Archive for December, 2010


Jean Rollin (1938-2010)

It’s been reported by various web sites that French film director Jean Rollin died within the last week. This is very sad news as not only was Rollin a major figure in European fantastic cinema, but he was still working and had only recently completed a new feature – as yet unreleased – The Mask of the Medusa.

My first contact with the cinema of Jean Rollin was through the editions of his films released in the UK via cult video company Salvation, who released a number of early efforts such as La Vampire Nue and Requiem pour un Vampire in the early 90s, alongside contemporary efforts from Jess Franco and Mario Bava. What impressed me in these films was the poetry of the imagery and the consistency and uniqueness of the world Rollin had created. Though there are stylistic differences in the early vampire cycle, there is a consistency of tone and an obsessive quality to the mise-en-scene which, combined with Rollin’s recurring cast, results in a blurring of the boundaries between individual features. I often find it difficult to remember which films contain certain scenes, though I have watched each of his films dozens of times. What is memorable is a certain longing, a sense that Rollin was continually striving to impress on us the experience of a under appreciated, idealistic artist who had glimpsed a beauty and a peace that was destined to remain just out of reach.

Rollin’s films are constantly staged on the boundaries – the recurring use of the beach at Dieppe, as characters rise out of or sink into the sea; the graveyards which give up their dead; the hours of dusk and dawn where vampires can emerge from grandfather clocks or slink back to their crypts. They use generic tropes to populate cast and setting and then abandon or subvert expectation. The vampires, dead girls, pirates and corrupt industrialists are often as hunted and haunted as the lost girls and boys they prey upon, their ends as tragic and gruesome. Death is often seen as something to be embraced – a means of crossing the boundary from the staid material world to the world of the eternal and the beautific. Other recurring themes such as the fragility of identity and memory reinforce this impatience and sense of frustration with the limitations of mortality.

Though Rollin was often crticised for his direction of actors, or at least for the ‘somnambulant’ performances to be found in his films, it cannot be doubted that some of his casting was inspired. Though many of his regular cast were drawn from a group of close friends and relatives, the contribution of female performers such as Brigitte Lahaie, Sandra Julien, Joelle Coeur, Francoise Blanchard, Francoise Pascal, Caroline Cartier and the Castel twins is immense and makes a real contribution to the success of films which are, often refreshingly, female-centric. The mischeviousness of the Castels, the icy beauty of Lahaie, the cruelty of Coeur or the vulnerability of Blanchard – all fit the parts they were chosen to play as if born for them – and for this credit must be given equally to Rollin’s eye, given the relative lack of success these actresses achieved.

Also contributing to the success of Rollin’s films were impeccable technicians such as DoP Jean-Jacques Renon, who gave many of Rollin’s films an extraordinarily colourful and vibrant look. The use of coloured gels in Les Frissons des Vampires approaches the intensity of Dario Argento’s supernatural work. Rollin’s films have often had soundtracks which matched the beauty of their visuals, with the incredible prog-rock score for Frissons an early example and later efforts from Phillipe d’Aram admirably enhancing the emotional impact of what might otherwise have proven overwhelmingly static visual tableau. The constant presence of Rollin regulars such as Lionel Wallmann and Sam Selsky undoubtedly also contributed to the consistency and sucess of the productions, from behind the scenes.

Ultimately though, these films are the true work of one man and his undiluted vision. As has been said of many an auteur, one knows from a handful of frames that a film is his. Despite the efforts of a few admirers and contemporaries (see Girls Slaves of Morgana le Fay for a alternative Rollinade) there has been truly nothing like the work of Jean Rollin and I imagine that the current cinematic climate means that we will sadly not see his like again.

We are left with his work. And, for that, merci beaucoup, Monsieur Rollin.

OMG!!!

An absolute supernova of a bad film, this Filmirage production manages to top the company’s usual output (including, lest we forget, Troll 2) by roping in the dubious talents of Linda Blair and David Hasslehoff. Giving the former an obligatory possession scene and allowing the latter to adlib to embarrassing effect, the usual delights of Aristide Massacessi’s horror productions – overlit studio interiors, bewildered no-name American actors, badly-translated Italian dialogue, gloopy effects – are here dunked in an enormous vat of fondue designed to delight lovers of 80s cheese.

The Hoff!

Filmirage – an Italian production company usually associated with low-rent erotic thrillers, terrible horror films and gob-smackingly awful dramas – here jumps on the Evil Dead bandwagon. Raimi’s films were released in Italy under the titles La Casa 1 & 2 and the company follows in the grand tradition of Italian exploitation by simply appropriating the title for some unrelated sequels. Hence Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse (1988) became La Casa 3 and this film – released in international territories as Witchcraft became La Casa 4. Aside from a residential setting – something that could be said to be true of the majority of features – and plots which revolve around demonic forces and bodily possession, the films bear no similarity with the hyperkinetic Evil Dead franchise, but Laurenti’s film has a manic charm of its own.

Pea soup alert!

The film’s bears a script credit forAmerican screenwriter Harry Spaulding – who, curiously, penned a 1964 film entitled Witchcraft – but the dialogue and story bears all the hallmarks of a cheap Italian genre production, with the frequently confused-looking US cast spouting inane, nonsensical lines while a series of barely-connected events move the plot from one bizarre set-piece to another. The story isolates three groups of people on a Pacific island during a storm: a young woman studying witchcraft and the origins of a house on the island and her photographer boyfriend (the Hoff himself); a dysfunctional family, including a pregnant Linda Blair and a precocious young boy, who are interested in buying the property; and the estate agents, including a woman played by the then Mrs Hasslehoff – Catherine Hickland – who would in future go on to marry a man called, I kid you not, Michael Knight.  Over the course of the evening, the assembled cast are sprited away by the spirit of the previous owner – a Garbo-like foreign actress – to a cut-price Hades where they are subjected to a variety of latex-rupturing effects. Blair is possessed so she can redo her Exorcist role, the Hoff gets his shirt off and his girlfriend wanders the house reading random passages from a supposedly ancient German text which may hold the key to foiling the resurrection of the witch-actress via Blair’s baby.

Going to hell

Apart from the sheer joy of watching Hasslehoff and Blair on screen together (for trash-mavens, a pairing suerly on a par with De Niro and Pacino), the film delivers the cracked goods in spades. Witness, for example, the majesty of the scenes where characters are transported to the evil dimension by standing still and waving their arms while a swirling red graphic is overlayed on their screaming mugs. Or the evil dimension itself, which appears to have been built by an Italian set designed in around 3 mins out of some 2-by-4 and some black bin bags. Some of the special effects are pleasingly gloopy, especially the demise of the father, as the stabbing of a voodoo doll causes ruptures in a series of vains. The film bears Filmirage’s usual cruel sense of black humour, with the mother with her mouth sewn shut, hung in the chimney to be burned alive by her family.

Elsewhere budget restrictions mean that a plot which requires its cast to be stranded by a ferocious storm, has no actual shots of said weather – with a placidly undulating sea hardly justifying the lack of rescue. The father of the young estate agent spends much of the film arguing with local law enforcement to stage a recovery attempt, which finally pays off when a helicopter is procured. The subsequent scene, where the father who has been passionately arguing that his son may be in danger, meekly gives up the chase when the house shows no sign of occupation, is just one of the examples of the twisted logic of Filmirage’s output. The actor – one timer Frank Cammarato – is one of the badly-dubbed non-US cast members. It’s unfortunate that heroine Leslie Cumming is not also dubbed, as her mumbling, incoherent delivery renders much of her dialogue unintelligible and makes her scenes with Hasslehoff even more one-sided. Perhaps she was intimidated.