Friday, 24 January 2014

The Shiver of the Vampires

Le Frisson des Vampires (English title: The Shiver of the Vampires) is a 1971 film directed by Jean Rollin. It is his third vampire movie. 

Jean Rollin's early films are an acquired taste with their accent on mood and atmosphere over linear plot structure. This film is the best of his early output, right up there with LES RAISINS DE LA MORT. It's got a prog-rock music score, long-haired hippie vampires, old cemeteries and castles lit in bright shades of red, blue and green. Rollin's first feature was like a pretentious student film. His second feature added a little science fiction to the vampire mythos. But it's here that all the ingredients came together in just the right way. I still find myself falling asleep during the nonsensical dialog scenes or long takes but am always riveted back to the screen by the next striking scene to come.
The films of Jean Rollin come with a reputation/warning: their mix of artistry and exploitation isn’t for everyone, and they’re all variations on the same idea. The director’s formula is thick Gothic atmosphere, beautiful visuals, mild surrealism, nude female vampires, and an indifference to rational plotting.  For decades, Rollins’ slow-paced, arty, irrational musings on the vampire myth have frustrated horror fans looking for old-fashioned bloodletting, but they are subtly strange artifacts that reflect the unique preoccupations of their creator. These fetishistic documents are ultimately of more interest to fans of neo-surrealism than of horror.
G Smalley

“The Shiver of the Vampires” (is) a cascade of delirious imagery tied to a story line so convoluted that even Rollin seems to lose track of it. A pair of newlyweds (still wearing their wedding clothes) arrive at the crumbling château owned by the bride’s eccentric cousins, a pair of vampire hunters who have themselves become vampires. Rollin’s compulsive doubling moves into tripling as the bloodsucker in residence, Isolde (played by an actress with a single name, Dominique) goes after both the bride, Ise (Sandra Julien) and a local woman, Isabelle (Nicole Nancel), who was involved in a ménage à trois with the two undead cousins.

The doddering symmetry of the plotline finds its visual equivalent in a couple of laboriously executed 360-degree pans — showy, difficult shots that represent one of Rollin’s rare attempts to be cinematic. In the context of his usual offhanded compositions and wayward framing, the formal self-consciousness of these circular shots is startling — as if Jean-Luc Godard had suddenly taken over an episode of the “Real Housewives” franchise. 

Moments like these — and there are a few others scattered through Rollin’s oeuvre — remind us of the close kinship of outsider art and the avant-garde. It is, after all, difficult to distinguish between rules broken out of innocence and rules broken with study and deliberation. With its outsize female characters struggling obscurely on a magical plane, “The Shiver of the Vampires” made me think more than once of Jacques Rivette’s mid-’70s series of feminist fantasy films: “Céline and Julie Go Boating,” “Noroît,” “Duelle.” (The impression is reinforced by the presence of Michel Delahaye and Jacques Robiolles as the vampire cousins. Both made regular appearance in New Wave films, and Delahaye contributed as a critic to the film journal Cahiers du Cinéma.)

With slightly higher budgets, a little more formal assurance and a much better press agent, Jean Rollin might have taken his place in the pantheon of French cinéastes. But then we would not have had these odd, awkward, strangely touching films, and I think I would miss them.
Dave Kehr

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