Monday, May 13, 2013

The Rape of the Vampire (1968) Review

Jean Rollin's The Rape of the Vampire Le Viol du Vampire poster
Director: Jean Rollin
Stars: Solange Pradel, Jacqueline Sieger
Genre: Horror

The directorial debut from Jean Rollin, the master of shirtless vampires, The Rape of the Vampire (Le Viol du Vampire) is a low-budget yet highly inventive and unique film that is beloved by Rollin fans but unfortunately overlooked by just about everyone else.

The plot can be a bit hard to follow for some, so much so that the film sometimes earns the descriptor of 'Surrealism" and Jean Rollin himself said that when the film was first released many audience members threw things at the screen in anger due to the fact that they didn't know what the film was about. It's truthfully not that hard to follow though, so long as you pay attention. The film is in two parts, since it was originally planned as a short film (part one) but was later expanded (part two) in order to qualify as a feature. The basic premise is this: three people go a chateau to cure four sisters of vampirism, which they believe is only a psychological disorder. Things go awry though when they realize that they are indeed vampires.

One reason why the plot is a bit confusing and seemingly nonsensical at times is because Jean Rollin lost the script very early in filming the second part. Which is why the first part (which was originally made as a standalone short film) is much more coherent than the second. So not only did the second part have the burden of expanding an already concluded story but it also was largely improvised due to the loss of the script.

It's not the story that will remain with you long after you watch a Jean Rollin film though, it's the odd atmosphere and beautiful imagery (and perhaps some vampire breasts as well) that you will remember.

The Rape of the Vampire door

This was the only film Rollin ever shot in black & white, and seeing it makes me wish he made more in b&w. Of course it was shot in b&w due to budget limitations (similar to why Night of the Living Dead, another low-budget horror classic released the same year, did the same) but I felt that the lack of color really complimented the atmosphere and imagery. Anyone who has watched a Rollin film (aside from those who foolishly wave it off as "trash") will know that Rollin was a master at creating a haunting atmosphere that can spark numerous emotions in the viewer from confusion to terror to somberness to arousal. Companioned by simply stunning imagery and cinematography. If Night of the Living Dead's camerawork achieved the feeling of claustrophobia then The Rape of the Vampire's achieved the feeling of the haunted and fantastical.

The Rape of the Vampire Brigitte running in a field
The Rape of the Vampire Brigitte

The atmosphere and imagery work together and compliment each other and imagery, at the end of the day, is a small part of the vast atmosphere. Another part would be the musical score. Many of Rollin's films are noted for their great soundtracks and his first film is no exception. Much of the music has a very jazzy sound, but perhaps more accurately a twisted jazz sound. Comparable to many No Wave Jazz bands that would later form in the 70s and 80s, such as The Lounge Lizards (who are very much worth a listen I may add). In conclusion it's a fantastically haunting soundtrack that builds on the atmosphere and is an impressive piece of work in its own right. 

Jean Rollin films are known for their level of eroticism. The Rape of the Vampire lives up to its name. It's not nearly as explicit as some of Rollin's later films, but there is nonetheless an abundance of vampires boobs and bushes.

The Rape of the Vampire nudity

I mentioned that this film was low-budget, and when I say low-budget I mean low. None of the actors had ever been in a film before nor had any prior training. The scene with the mob of people actually consisted of crew members rather than hired actors. And last but certainly not least, the four vampire sisters were played by only two people. Yes, you read that right. According to Wikipedia two of the sisters were played by Ursule Pauly, one was played by a stripper, and the fourth played by a mannequin. Amazing.

The Rape of the Vampire sisters

That being said, Jean Rollin did a very good job with such a small budget. He didn't entirely disguise the film's budget of course, you can still notice the budget limitations in action, but he certainly made the best of it and the final product is to say the least very impressive. Which brings me to the acting which is, as one would expect from amateurs, amateurish, but certainly not terrible. Jacqueline Sieger as the Vampire Queen was wonderfully creepy and delivered a pretty stellar performance. Her ghoulish face is certainly one that I will not soon forget.

The Rape of the Vampire queen
The Rape of the Vampire bloody teeth

The Rape of the Vampire also has a bit of history and scandal to it as well. It was released during the May 1968 events in France (which if your not familiar with here's a Wikipedia article) and French film distributors, fearing the box office, released not a single new film into theaters during that time. Thus The Rape of the Vampire was the only new film to be released during the May 1968 civil unrest in France. Which is a phenomenal thing itself but the film also, because of this fact, ended up being the most successful film in France that year. Pretty extraordinary.

The Rape of the Vampire upside down cross

The Rape of the Vampire is an essential film for fans of Jean Rollin, it's certainly one of his best, and is also a great place to start for those unfamiliar with Rollin's work. It's a great film when you give it a proper chance and deserves to be considered a classic of the genre.

4/5 stars

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