“They come to the cinema to see naked girls, but they hate me,” Jean Rollin once drolly remarked. The director of over forty films, this most personal and sincere of movie makers was dismissed for much of his career as a purveyor of incoherent erotica and gore. When his first film, Le Viol du Vampire (Rape of the Vampire) was shown in Paris in May, 1968, audiences reacted to its blend of violence, nudity and improvised scenes (Rollin lost his script after three days of shooting) by tearing out their seats. Undeterred, Rollin continued to explore his chosen themes – vampire girls with bedroom eyes, twin waifs, remote chateaux and wave-lashed beaches – throughout the Seventies in a series of eccentric low-budget features such as Requiem for a Vampire (1971), Levres de Sang (Lips of Blood, 1975) and Fascination (1979).
Showing scant regard for plot development and characters arcs, Rollin’s movies of this period are surreal collages, assembling and re-assembling crucial childhood memories of seaside holidays and viewings of ‘The Mysterious Dr. Satan’ and ‘Jungle Girl.’ Whatever their individual strengths or weaknesses, they open a door onto a dream world full of doomed love and snatched kisses. By the early 80’s, the market for their brand of tender eroticism had dwindled under the onslaught of hard-core pornography, forcing Rollin to turn to directing blue movies himself, before abandoning cinema altogether in favour of penning a series of horror novels.
A resurgence of interest in his oeuvre in the 90’s drew the old master back behind the lens to make Les Deux Orphelines Vampires (Two Vampire Orphans, 1995) and La Fiancée de Dracula (2001), two films which effortlessly resurrected old motifs. Whether you think his films are cinematic odes to beauty or the meanderings of an obsessive mind, Jean Rollin is a unique figure in the history of the moving image.
Prize Porker: Fascination (1979) – From the opening shots of the leading ladies dancing to a scratchy gramophone, there is a special allure to this game of cat and mouse between two serving wenches and an armed intruder in a beautiful moated chateau.
Runt of the Litter: Zombie Lake (1981) Scantily clad swimmers flee as the decayed bodies of WWII paratroopers rise from the deeps – you can tell it was all shot in one weekend.