I worship Jean Rollin (click here for Mondo Exploito’s Rollin Starter Pack). The man was a truly unique filmmaker; brilliant, obsessed with certain themes and often maligned and misunderstood. I’ve seen practically everything he made in his long and accomplished career and can’t name a single film by him I haven’t appreciated on some level. However, I must confess that I’ve not had the opportunity to watch many of his hardcore films. Rollin’s mainstream work is generally erotic, but it does not exactly fall into the category of pornography. I’ve been unsure as to whether I should pursue his films that feature hardcore sex. From what I’ve found hidden in the noise of the internet, many fans consider his pornographic work worthless and lazy. But does having shots of cocks penetrating vaginas really zap the Rollin out of Rollin? I hope not.


aka: The Seduction of Amy
France, 1977, Jean Rollin

The copy of Phantasmes I watched for this review was in quite shoddy shape – worlds away from the recent Rollin blu-ray releases. Still, it was tolerable as far as VHS rips go. Unfortunately, the English subtitles did not kick in until the 12 minute mark, and, after that point, the subtitles were littered with massive gaps. With that in mind, I can’t claim to be an authority on the film’s plot, but with so little dialogue, the story was reasonably clear. Phantasmes begins with a girl, Amy (credited as Mylène d’Antès, aka Fascination‘s Evelyne Thomas), being chased by a would-be-rapist (played by none other than Jean Rollin). After fighting back against her attacker, Amy receives a nasty punch to the face. She falls unconscious into a pond, the rapist runs away and Amy is rescued from drowning by Gideon (Jean-Louis Vattier), a charming count who lives in a nearby château. Amy stays the night in the château. All seems fine until she woken by screams. Upon investigation, Amy finds a woman shackled to a dungeon wall who tells her to run away from the château and the apparently evil Gideon. She doesn’t. Hardcore fucking ensues.

A brilliant cameo from Jean Rollin

The naive Amy

I suppose for most porn aficionados, Phantasmes may be considered somewhat of a failure as a hardcore flick. The sex is infrequent – I believe story and dialogue actually outweighs porking in terms of screen time. For those looking for graphic penetrations shots, I’m afraid that most of the sex take place in dark rooms with the writhing bodies captured only with slivers of light. The porn of Phantasmes is restrained and borderline tasteful. The only point where the pornography steps outside the norm is when Rollin involves hid regulars, Marie-Pierre Castel and Catherine Castel, who, as you can probably guess by their shared family name are twin sisters. The Castel twins will be familiar to anyone that’s seen a few of Rollin’s films. It’s very strange indeed to see them sharing a cock. This addition comes literally out of nowhere – the twins enter the film unannounced, stumbling into the château for no rhyme of reason – and their incestuous scenes are somewhat uncomfortable to watch. However, for the most part, the pornographic scenes in Phantasmes don’t feel out of place or awkward. In fact, they feel strangely at home, almost making Rollin’s non-hardcore films appear to miss something.

Hardcore hidden in shadows

A victim of Gideon

The twins share

Jean Rollin’s mark is all over Phantasmes; as much as it is all over Rollin classics like Requiem for a Vampire. Not only do we have the appearance of Rollin regulars, we also get classic Rollin locations. The château, the foggy exteriors, the dungeon – they all scream “Rollin!” The film even wraps things up in classic Rollin style on a dreary looking beach. Admittedly, it does not appear to be the beach (the one that appears in the bulk of Rollin’s work), but it’s similar. Not only is Phantasmes an undeniable Rollin picture, it’s also a very successful one. As with all Rollin’s best work, he manages to emit feelings and tones of mystery, dread and beauty. The château reeks of evil despite its warm candlelit interiors and outside is somehow unearthly. The antagonist of Phantasmes is also a Rollin archetype and a great incarnation at that. Gideon, the count, is a tortured villain who tells us that he is “lost in a nightmare” and a “prisoner of mind and spirit.”

An effective scene

A classic Rollin location

The mysterious Gideon

I believe fans yet to check out Phantasmes will be very easily won over from its opening frames. Phantasmes deserves a remastered release to go along with his better known films, which all seem to be receiving a mind-blowing blu-ray treatment. While this isn’t exactly Lips of Blood or The Grapes of Death, I can name quite a few Rollin films with legitimate and accessible releases that this truly trumps.