Requiem for a Vampire does, at times, threaten to stray into the realm of pornography, a genre that Rollin would pursue during leaner periods in his career under a variety of pseudonyms. His more personal and idiosyncratic films, despite their quality, never really set the box office on fire. La Rose de fer (1973) marked a departure from his previous vampire films, a surreal tale of two people lost and scared, overlooked by a cold landscape and the chill of stone. Les Demoniacs (1974) is an exceptional comic book film replete with beaches, twins and cruel sexuality. Levres de sang (Lips of Blood, 1974) is an elegiac fable about memory and loss where, as in Le Vampire nue, the beach represents happiness and sanctuary as opposed to Les Demoniacs where it is the scene for forced shipwrecks and rape. Rollin’s refusal to tone down his personal films to appeal to a wider market or stray into hardcore meant that subsequent vampire output would be sporadic. Rollin moved into zombie territory with the enjoyable Les Raisins de la mort (The Grapes of Death, 1978) but returned to vampires in Fascination (1979). Eva and Elisabeth enjoy a glass of fresh blood at the local abattoir while they plan a big party at their spacious chateau but find themselves held hostage by Mark, a red coated gun-toting scallywag blaggard. A series of cat and mouse games follow, where the captives become captors. Guns blaze, dapper criminals make off with stolen gold and Rollin non-identical twins sup blood and frolic. A fairy tale for adults dripping with decadence, Fascination unravels, like a puzzle, towards its ceremonious conclusion. Rollin places the film in a half-glimpsed Edwardian setting where the two girls waltz to a wind up gramophone. Seeing Eva, cloaked in black, cutting through the gang with a scythe is a difficult image to forget, but even more so as she returns to the fold of her home, mist on the lake, instrument of death in her hands. Less intense than his previous films Fascination looks forward to a more commercial style but one that does not compromise the integrity of Rollin’s vision.
Following the sporadically shocking La Nuit des traquees (Night of the Hunted, 1980) and the shot-in-a-weekend Nazi zombie flick Zombie Lake (1981) Rollin produced his masterpiece, La Morte vivante (The Living Dead Girl 1982). Catherine Valmont is raised from the dead after toxic waste is dumped near her tomb. Helene, Catherine’s blood-sister from childhood, rushes to the chateau when she realises that her friend is alive. There she finds the bodies of Catherine’s victims, their throats ripped out to feed her hunger but she vows to look after dear, no longer departed, friend. Combining the lyrical poetry of his other works with a strong script and exceptional acting La Morte vivante provides the perfect balance of eroticism, blood-letting and art. What sets it apart from Rollin’s earlier work is the almost commercial coherence to proceedings – you sympathise with both characters for their situation which is both tragic and horrific. Rollin’s effortless mixing of past and present is never confusing and always relevant – his camera slow and restrained. Truly an emotional, sad, beautiful work of rare maturity. It would be thirteen years before he would make another vampire film.
Les Deux orphelines vampires (Two Orphan Vampires, 1995), a wry twist on the popular 19th century book Les Deux orphelines, which Rollin adapted from his own petite novel, came at a time when there was a resurgence of interest in his work. As the title suggests, Rollin’s fascination with non-identical twins had not diminished – the two vampire orphans tip-tap their way through the cobbled streets, white sticks in hand. Only able to see at night the film has the qualities of a contemporary fairy tale through its juxtaposition of the mundane of everyday life with the fabulously designed costumes of the two vampires. There is, however, a sense of emotional detachment that renders the film slightly cold but perfectly decorative.
La Fiancee de Dracula (2002) is a near timeless piece of filmmaking, a paean to an older generation of free association and tight composition. Perhaps his most ritualistic of films, it is the perfect distillation of Rollin’s exacting school of direction. His characters, some from a parallel dimension, have lost none of their sense of the bizarre or the surreal – of particular note are the nuns who puff on oversized cigars or Sherlock Holmes-style pipes. The final extended scene of sacrifice – the near naked bride tied to a groyne on a beach as the tide laps around her body – is both beautiful and cruel.
Jean Rollin’s idiosyncratic cinema of erotic vampire twins, beaches, sado-masochism and poetic longing mark him as a true auteur of vampire cinema. He declared La Nuit des horloges (2007) to be his last film, a summation of the themes and images that have typified his remarkable oeuvre. However, he couldn’t quite quit and Le masque de la Meduse was released in France in 2010.
Jean Rollin passed away on December the 15th 2010.