Kinoeye: New perspectives on European film

Vol 2
 Issue 7 
15 April

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Jean Rollin's Le Frisson des vampires (The Shiver of the Vampires, 1970) HORROR
Exoticism and eroticism in French horror cinema
A brief introduction
to the world of Jean Rollin

As David Kalat reveals, despite Rollin's idiosyncratic vision and highly personal erotic-horror sensibilities, his cinematic influences range from Abel Gance and Georges Franju to Louis Feuillade and Ado Kyrou.[1]

Jess Franco's singular obsessions with erotic horror were exceeded by native Frenchman Jean Rollin's career-long fixation on deeply sexual, hideously gory vampire films, suffused with delicate, dreamy poetry. Equally as marginalised as Franco, Rollin also claims a niche audience of committed fans. His pictures are an odd, uncommercial blend of pornography and Gothic horror, entrancing and addictive to the select few.

The low-budget independent film industry in 1970s France was a sex industry. The liberalisation of censorship gradually opened up to hard-core porn, which soon dominated the slates of exploitation producers. Rollin, personally obsessed with his own visions of erotic vampires, cleaved an idiosyncratic path. He did his share of straight sex pictures (as did Franco), and often cast porn stars in his horror epics (since they were used to performing in the nude, whatever their thespian abilities), but he spent most of his producers' money on deeply personal films with little regard for their commercial prospects.

From 1968's Le Viol du vampire (Rape of the Vampire) onwards to the present day, Rollin has exercised what Tim Lucas calls "one of the purest imaginations ever consecrated to the horror genre."[2] Rollin improvised one picture in its entirety—Requiem pour un vampire (Requiem for a Vampire, 1972)—which was the only one of his films to get a US theatrical release, thanks to sexploitation master Harry Novak who distributed it as Caged Virgins. And Rollin's Les Raisins de la Mort (Raisins of Death, 1978) was the first notable "gore" film made in France.

Jean Rollin's Fascination (1979)
Fascination : The most accomplished work
ever made with porn actors

But of his oeuvre, Fascination (1979) arguably ranks as Rollin's finest work. An excellent-and of course heavily sexual-psychological thriller, Fascination presents a group of rich socialites who indulge in the drinking of bull blood as a cure for anemia—only to develop an insatiable taboo thirst for the human stuff. They sate this thirst in elaborate ritual gatherings to which they "invite" male victims. Thoughtful, sensual and lushly photographed, Fascination is a unique production, and undoubtedly the most accomplished work ever made with a porn-star cast.

Inspired to be a director by a childhood screening of Abel Gance's Capitaine Fracasse (1942), Rollin also cites Georges Franju's Judex (1963) as a major influence; and by extension, a line of influence can be traced all the way back to Louis Feuillade himself. Rollin also took a great deal from his mentor, the surrealist Ado Kyrou. Admits Rollin, however, "You know, there isn't really a French tradition of fantastic cinema. I don't think it can be said that I am a representative of French fantastic culture per se."[3]

David Kalat

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Also of interest
About the author

David Kalat is a film historian and promoter of unusual motion pictures. As head of All Day Entertainment, an independent DVD label dedicated to movies that fell through the cracks, he has been involved in several motion picture restoration efforts over the last few years. His other writings include A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series (McFarland & Co) and Homicide: Life on the Street-The Unofficial Companion (Renaissance Books), as well as various articles on obscure films and TV that have appeared in Filmfax, G-Fan, Midnight Marquee, Scarlet Street, Video Watchdog, Castle of Frankenstein and other publications.

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1. Excerpt from "Angoisse; or, in search of the French horror film," by David Kalat. Forthcoming in Fear Without Frontiers: Horror Cinema Across the Globe, ed Steven Jay Schneider (Guildford: FAB Press, forthcoming 2002). Prepublished here by permission of the author. Visit the Fear Without Frontiers website for more details.return to text

2. Tim Lucas, "Versions and Vampires," Video Watchdog, 31, 1996: 28-35.return to text

3. Jean Rollin interviewed by Peter Blumenstock Video Watchdog, 31, 1996: 36-57. For more on Rollin, visit the Mondo Erotico website, created and maintained by Marc Morris, one of the director's principal promoters.return to text

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