Jean Rollin passed away in late 2010 leaving us his final unfinished work, Le masque de la Méduse. A filmmaker as maligned as he was loved, Rollin – no matter where your opinion of him sways – was an extremely important figure in Euro horror. Often he has been unfairly lumped in with the prolific Jesus Franco. In my opinion, the only thing Rollin had in common with Franco was a shared love of lesbian vampires. Rollin’s films are more considered than Franco’s rushed work – that said, I do enjoy many of Franco’s films and have the utmost respect for his gargantuan output. Rollin’s work is instantly recognisable – another quality I appreciate – with his signature aesthetics always present from his cheap but thoughtful camerawork to his choice of often reoccurring locations. That said, Rollin has made a few duds himself – most notably the infamous Zombie Lake (1981)… but let’s try and ignore that one.
I’ve decided to approach this Starter Pack for the Overwhelmed a little differently to my last. Rather than pick five films that best represent Rollin or his five best, here are five – in a specific order – to ease yourself into his sometimes jarring style. (I’ve left off Rollin’s hardcore stuff, because I’m not really all that familiar with it – they’re hard to find with subtitles!) Jean Rollin’s work is very much a love-it-or-hate-it affair. You will either be intoxicated with his work and become obsessed like myself, or you will find him to be an incredibly boring waste of time. It will be very easy to tell which camp you fall into after watching the following five films…
1. THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (1982)
Original title: La morte vivante
The Living Dead Girl is a great place to start simply because it is uncharacteristically fast-paced – as far as Rollin films go. Packed full of gore and action, yet still undoubtedly a Rollin film, The Living Dead Girl is a lot of fun. After watching this film, you’ll have a vague idea of whether Rollin is for you or not.
If you don’t dig the style on display here, there is a chance you won’t like what else he has to offer. But maybe give him another shot tot wow you with a less in-your-face effort…
2. LIPS OF BLOOD (1975)
Original title: Lèvres de sang
Usually a filmmaker tends to have one film that defines them, but Rollin fans don’t seem to agree on what his masterpiece is. This is perhaps a testament to how great his films are. His films that usually are labelled by his followers as his best are Fascination (1979), Requiem for a Vampire (1973) and The Grapes of Death (1978) – all excellent films. But my personal favourite – and what I consider to be Rollin’s ultimate masterwork – is Lips of Blood. Lips of Blood contains everything I love about Jean Rollin. It is one of many vampire films, but Lips of Blood trumps them all with its hypnotic pacing and poetic plotting. Lips of Blood may not impress those looking for a quick dose of carnage, but those that enjoy their horror films haunting rather than horrifying will love this.
If you don’t like Jean Rollin after watching this and The Living Dead Girl, I’d say you’d may as well stop now. But if you enjoyed both of them, try moving onto something a little different…
3. NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (1980)
Original title: La nuit des traquées
Night of the Hunted draws a lot of criticism from fans and critics alike. It’s certainly different from the archetypal Rollin film. There are no vampires – in fact, no supernatural elements whatsoever – to be found, and the film is cold and clinical. A grim vision of a near future, Night of the Hunted reminds me of some of Cronenberg’s earlier work. However, that’s not to say it is a complete deviation from Rollin’s style. From the casting of Brigitte Lahaie to Rollin’s classic pairing of two runaway girls, Night of the Hunted is certainly a Jean Rollin film. Night of the Hunted is great introduction to Rollin’s works that fall outside the (lesbian vampire) stories that are commonly associated with him.
After watching Night of the Hunted – as great as it is – you may need to watch something a little lighter…
4. THE GRAPES OF DEATH (1978)
Original title: Les raisins de la mort
The Grapes of Death is probably Rollin’s most accessible movie to a general horror audience. While still containing much of Rollin’s style and pacing, The Grapes of Death has enough action and gore to keep most fans of the zombie genre glued to the screen. It’s a blast to see Rollin’s aesthetics surrounding a fairly conventional zombie plot, and he proves that he is able to deliver a commercial film that does not compromise his aesthetics.
To finish this all too short introduction to Rollin, we’ll move away from the commercial…
5. THE IRON ROSE (1973)
Original title: La rose de fer
With The Iron Rose, Lips of Blood comes close to finding an equal in its perfection. The Iron Rose is pure Rollin, yet it sits outside the horror genre. Almost entirely free from plot, the film follows a pair who – on a date – become trapped in a cemetery. An excellent exercise in restraint, The Iron Rose is visually breathtaking without throwing it in your face. The film builds an amazing sense of stress and frustration and, while not a horror film, it is a great representation of a nightmare.
These five films barely even scrape the surface of Jean Rollin’s filmography. Happily, after you watch these, you’ve still got a multitude of great films to seek out – I’ve left off a handful of his finest; most notably the brilliant Fascination and Requiem for a Vampire. With Rollin’s films being released on blu-ray, it’s a good time to get into his work. Rollin made very few bad films. Even his films that are heavily criticised and divide his supporters – to name a few: Sidewalks of Bangkok (1984), which nearly made this list; The Rape of the Vampire (1968), a fascinating debut feature; The Nude Vampire (1970), one of my favourite endings to a Rollin film; The Runaways (1981), an extremely underrated efforts; and Demoniacs (1974), which features a classic performance from Joëlle Coeur – I have enjoyed immensely, flaws and all.
If I can offer one more piece of advice, save Lost in New York (1989) to last. It is one of his finest films and a brilliant summary of his work. But I’d imagine it would be reasonably unwatchable without having seen the bulk of his films that came before it. It’s a oddly self-referential film and is the perfect conclusion to his work – despite not being his last film.