The Iron Rose

The Iron Rose is the rare Jean Rollin movie that misses its mark, and I say this as a fan of his work. There are elements of an interesting movie here, but it’s way too slow. I don’t mind films with a leisurely build-up, but you can skip the first twenty minutes of this and not miss anything.

The Iron Rose follows the trials of a pair of adult lovers, labeled The Boy and The Girl. The Boy returns for a wedding, where he reads a bad poem to a room full of drunk people. For whatever reason, The Girl is impressed by the Boy’s literary efforts. They make a date to go bike riding and end up frolicking in the railroad station amongst the trains, he play-chasing her. Foreshadowing!

Afterwards, our lovers go on a bike ride and stop at the local cemetery, which is huge. One of this movie’s neat touches is that the tombs are better cared for than the city’s buildings, which are falling apart. After walking the grounds, they clamber into an underground tomb to rut. Cut to a clown entering the graveyard and leaving flowers. The Iron Rose’s symbolism isn’t exactly subtle, hitting you over the head like a sledgehammer. By the time The Boy and The Girl are done with sexy-time night has fallen and they can’t find their way out of the cemetery. And that’s your plot.

As someone who got lost once as a kid, I can tell you it’s no fun. Still, these are adults we are talking about and it’s only a graveyard. That’s the point. There is nothing there, just the lovers and a bunch of headstones and tombs. The dead don’t rise, but tempers sure do. Soon The Boy and The Girl are acting like frightened children.

The Iron Rose has an interesting premise, but it takes too long for anything to happen. That’s because Mr. Rollin has made an 85-minute movie out of 40-minutes of material. The acting is so-so and there are way too many close-ups of the characters’ faces. We also have a scene at the beach that will be familiar to watchers of Mr. Rollin’s movies, as that same stretch of beach shows up in many of his films. It’s his version of Roger Corman’s burning chicken coop.

The best thing about The Iron Rose is the setting, an enormous unkempt cemetery that feels like a city of the dead. Lest fans of Mr. Rollin worry that he’s turning into a highbrow indy director, this movie contains lots of sex and tasteless nudity. Unfortunately Mr. Rollin might not be the right person to handle this kind of material. He is a wonderful director, but he’s not subtle, and psychological nuance isn’t his thing. An interesting failure, The Iron Rose is for Jean Rollin fans only.

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The Nude Vampire

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You think you’d know what you are getting when watching a movie called The Nude Vampire, but Jean Rollin is a man who subverts expectations. The Nude Vampire isn’t about vampires and the vampire isn’t nude. It is, however, one of the better movies Mr. Rollin has directed.

The opening sequence of The Nude Vampire is visually striking, with no dialogue for the first ten minutes. A man in a hood draws blood from a topless woman, also hooded, in a lab brimming with test tubes full of brightly colored dyes. Cut to a woman fleeing three men wearing bizarre animal masks. She runs into a man – our hero Pierre – who tries to protect her. The masked men shoot the woman and take her body to a tenement. Pierre follows the murderers back, eventually gaining entrance to a private party where the guests kill themselves so that the selfsame woman can drink their blood. Which means *gasp* she’s a vampire. Or is she?

Pierre’s dad Georges is an evil industrialist. Think Obadiah Stane of Iron Man or Mr. Lodge of Archie comics. He has a female sidekick, Solange, who does his dirty work and he keeps a pair of female twins as pets/sex slaves. At one point the twins dress Pierre – who’s supposed to be our hero – but whatever.

Pierre soon uncovers his father’s plot. The woman his dad’s keeping locked up is immortal, and he’s trying to uncover the secret of her immortality. The purpose of the suicide club is to provide the woman with blood, because they think she’s a vampire. After Pierre crashes the party Georges and his flunkies move to a chateau in the country. This turns out to be a big mistake.

The second half of The Nude Vampire isn’t as good as the first, mostly because the answers aren’t as interesting as the questions. The plot is quite complex, and this movie does stand up as a decent 1970’s science fiction movie, even if the special effects aren’t great in places.

