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Requiem for a Vampire
(Vierges et vampires, 1971)

Jean Rollin

France

95 min, color, French (English subtitles)

Review © 2005 Branislav L. Slantchev

This is the film in which Rollin introduced the two wandering girls that he would later make much use of in Demoniacs and, more recently, in Two Orphan Vampires. This time, however, the girls are "normal" (i.e., they are neither vengeful ghosts nor vampires), even if the film opens with a bizarre car chase with them dressed in full clown regalia. What one should expect from this film is pure Rollin: surreal landscapes, inexplicable behavior, scantily-clad heroines wandering without much purpose and without saying much, and the occasional fully naked woman or goofy vampire, all of it set to strangely upbeat synthesized music.

The bizarre car chase opening sequence Seeking shelter at the cemetery?

And in this film Rollin delivers huge dollops of his trademark fantastic style. The film is essentially a color entry in the silent cinema era: the rare dialogue does very little to enhance the experience (at does occasionally detract from it), and the heroines don't really speak to each other until the 50th minute of the film. The plot is also not on the cerebral side despite the rare flash of brilliance. What the film lacks in budget and sense, it makes up with flair and style. There are shots here that would make a still photographer proud and that linger long after the film itself is over.

Marie, as Michelle gets buried alive Digging out Michelle

Make no mistake, this is an exploitation film that will offend any run-of-the-mill feminist with its ostensibly misogynist attitude, will drive a self-respecting liberal up the wall with its political incorrectness, and will probably cause any Christian fundamentalist to lay hands on the audience to expel the demons. In other words, don't show this film to your mother. Maybe not even your girlfriend. Fit for Sunday school Bible class though. Sample question: What is the symbolism of the bat drinking menstrual blood straight from a chained woman's vagina after said woman has been brutally raped by a grunting ape-like man? I don't know but it probably has something to do with Rollin having unresolved issues with his mother, or something. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the film is not something you want your Women Studies group to see you watch. Especially because almost all the women that get raped here (there's only one instance of consensual sex from about half a dozen copulations) seem to enjoy it: maybe it's the faint screaming that actually sounds like moaning, or maybe it's one of them getting her hand free from the chain only to hold onto her assailant, or maybe it's Rollin hiring porn starts who are so used to faking pleasure that they can't help themselves, I have no clue. You have been warned.

Encountering the bats Pure 100% Goth

OK, so here I am several paragraphs into the review and not a single word about the story. Here goes nothing. Marie (Marie-Pierre Castel) and Michelle (Mireille Dargent) are on the run. They are dressed as clowns and there's a guy driving the pathetic Renault in which they try to make their escape. Unfortunately, the guy gets shot, and the girls set the car on fire, and wander off into the fields. After tricking a man to get some food, they ride their motorcycle until it runs out of gas and they end up in a remote countryside. For some reason, they go into the woods where they see some bats who apparently put the bite on them and cause them to wander, semi-hypnotized, to the ruins of an old castle.

Pure 100% Virgins Exploring the castle

The castle is not exactly abandoned, which should have been obvious to them from all the lit torches and the nice boudoir where they promptly get naked and get all virginal on each other. Right when the action is about to get X-rated, however, they hear noises, which starts them on another grand tour of the premises, which eventually ends with them discovering a gruesomely decomposing prop that is intended to look like a corpse. They get a bit upset, shoot at it for a while, and finally get trapped by a bunch of sex maniacs dressed as Neanderthals who turn out to be the underlings of two women who aspire to be vampires.

A beautiful, if unnecessary, scene The granddaddy of the goofy vampires

One of them, Erica (Dominique Toussaint) already sports a set of hilarious fangs that threaten to fall out any second. This would have been funny except she actually attempts to bite the girls who narrowly escape and take to the fields yet again. Unfortunately, every path they take leads them straight back to the castle, and night eventually finds them at a cemetery where they are captured, and a decidedly odd-looking Vampire (Philippe Gaste) fails to bite them. He does sick two bats on them for good measure, and the girls are led into the dungeon where there unfolds a scene that would cause indigestion to any censor worth his/her salt.

See the bats? So the girls are hypnotized The dungeon of perversion (red lights and all)

Briefly, the little vampire coven (well, the men really) runs something close to a women's prison. There are several naked women chained to columns or walls, and the ape-like men proceed to grope them and violently rape them. There is no doubt what we're supposed to be concentrating on here: the sequence lasts quite a while, the camera stays either on their breasts being mangled or the mid-torso, never on the faces. The full frontal nudity may have been an attempt to get the attention of an audience somewhat jaded by the hardcore stuff that had started coming out when the film was made, but let me tell you: nothing in this scene can be remotely construed as erotic.

