Wednesday, April 8, 2009

REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (1971) d. Jean Rollin

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Sex and vampires are story threads that for many years have been delicately and exotically twined together to create an enthralling combination. The sight of long, curved fangs impaling a person’s neck is so very like the sensual act of kissing the hollow of a lover’s throat that it is easy to see how the two fit so seamlessly together. Take that basic story concept of sexuality and vampirism and add a great deal of lavish, lush and lovely imagery to the sensuous elements of the tale, and the resultant rush of sumptuous stimuli can be nearly overwhelming. That is usually the effect of watching any Jean Rollin film. The French director who brought the world films like THE NUDE VAMPIRE, LIPS OF BLOOD and SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES and crammed each and every one of his erotic horror films with loads of distinctive scenery did an equally impressive job of delighting the senses and challenging the subconscious in REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE, a motion picture that revels in visual hedonism and atmospheric orgiastic excess. What makes all of the Jean Rollin films special is that they are stylish, attractive, charmingly indulgent and splendidly decadent in all of the best ways.

REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE is the story of two young women, Marie and Michelle, who are on the run from the diabolical pursuers and during a car chase their male driver is killed in an exchange of gunfire. Dressed as harlequins, the two young lovelies evade their tormentors and take cover in a cemetery, but their superstitious fear in the presence of bats haunting the graveyard forces them to flee. After finding what appears to be a deserted and ruined castle, the girls think they can quietly sate their attraction for each other within the cozy walls of the strangely opulent and gaudily adorned manor, but they are stalked and then captured by a devilish vampiress named Erica and her henchmen. Eventually, the girls are brought before Erica’s master, an ancient vampire of fabulous power. The girls are forced to bear witness to soul-smashing debauchery and after fruitless attempts to escape the chateau by paths that only circle back to its gate, the girls are compelled to do the vampires’ bidding. While one accepts her fate and embraces the bloodthirsty life of the undead, her companion rebels and tries desperately to resist, even enduring torture meant to break her spirit. Finally, it is self-sacrifice and love that brings this tragic tale of lust and desire to its end.

Like so many other Jean Rollin films, REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE is more about what you can see and feel rather than what you are meant to understand and intellectually experience. The story is not terribly complex or intricately crafted, but there is a story and the pace moves patiently and inexorably in the direction of dealing with the resolution of the simple conflict. What is far more satisfying than the premise or construction of the narrative is the subtle but steady shifts in its tone. REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE starts out with a playfully mischievous and even violently unapologetic mood that gently changes into a feel of atmospheric spookiness and subtly “scary” splendor. The remaining balance of REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE is surrealistically erotic and unabashed in its sexual frankness, but done with panache and artistic verve. One of the hallmarks of REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE is its very sparse dialogue but in its place is a liberally used, diverse and quirky but often mod and emotive musical score. Much of the sensation of each and every scene is driven by the music, occasional lack thereof and the obvious lack of verbal character interaction, which connotes the feel that it is not words that matter but deeds and the actions of these characters are those that have their origins in passion.

The great strength of REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE is its visual impact and stunning photography. The exterior scenes were shot amidst the verdant glory of the French countryside, blending timeless pastoral beauty with vibrantly desirable modern young women who ooze a sense of salacious sexuality that helps to create one of the many stark contrasts that fuel the symbolic intensity of Mr. Rollin’s movie. The camera work is often spectacular, utilizing provocative low, high or canted angles, focusing on compelling eyes and facial expressions in dramatic close-ups, engaging the viewer with panoramic images with characters carefully placed in geometric patterns blending with the natural lines of the outdoors. The interior segments are no less stunning in their use of crumbling castle fortifications, ancient stonework throughout the rooms, halls, and passageways, archaic and yet phenomenally intricate cemetery architecture with iron grillwork and bars as well as dark dungeons filled with rusty or gleaming chains that are juxtaposed against soft and satiny skin. No matter what the scenes, indoor or outdoor, color dominates the composition of this motion picture. There is the striking contrast of brilliantly lit day scenes replete with heartbreaking blues, greens and yellows set against the darkness of deep night and the eerie and moody use of accent lights that establish splashes of baleful green and violet, but often there are entire sequences shot monochromatically and the entirety is drenched in reds or blues. Add to this already rich palette the dappling of sharp hues found in the daily garb or the garish costumes of the characters, and there is little chance for the eye to become bored. Instead, the viewer’s gaze is manipulated in such a way that we are constantly trying to focus on what is happening yet alternately making every effort not to miss the magnificent visual repast set before us.

One of the most dominant characteristics of any Jean Rollin film and REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE is no exception is the copious quantities of nude women and incredibly unselfconscious sexual imagery of this flick. Whether it is nudity for nudity sake, consensual sex, compelled sex, bondage and other sado-masochistic behaviors as well as acts that are playful or punishing, loathsome or libidinous, sexual content is stitched into REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE so as to be as much a part of the tapestry as the “story” or the general photography. There is a plethora of attractive young women of every body type and even when they are not unclothed, their choice of costume is meant to draw attention to their fresh, youthful figures and the celebration of their heady interest in being a part of their regular and rapacious ravishment. The only distracting visual component of REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE is the male master of the vampires whose countenance does not convey a sense of aged power and profundity. Rather, he looks like a haggard and withered accountant whose days at his adding machine have been so arduous that his energy has been spent, never to be renewed. After watching REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE, I see why he might have been chosen for the very purpose of symbolizing decay and decline, but I like my vampires to have a commanding presence and a charisma that communicates menace and threat. The Master of the Undead in REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE looked like the only thing he could convey would be tax advice on property laws or entrepreneurial code.

REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE has a small but still rewarding bonus features menu. There are both the English and French language trailers. There is a small stills gallery which appears to be nothing more than screen captures put together in a superimposed and stylized composition meant to heighten the “artsy” feel of this dvd. There are three short “extra scenes” which really should be titled alternate scenes, for they are non-nude takes of erotically charged film sequences. There are two Redemption promos as well. The real gem of the supplement section is the 10 minute interview with Louise Dhour, who plays “Louise” in REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE, the piano playing succubus and follower of the Master Vampire and his assistant Erica. Subtitled in English, just as the feature film is, this interview is a very interesting set of reminiscences and responses that Ms. Dhour gives to her questioner that help to lay bare the heart of Jean Rollin, his craft and the sexy art flick that is REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE.

Beyond being delightfully naughty and deeply erotic in nearly every fiber of its cinematic being, REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE is more than just a licentious and skintastic vampire movie. It is also a look back at a time when sex and genre film-making were fast approaching the zenith of their excess and success. It is also a fabulous exploration of a culture that has long had a much more comfortable and mature attitude and approach to sex in the cinema and for a long time French films were right up there with their Italian neighbors for being the apex of creative and yet completely corrupt pursuit of decadent artistry. REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE has so many qualities about it that should satisfy the lover of stylish and sensual European fare of the 1960s and 1970s. It may not be terribly deep or thoughtfully convoluted, but it doesn’t have to be or want to be. It is like an orchid, dazzling in its subtle and yet striking colors and exhilarating in its intoxicating aroma, unnecessary and yet undeniably pleasurable.

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