Sunday, 16 September 2012

Requiem for a Vampire

1971, France, Directed by Jean Rollin
Colour, Running Time: 87 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region A, Redemption; Video: 1.66:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: LPCM Mono

Two young females with a propensity for thieving are forced to escape into the countryside by themselves after their male partner is shot during a high speed car chase. Removing their clown make-up, and therefore rendering themselves unidentifiable, they rob a motorcycle before stopping off at a hot dog stall to steal some food (talk about kleptomania!). However their travels seem to be destined to take a turn for the mystical when they stumble across a desolate graveyard in the middle of nowhere. Catching up on some sleep (and nearly getting buried alive in the case of one of the girls) they head off on their meandering journey only to discover an isolated castle that initially seems deserted. Taking up camp inside one of the oddly inviting rooms they get down to a bit of lesbian skin-rubbing before it becomes apparent to them that they are not alone: the castle is inhabited by a number of vampires and their human minions, all ruled over by a dying vampire who needs new ‘blood’ in the family to keep the demon gene alive. The girls are soon infected and dragged into a world of amorality and debauchery.
Jean Rollin’s fourth feature length film continued a development of the themes that he would eventually become renowned for amongst the small pockets of cult fans around the world who remain devoted to his work to this day. Rollin’s approach here appears to be fairly relaxed as the film rolls on with little sense of urgency, stretching out a minimalist plot to create a dreamy fantasy world populated by unusual people whose behavioural patterns will barely be recognisable to the likes of us. Absorbed in the right way Requiem… can be an immersing experience, constructing around the viewer an enticing supernatural domain where sex and death collide without regard for the heavily religious construct that we generally find ourselves trapped within. Conventional film-making is no point of comparison when it comes to analysing the works of Jean Rollin, as many of his fans would surely attest, therefore there is little here that will attract followers of the mainstream. A film such as this is more like a forbidden treasure appreciated by just a few, whilst the rest of humanity remains blissfully oblivious to what’s really there. Not aiding any commercial appeal, Requiem… plays almost like a silent movie for much of its running time, telling its story by the actions of the two girls, rather than words. With the first half of the movie playing almost completely without dialogue, the script itself must surely have used up no more than a few pages. Breaking up the barren silence our attention is maintained partly by occasionally insane music punctuated by more melodic interludes, making this movie feel like an epic prog rock track reconstructed visually, and the soundtrack truly comes into its own during the show-stopping dungeon orgy/rape sequence where several of the vampire’s human neanderthal minions force themselves on a group of chained women, spiralling intensity towards near fever pitch. This was the scene that really caused a problem for the BBFC in the UK and even Rollin himself has claimed that it went on for too long (several screen minutes), but call me a perverted crazy man, I love it! It’s surreal, sexy, violent, defiantly non-PC, and completely mad. The more macabre elements of the movie are not spine-tingling in the slightest, but there is a skewed gothic edge which keeps one leg rooted in horror, an innate genre acknowledgement common to most of Rollin’s non-pornographic outings - it’s unlikely to satisfy those more accustomed to the conventional slasher or torture films that proliferate these days. One of Rollin’s other strengths is demonstrated here in abundance: great choice and photography of natural (i.e. non-set based) locations. The castle, cemetery, and surrounding countryside is quite a feast for the eyes. Finally the protagonists are typical for this director - two nubile young women with a tendency towards physically relating to one another, making their way through an alien world which they have no real inclination to question. Nobody made films like Jean Rollin and this one - shot in his prime - is one of the best examples of his work.

This old US Redemption/Image DVD has been superseded with better quality discs from Encore and more recently Redemption themselves. Its non-anamorphic transfer was a mess with interlacing issues, haze, moirĂ© effects, and some digital problems that I’ve never even seen anywhere else. It was higher in detail than the Redemption VHS tape I bought in the nineties, but only marginally (although I was glad for this at the time I bought the DVD due to the old UK tape being heavily cut). Thank heavens they eventually reissued it on DVD, and now Blu-ray. The new BD blows away the old DVD in every respect. There are no noticeable digital flaws, simply a film-like image with balanced colour and nice detail. There was a special edition DVD of the film a few years ago from Encore, which appeared to be ramped up in the brightness department with a different hue. The Blu-ray is a little more detailed, but colour and brightness certainly are more natural. Sound is appreciably provided in original French language with good subtitles, and no other way should it be viewed (there is an English dub but personally I can't see anyone remotely interested in this film watching it that way, unless they really do hate subtitled material). The Encore DVD does, however, win in the extras department, but on the BD you get an introduction from the late director, an 18 minute documentary on the film, a ten minute interview with Louise Dhour, some trailers and a nice booklet. Great release from the revitalised Redemption, courtesy of Kino Lorber - the best AV experience of the film, possibly forever, although owners of the Encore set will want to keep it for the mostly unique extras.

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