After creating several unsuccessful film shorts as well as a feature that was forced to shut down early due to funding issues, Jean Rollin was floundering in the filmmaking world. Enter Sam Selsky, who offered Rollin the chance to create some extra footage for an old Poverty Row thriller he needed to pad out in order to make a feature. Rollin jumped at the chance, in part because it gave him work in the medium he so loved, but also because it would give him a professional credit. Unfortunately, Rollin’s vision did not mesh with Selsky’s vision and the original project was dropped after the initial half-hour of padded film was in the can; however, Selsky did find what Rollin was creating to be interesting enough to strike a bargain with him: film whatever you want and do it however you want–just include some nudity so the rights can be sold. Thus, The Rape of the Vampire, one of the most unique and weirdly surreal horror movies of all time, was created.
The story of the film’s production is perhaps more fascinating than the picture itself. Due to the original project being scratched, the storyline for The Rape of the Vampire (subtitle: A Melodrama in Two Parts) is divided into two separate and distinct sections. The first half-hour, about a trio of psychoanalysts trying to prove to four vampire girls that their illness is all in their head, was to be used for the original Selsky project. When Selsky and Rollin decided to expand this footage, Rollin had a real problem–he’d killed everyone off in the original footage! His solution was to create a new character, the Queen of the Vampires, who was running experiments on immortality on her minions while a sidebar had scientists trying to create an antidote for vampirism. Alternately criticized for its incoherence and praised as an authentic Surreal masterpiece, The Rape of the Vampire nevertheless went on to become a huge success in its native France, cementing the young Rollin as an up-and-coming filmic auteur.
Rollin’s only black-and-white feature film, The Rape of the Vampire suffers from a threadbare plotline, characters that pop in and out of the film, and a randomness of scenes that sometimes tests the viewer’s patience. Part of these flaws were due to the way the project came together, but a good part of these problems were created by the filmmakers themselves. Rollin has stated that every single person on the film, both in front of and behind the camera, was working on their first feature project and were learning the ropes as they went along. He has also admitted that because of this amateurism, the script was lost after only a couple of days of filming, causing him to create scenes based upon his own faulty memory. Even though this story has been confirmed by many who worked on the film, Rollin enthusiasts will note that many of Rollin’s films have a dreamlike quality and focus more on imagery than on actual story. The result is an endlessly fascinating but many times infuriatingly confusing film.
While there is a randomness to the scenes and the movie comes across as quite outdated, even by the standards of the sixties, fans of Rollin can see that even in this early stage of his career he leaned toward filming beautiful girls who appeared either wrapped in gauze-like material or totally nude. Famed for his erotic vampire tales, The Rape of the Vampire (the actual rape is only discussed) perhaps doesn’t qualify as "erotic", but can be seen as a precursor of things to come. Similar to most of Rollin’s work, even though this is tale of vampires, nudity is emphasized more than violence, with very little blood being on display. Other Rollin tropes are also plainly visible, such as the overarching idea of vampirism, which is only discussed in the first section of the movie but much more developed in the latter stages, as well as his beloved Dieppe beach Rollin came back to time and again in his films. Even as early as 1968, Rollin’s flare for cinematography also shines, even though he has admitted his original plans had to be redesigned once he realized he didn’t have the money, time, or the equipment to shoot the film the way it was originally envisioned.
While this may be Rollin’s least accessible film in terms of the mass market, it is an important Rollin work as it represents his first feature as well as his first attempt in telling a tale of erotic vampirism, a concept he mined throughout his career. It may not represent his best work, but it is an historical snapshot of Rollin during this time. Diehard Rollin fans or fans of Surreal cinema may be most likely to pick this one up.
Redemption and Kino Lorber have again teamed up to create a splendid package that includes a remastered film from the uncensored 35 MM print, an introduction to the film by Rollin, an alternate version of the operating room scene, several interview segments, the original trailer, trailers for other Rollin films, and a 16-page booklet by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog. As an extra bonus, this release also includes two short films by Rollin which may be of historical interest to Rollin fans. The film has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. For more information, see Kino’s horror catalog at www. kino.com.