There was no other director like Jean Rollin, the French horror fantasist who died in 2010 and left behind a strange and wonderful (and sometimes horrible) legacy in his distinctive films. His reputation never really extended beyond cult circles but the weird sensibility and distinctive style and imagery of his sex-and-horror exploitation films, and his ability to create unsettling atmosphere out of simple locations and minimalist sets, made him a legend among fans of the unusual, the offbeat, and films of the fantastic.
Apart from bootlegs and a few edited English-dubbed American versions of his films, most of Rollin’s films were initially released on home video in the U.S. during the previous decade by Redemption, a British company that first licensed their films to Image and then released them under their own American label. Now they’ve entered into a new partnership with Kino Lorber to release their entire library on Blu-ray as well as DVD in newly-remastered editions, beginning with five films from Jean Rollin.
The Nude Vampire (1970), Rollin’s second feature and the earliest of his films in this first wave of releases, is a strange work of conspiracy, family rebellion, and innocence imprisoned, both a vampire film and a strange science fiction fantasy of shadowy old men performing secret experiments. Pierre (Olivier Martin, aka Olivier Rollin), our well-heeled hero, is drawn into the conspiracy when he’s entranced by a young woman (Caroline Cartier) wandering the streets, naked under a sheer gown and shadowed by men in black tights and animal masks, a scene that looks like some kind of wild performance art. When he’s barred from following her to a villa, where some kind of weird private party / cult ceremony is underway, he becomes obsessed with learning the secret of the villa and the woman. Both mysteries lead to his father (Maurice Lemaître), a kinky old industrialist with two ripe young servants in uniforms right out of Barbarella, and his cabal, who believe that this delirious young woman is a vampire and holds the secret of immortality.
It’s Rollin’s first color film and his debut collaboration with cinematographer Jean-Jacques Renon, who first creates that distinctive look of Rollin’s nocturnal shoots here. He floods the performers and with plenty of illumination even in the dead of night, lighting the center of the frame while the light feathers out until it fades to midnight black at the edges. The world disappears outside of his frame and adds mystery to the action, as if the fall of night takes the story out of time and makes all things possible. Rollin’s love of twins and matched pairs is also first seen here, as is his penchant for romantic heroes drawn to mysterious women and supernatural places. He dresses the entire affair up in formal evening clothes for the guests and skimpy costumes for the twin servants (one scene has them in skirts with fringe like banana peels, which the lascivious old man peels off one by one).