving firearms quickly ensues.
Shot in black and white, Rollin initially made the first part of the film as a short, but a second longer part (the title translates to ”The Vampire Women”) was then shot and added for producer Sam Selsky, an American living in France, who seemed keen on having a skin flick at his disposal, regardless of the subject matter. Because of the two-part format of the resulting feature, characters which where killed off come back to life and reintroduced mainly for this reason. Rollin was supposedly influenced by old American movie serials, various paintings and comic books while making surreal melodrama; a crazy, somewhat disjointed and somewhat confusing exercise in dark romanticism which started his long association with the genre as a cult icon and independent filmmaker.
While the narrative structure on the whole is unconventional and the excess of main characters results in it being convoluted, THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE showcases the arty, atmospheric visual style which Rollin would become known for, yet this effort isn’t nearly as gothic as some of his subsequent vampire excursions. This might be due to the fact that it’s not in color, or because it’s not focused on centering around a scenic castle for most of the duration, like future efforts would be. But the film’s settings, including the crumbling chateau, the rocky beaches, and the eerie cemetery (a fixture of Rollin’s horrors) showcase a trademark look associated with the director’s guerilla film-making style and ingenuity despite the benefit of a studio. Along with the quirky characters, mostly which make up a cast of good vampires against bad vampires, Rollin creates a parallel universe that’s not time or place specific, yet hindered visually by everyday commuters driving along in the far background; the territory which comes with this amateurish spectacle. Science fiction elements are tossed in the mix here, including the experiments to conquer vampirism as well as the image of static nude girls being fed blood through tubes from giant glass jars.
Using mostly non-actors and friends on screen, a number of beautiful women are on display either naked or in scant nightgowns which they can barely keep on, with the casting of Sieger as the Vampire Queen being an odd but interesting choice. With her short afro and hard face, she’s anything but a classic beauty but has a bitchy, intimidating quality about her, with her lesbian character modeling a number of fetishistic outfits which often reveal her modest bosom. Rollin counterbalances some minor violence (a woman having her eyes gouged out, another being tied up and whipped with what appears to be pom poms) with such satirical imagery as a traditionally garbed priest bearing fangs and marching with an upside-down crucifix during a funeral mass, and a large, cartoonish plush bat concealing some rebellious types who soon come out from behind to draw their guns(?) at the Vampire Queen and her blood-sucking brethren. As incoherent as it may be, THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE is equally bizarre as it is imaginative, and it definitely set the tone for Rollin’s numerous erotic-charged melodramas to follow.
Mastered in HD from the original, uncensored 35mm negative, THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE is presented in a new 1080p resolution transfer. Framed In a 1.66:1 widescreen anamorphic aspect ratio, the stark photography of the black & white picture looks quite fetching here, sharply detailed throughout with good contrasts and deep black levels. The original source print only displays some minor specking and dirt. The PCM 2.0 mono track presents the original French language, and although there’s some hiss and pops evident due to the age of the source material, it sounds perfectly fine with the loud, jazzy experimental score being prominent throughout the presentation. Optional English subtitles are large sized and easy to decipher.
THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE contains more extras than any of the other previous releases in this Redemption/Kino series of Rollin titles. First off is the documentary, “Fragments of Pavements Under the Sand” (23:46), which features new interviews with film critic Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, editor Jean-Denis Bonan and (briefly) actor Jean-Loup Philippe. Rollin can also be seen here in older interview footage, discussing his first meeting with Sam Selsky and the limitations and problems he had making this first feature. Bouyxou states that he hated the film when he first screened it (he has since grown fond of it) and recalls the events of public demonstrators in France who inadvertently caused the film to be a box office hit in May of 1968. Bonan recalls that working with Rollin was a fantastic experience, and that he was give full creative freedom as film editor on this project. Actor Philippe is given much more say in his own featurette (9:17), recalling his involvement with Rollin in an unfinished early film, and that fact that Rollin’s distrust of actors caused him to hire non-actors (Philippe describes Rollin as a “prisoner of his own obsessions”).
In brief footage shot in 1998, a sofa-lounging Rollin (2:45) introduces the film, reflecting on its amateurish, sometimes-improvisational nature, as well as addressing its initial reception by the public. A more recent interview with Rollin is from 2007 (4:26) and was recorded at a convention before an audience, as he further explains his fixation on vampires. An alternate scene, taking place in an operating room, lasts just over two minutes, and also included are two short early films by Rollin: “The Yellow Loves” (10:37) from 1958 and “The Far Country” (16:24) from 1965. High Definition trailers for this film and other titles in the Redemption/Kino/Lorber series of Rollin horrors round out the supplements. Tim Lucas provides liner notes in the form of a 16-page booklet insert entitled, “The Cinema of Jean Rollin”. (George R. Reis)
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