Marie waiting to ensnare a male victim Michelle gets a taste for blood

But perhaps that was not Rollin's intention? I am saying this because we're then told that the girls are virgins and the Vampire wants them to stay that way in order to perpetuate his species. Yeah, that part of vampiric lore was unknown to anyone until Rollin discovered it, but it's interesting. So the master Vampire is actually quite unhappy with his followers torturing women and killing people. And since they are apparently not virgins, they are never going to make it as vampires who apparently are properly disgusted by all the violence that their existence depends upon. At any rate, before the initiation rite, the two girls have to lure to the castle one male victim each. This, of course, gives them a clue what to do if they don't relish the prospect of becoming vampire brides.

Gratuitous shot of Marie-Pierre Castel I have a crucifix and I am not afraid to use it

And here's where Rollin makes things interesting. Whereas Michelle decides to go undead, Marie resolves to preserve her humanity. Michelle quickly attracts a random bicyclist (Paul Bisciglia) by sensually stripping among the ruins, then playing tag, then letting him have a taste of her nubile flesh before decking him. Erica then sucks some of his blood and lets Michelle get a taste of the liquid, which she promptly does. Marie, on the other hand, meets a young man, Frederick and loses her virginity, obviously hoping to thwart the Vampire's evil designs. Her stratagem works perfectly and the Vampire rejects her during the initiation ceremony. Unfortunately, the gang sets out to find her deflowerer, promising to kill both girls unless Marie divulges his whereabouts.

Gratuitous shot of Mireille Dargent One virgin and one whipped ex-virgin

At this point, Marie and Michelle's friendship gets sorely tested. Michelle, who not only has started on her path to eternal sucking (of blood) but is also afraid to die, attempts to get the information from Marie by stripping her, chaining her, and then whipping her viciously even as she begs in tears Marie to tell her where the guy is. Marie could have worked for the French resistance for she betrays nothing. In the end, Michelle breaks down and is unable to continue. Erica enters the cell and attempts to re-invigorate the torture session by carving Marie's eye with a knife whereupon Michelle intervenes and saves her friend. On the run again, the two find Frederick who helps them shoot all the ape-like men before cursing Marie for getting him into this mess and leaving. The Last Vampire pops up, declares an end to his own race, and disappears back into the mausoleum with Erica after leaving change-of-address instructions to the other underling Louise (Louise Dhour).

I wasn't groping her... honest Erica in an Amnesty International expose

All of this is told in loving detail with hardly any dialogue. The Spartan, dimly-lit settings work quite well for setting the Gothic atmosphere, complete with the random skeletons, severed hands, candles, and capes. The acting is what one would expect from an outing that probably took less than a week to make. Castel, however, is remarkably good, her doll-like face being perfect for these close-ups that rely on her huge eyes. The low budget haste of shooting can also be funny: check out the supposedly dead car driver twitching when they dose him with gasoline, or the raped woman losing her grip on the chain that supposedly binds her, or Michelle cracking the whip at least a foot away from the swinging Marie when she's supposedly hitting her hard enough to break the skin. It was also impossible to feel the brutality of the dungeon scene because of the women clearly not looking either afraid or victimized, something that definitely cannot be said about the truly disturbing scene in the scandalous French Irreversible. But perhaps that was the goal? After all, why spoil the campy fun and the gothically romantic feeling of the film with such unpleasant things?

The DVD from Redemption (distributed by Image in the USA) is horrid. The picture is presented in non-anamorphic 1.66:1 ratio, which is correct but that's the only good thing about it. The sources must have been scratched, the colors are washed out and flat. This is a far cry from the other Rollin DVDs they've put out, so I am tempted to blame the source material. Still, they could have cleaned it up a bit, I think. The film deserves it. You can watch the film dubbed in English but I don't see why anyone would want to. Even for those who hate reading subtitles, it shouldn't be too taxing to skim the five sentences of dialogue. The soundtrack is fine, although the spoken parts could have been more audible. The DVD has a trailer which essentially recaps the film, and it is presented in its original French, and in an English translation. Plenty of nice behind-the-scenes photos round up the package. I hear there's a new 3-disc special edition of this film out there. It is worth checking it out.

November 30, 2005