Dreaming with Jean Rollin: An Appreciation

Jean Rollin is my current director of choice. I've been enamored with his beautifully shot, dreamy movies about vampires and existential death. The lovely and horrific images that flit with little apparent reason through his films with zero regard for consequence have me hooked. Of course, I need to watch more of his films to develop an appreciation for the breadth of his work. Most of his films fall into the French genre, Fantastique, which combines elements of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and can easily hook any horror fan with an addiction to Foreign films.

As an avid horror movie buff, with a deep appreciation for foreign horror, I'm surprised that I have never seriously considered Rollin. His bizarre plots are reminiscent of Michelle Soavi's Cemetery Man (a long time favorite) or more straightforward Luis Buñuel. The cinematography is beautiful and the landscapes are easily as remarkable as early Argento, or the Gothic forest scenes of the best Paul Naschy films. The stories are surreal; Fascination (1979) covers the meeting of a thief and a coven of vampires, while The Iron Rose (1972) chronicles two lovers and their trip to a cemetery. At times, matter of fact, at others, remarkably strange, these films flirt with madness and death, while questioning the very idea of sanity.

The characters are often ciphers; they are hard to understand or know. Their choices resemble those of most horror movies -- they could just run away, make better decisions, or possibly extricate themselves tenderly from their indelicate situations. Yet, here they are, on display, trying to please others or work a scheme. The vampires in Fascination toy with Mark, the thief. He is just another diversion for them; he tries again and again to understand why they do what they do and cannot. Even so, his motives are never entirely clear. His main goal is a good time, yet maybe he could stay focused on escaping the other thieves that pursue him.

He ultimately succumbs to the vampires because he doesn't fear them enough. Although, viewers know what they are capable of, his ultimate betrayal by Elizabeth is still painful. Eva, up until this point, has been the main villian. In one scene, she kills thieves with a scythe only clad in a black robe. She is responsible for most of the deaths in the film. In contrast, Elizabeth kills Mark with a gun and leaves him for dead, not even bothering to finish him off. The film's ending can be viewed as tragic or unsettling, but there is room for satisfaction. Mark probably got what he deserved. The vampires might be evil, but aren't they doing what they have to?

I found each of these films on Netflix, while I was attempting to finish the Mario Bava discography. These films have enthralled me --the movie posters, luscious natural settings, beautiful women, haunting cinematography, and existential view of death are like nothing out there. Bava fits into Giallo and more typical horror categories; he anticipated the slasher film cycle of the 80's. Rollin emphasizes a more beautiful Gothic take that seems refreshing to my jaded horror movie soul.


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