I believe I stated in an earlier review that Jean Rollin movies don’t have plots. Many of them do. The first Jean Rollin movie I saw was Requiem for the Vampire, which starts with a big chase scene and ends in a vampire den with not much plot in between, but that movie is the exception rather than the rule. If you like Eurotrash and/or Jean Rollin movies, The Nude Vampire is a must-see.

Vampyres

No naked people appear in the trailer for Vampyres, which is a miracle. This movie is British Eurotrash, although at this point it’s an open question whether Britain is even part of Europe. Vampyres‘ influences are obvious, but it’s way too explicit to be a Hammer production and doesn’t have the visual panache of a Jean Rollin extravaganza.

Vampyres is very ‘No Sex Please We’re British.’ Despite featuring lots of softcore sex, this movie is strangely ambivalent about its subject matter, orgies, bare breasts, lesbians and blood. There’s a scene where Fran and Miriam are drinking wine with that night’s victim, and the orgy is about to commence, and the girls kiss and the guy looks away. You signed up for the orgy, dude, what’s your hang-up?

Vampyres has plot elements but no real plot. Fran and Miriam pick up hitchhikers, kill them and drink their blood. Sometimes they have sex with them. Afterwards, they stage a car accident, carefully placing the bodies of their nude victims in their cars, because people in that part of England all drive naked.

In the opening scene a guy or girl wearing a weird hat (we only see the shadow) kills Fran and Miriam during sexy-time. See what I mean about the ambivalence? The hat is one of the many bizarre touches in Vampyres. We cut to Murray, a beefy middle-aged Englishman checking into a hotel. The elderly manager thinks he recognizes him, and Murray slaps that shit down fast.

The plot kicks into gear when Fran and Miriam bring Murray home to their abandoned castle. Murray does his best to live up to his billing as the male beefcake, saying things like – ‘see here. I find you extremely attractive’ – in a stern voice. You know, the kind of talk that drives a woman wild. Murray may be an older dude, but he gives it his all during the sex scenes. Yes, seeing the liver spots on his back during sexy-time sort of kills the moment, but perhaps the filmmakers determined Murray’s age demographic to be Vampyres’ target audience.

Murray wakes up in the morning with a nasty cut on his arm. During the course of the film, our hero gets weaker and weaker. That could be because he hasn’t eaten in days, or the hours having sex with a woman half his age, or maybe it’s the fact that Fran and Miriam are treating him like a human Slurpee. In one scene the lusty gals use Murray as a prop during their own lovemaking.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I watched Vampyres, but technically this is a horror movie. There are a few interesting elements. The girls kill with a knife instead of with their fangs. I’m not even sure they have fangs, although there is a good biting scene. The ecstatic frenzy in which Fran and Miriam kill and feed is the most interesting thing about this movie.

Anyway, no more hokey recommended or not recommended announcements. Vampyres is a bad movie. If you want to watch it for its historical significance or are in Murray’s age demographic, it’s available on Shudder!

Night of the Seagulls

Night of the Seagulls is the final movie in Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series. Starring blind Knight Templar zombies riding around on horses, these Spanish-language flicks are vintage 70’s Eurotrash, featuring oodles of blood, gore and gratuitous sex. Unfortunately, the last installment of the series leaves a lot to be desired.

The plot: the residents of an old Spanish fishing village sacrifice seven virgins on seven nights once every seven years to the undead Knight Templars. This state of affairs lasts until Doctor Stein and his wife Joan drive into town. We can tell they’re a modern couple because they have a car and because of the doc’s taste in flashy sweaters. They learn of the fishing village’s nocturnal activities with the help of the town lunatic and a young woman named Lucy, who pals around with them in hopes that she won’t be sacrificed.

