Jean Rollin On Blu-ray: THE NUDE VAMPIRE Review
Jean Rollin was definitely one of a kind. He was at the front of a wave of filmmakers who took horror genre conventions and used them as a point of departure into other, sometimes far deeper, realms of thought and expression. Collectively, the films made by French and Spanish filmmakers in this realm are generally referred to as le cinema fantastique, where the films are not so much horrific, but fantastical and ethereal in nature. Rollin's second feature, La vampire Nue (The Nude Vampire) was a warning shot to anyone who thought that a vampire film meant only one thing. It set the bar for Rollin's future features and introduced many continuing themes and tropes unique to his films. Kino's first Rollin Blu-ray is a wonderful disc that looks and sounds great and includes several quite interesting extra features. Trust me, you're going to want all of these.
A surreal blend of horror, espionage, and erotica, THE NUDE VAMPIRE follows the son of a wealthy businessman as he is lured into a secret cult that is conducting experiments on a mute vampire woman being held in captivity. With this visually vibrant and eerily seductive film, French filmmaker Jean Rollin sealed his reputation as a master of Euro horror/fantasy.Right from the very beginning it is obvious that this is no ordinary vampire film, and certainly nothing that could've been anticipated by horror fans. The film is dark and mysterious and makes great efforts to put forth an atmosphere of dread and unease at every turn. The air is mysterious, the characters shrouded in shadow, sometimes hidden behind masks, and never quite who they seem. The Nude Vampire is, as a said above, not a scary film, but is it a fantastic film, in the literal sense of the word, and it is a must see for anyone who thinks they've seen it all.
Recounting the plot is something I try to avoid in reviews in general, and this is no exception. Jean Rollin's films are not ever about what happens on screen, but about how it happens. The central character is a wealthy young man, Pierre, who runs into a woman streaking through the night wearing nothing but a translucent cape. She's being chased by a group of figures wearing animal masks who are attempting to corner and retrieve her. They eventually succeed and so begins Pierre's investigation into what went on that night.
Pierre's investigation leads him through all sorts of different levels of late '60s occult mania. There are cults, mysterious scientific laboratories, more hooded figures, plenty of naked ladies, and the ever present Rollin vampire twins. In this case they aren't literal vampires, but the female twin figures are something that he introduced in this film and they followed him throughout his career.
Unlike his contemporaries in Italy and the UK, who were making vampire films meant to horrify and disgust, Rollin had other ambitions. His films were meant to engage his audience on a cerebral level, and to titillate without becoming crass. The sexual freedom displayed in Rollin's films was still something somewhat new, and is far closer to the Radley Metzger of that period than it is to the Russ Meyer films in the early '70s. This was a formula that Rollin honed to a fine point in his vampire films over the next decade or so before succumbing to the financial pressure to make porn films and branch out into other types of macabre offerings. However, his best films were always the ones about vampires.
The Nude Vampire is not my favorite Rollin film. It is a bit indulgent, even for him, and a bit too morose to be as entertaining as a film of this type should be. Bear in mind, though, that this was only his second feature after Rape of the Vampire. Where this film does bear visiting is its introduction of many standard features of the Rollin film, many of which I mentioned above. His later films all take pieces from this film and elaborate upon them, making his work all very interconnected in a very interesting way.
I really like The Nude Vampire. It isn't as obtuse as some might have you think. Just because there isn't a whole lot of action, doesn't mean that nothing is happening. The interesting inclusion of several plot devices not standard to vampire films, scientific experiments and transdimensional portals, etc..., make this well worth checking out.
Kino's first Rollin disc looks great! The films have all been remastered in HD in the last year and cleaned up to a large extent. As is common practice from Kino, no unnecessary digital manipulation has been done on this image. There are the odd bits of damage here and there, but over all it looks excellent with a natural looking image and vibrant colors. There are two audio tracks, both the original French version with English subtitles, which I watched and found quite adequate but about as hollow sounding as most audio tracks from that era, and an English dub, which is not too terrible. Both sound lovely, and I wouldn't even hesitate to check out the English dub, it does add something to some of these older features.
In terms of extras, all of the material for Kino's disc is new as far as I can tell, and very interesting. There are two segments with Rollin, himself, one introducing the film and a separate interview segment that is considerably longer. These are both interesting in terms of Rollin's recollections of the film, and it is great to have him on film talking about these works, since he is gone and we won't get this opportunity again. I do with he'd been subtitled, even though he is speaking English, his accent is a bit thick and occasionally tough to decipher. There is also an interview with a longtime collaborator Natalie Perrey, who talks about her own career as a 1st AD and star in some of Rollin's work. Great work on both sets of interviews.
The final and most substantial extra is also shared by each of the new discs, and that is a 20 page booklet with as essay from Video Watchdog editor and horror expert Tim Lucas. This is a wealth of information about Rollin features and history that is worth the price of the disc along. Unfortunately, each of the discs uses the same booklet, so if you read it once, you may be disappointed to find it again in each of the sets, but it is so good, I'll probably read it all five times I open a disc to review it. Another resource I highly recommend is Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs' excellent research book Immoral Tales, which delves even deeper into Rollin's work among other giants of this brand of cinema.
This is one of the releases that Rollin fans have been waiting for for a long time, and I dare say the wait was worth it. In a couple of days I'll get back to my reviews with The Shiver of the Vampires, which is a much more fun and less serious film. I'm looking forward to it and I hope you read it as well!