A word about the virgins. That’s what I’m assuming because they’re dressed in white, which signals virtue. If I were a young woman in that village I’d lose my virtue, ASAP. Anyway: the ladies are chained to the rocks like in the Perseus and Andromeda legend, which is a nice touch, but instead of a sea monster we get grainy stock footage of the Knight Templars riding along the beach on their horses. They sacrifice the maybe-virgins to a statue of a big frog, which could be a shout-out to Howie Lovecraft.

The plot of Night of the Seagulls is sketchy and it shows. Nothing happens for the first hour and then things start moving. Doc Stein, his wife, Lucy and the town lunatic barricade themselves into a house. This leads to my favorite sequence of the movie, which I believe is repeated in all the Blind Dead films, where one of the Templars lays his bony hand on a young woman’s shoulder and she shrieks like fuck. That never, ever grows old.

I wanted to like Night of The Seagulls, but this movie is pretty dull. There’s a little semi-nudity and gore but nothing to write home about. The Tombs of the Blind Dead, the first installment of the series, features evil sex, lots of gore and a genuinely spooky scene in a mannequin factory, and is well-worth seeing. Night of the Seagulls, not so much.

Recommended for series completists and zombie fanatics only.

Grapes of Death

Jean Rollin is at it again! Instead of yet another cinematic masterpiece featuring female vampires, he serves up a zombie movie. I’m not sure if Grapes of Death is the definitive French zombie movie of the 70’s because I know nothing about French cinema, but it should be in the running. Although no lady bloodsuckers appear in Grapes of Death, Rollin’s obsession with uncovering the Platonic pair of female breasts remains.

The plot: if you watch the above trailer you will see most of the highlights. If you do, there’s not much reason to watch the movie, which would be a shame. Elizabeth is traveling by train to Roubles to meet her fiancée, who works at a vineyard. A man with pustulant sores on his neck enters the train and attacks her. She escapes and spends the next 80+ minutes wandering the French countryside, leading to many nice shots of the landscape.

Elizabeth’s first stop: a farmhouse inhabited by a farmer and his adult daughter. The farmer has sores on his hands. Mom’s indisposed, her throat slashed ear to ear. Dad kills his daughter, ripping open her blouse to reveal the sore on her chest and then finishing her off with a pitchfork. Elizabeth flees in the farmer’s car but then stops for reasons I’m not smart enough to understand.

She meets a blind woman named Lucy who is lost. They return to the blind woman’s village, where everyone seems to be dead, but Elizabeth insists on telling her everything’s fine. Lucy isn’t stupid, and flees Elizabeth as soon as she can. Big mistake. Come night, the infected – or zombies – or drunken French people – rise up, lurching through the village. This leads to Lucy’s reunion with her infected lover, which is the highlight of Grapes of Death. Elizabeth soon makes another friend, the scythe-wielding woman from Fascination, and they have a decent catfight before a pair of gun-wielding peasants show up and spoil the fun. They flee to the Roubles vineyard and a genuinely ambiguous ending. Phew, that’s a lot of plot.

I am going to assume George Romero’s Dead duology and The Crazies influenced Grapes of Death – sort of. American zombies movies in the 70’s weren’t interested in things like sex, unless you count Dave Cronenberg up in Canada. They were mostly about showing the hair on the wall. Jean Rollin has a different aesthetic – The Grapes of Death has plenty of gore, but doesn’t skimp on the torn blouses, bare breasts and nudity. I will be kind and say that the makeup in this movie is mediocre. The sores are okay, but most of the effects are quite cheesy, which makes sense since cheese and wine go so well together!

A must-see for Jean Rollin fans!

Fascination

Directed by my favorite Euro Trash director Jean Rollin, Fascination is an interesting twist on the story of Countess Bathory. Filmed on a zero budget, Mr. Rollin’s movies feature awful acting, minimal plots and lots of semi-nudity and soft-core sex. His films are almost always visually striking and Fascination, filmed at a chateau, is no exception.

Fascination opens with a montage of bizarre images. A female hand opens a book, almost fondling the pages. A pair of women dance on a bridge to the tune of a gramophone. Two overdressed ladies stand in the midst of a very bloody slaughterhouse, where we learn that in 1905 ox blood was a popular cure for anemia amongst the rich. They drink a toast in champagne glasses while one of the young women rubs the blood all over her lips, the first of a series of not-so subtle hints that everyone in this movie is crazy.

Our hero is Marc, who is a thief. Dressed in a bowler hat and red-and-black striped jacket, Marc is the picture of sartorial splendor. Alas, the ne’er-do-wells he’s working with try to pull a double-cross and he takes the lone woman of the gang hostage. She pulls off her shirt, offering herself to him, and our hero responds by bursting out laughing. Insulted, she knees him in the balls and runs off.

Marc hides in a chateau populated by a pair of crazy women. At first they act normal, but as the movie progresses it becomes obvious they’re toying with him. Part of this is Marc’s own fault. Although a sharp dresser, he isn’t a killer. The return of Marc’s murderous ex-partners puts a crimp in his plans of escape. One of the crazy ladies brings the loot out to the thugs, which leads to the best sequence of the movie.

Thinking that the gang’s left with the money (they haven’t), Marc’s free to leave the chateau, but after hearing the crazy ladies talk about a midnight gathering he decides to stay because…I’m not sure why. My best guess is that he’s curious, thus echoing the movie’s title. If you want to know what happens next Fascination is streaming on Shudder.

I wouldn’t call Fascination a good movie, but I liked it. It’s not scary and there’s not much blood, but there is lots of sex and some stylized violence. This film looks good and even sort of has a plot. Please note that this is a French movie with English subtitles. Fascination isn’t for everyone, but I had fun watching it.

Helloween Day One: Lips of Blood

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Lips of Blood is a 1975 movie directed by Jean Rollin. The first time I heard of Jean Rollin was on Neil Gaiman’s blog. Gaiman used the phrase ‘Euro Trash,’ which made my ears prick up. I didn’t know what Euro Trash meant, but there’s no denying I liked the sound of it. After watching a few of Rollin’s movies I decided Euro Trash meant sleaze, violence, gore and gratuitous sex & nudity. You know, the good stuff.

Lips of Blood is set in Paris, although the Eiffel Tower is nowhere to be seen. It’s in French with English subtitles. I saw it for free on YouTube, and the picture quality wasn’t great. Anyone familiar with Jean Rollin’s work will be unsurprised to learn that this movie features lots of female vampires.

The plot: 32 year-old Frederic sees a photo of a castle at a wine & cheese party, a photo that triggers a repressed memory of a twelve year old Frederic meeting a beautiful young girl at that selfsame castle. Frederic decides that he must return to the mysterious castle because he’s still in love with the girl, but dark forces – led by his Mom! – are hell-bent on stopping him.

At one point the ghost/projection/vision of the beautiful young girl leads Frederic to a tomb, where he accidentally frees four female vampires. These fetching creatures of the night wear fake-looking fangs and not much else. At one point they drink the blood of the night watchman while the camera focuses on their bloody lips. Thus, the title!

Is Lips of Blood scary? No. There are lots of naked women, though, which means this flick would probably earn an X rating if it were shown today. The creepiest scene occurs when Frederic enters a tomb to find a life-sized mannequin of a praying Virgin Mary, which I kept expecting to reanimate and leap into the air.

Lips of Blood is like all the other Jean Rollin movies I’ve seen. No budget, but eye-catching imagery and an interesting premise kept me watching until the end. Rollin directed over fifty movies, and my favorites – made in the late 60’s, early 70’s – all have the word ‘vampire’ in the title. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on a best-of horror list, which is a shame because I like his movies. They’re cheaply made, badly acted with awful effects, but I can never shake the feeling that he’s better than the material he’s working with.

Or maybe it’s all those female vampires with fake fangs.