The late Jean Rollin (1938-2010) is perhaps best known for his erotic vampire films of the 1970’s, including such softcore horror classics as The Shiver of the Vampires, Fascination (starring the ethereally beautiful French adult cinema icon, Brigitte Lahaie.), and The Living Dead Girl. However, Rollin was much more than your average purveyor of euro-sleaze cinema, leaving behind a body of work that straddles the line between arthouse and grindhouse. One of my personal favorite films of Rollin is his 1973 surrealist horror film, The Iron Rose - a gorgeously photographed piece of experimental cinema that now makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Redemption films.
The Iron Rose (aka; La rose de fer) is a very unique horror film that merges nightmare logic with psychological horror elements. The tale follows a new young couple – The Boy (Hugues Quester, aka Pierre Dupont) and The Girl (Françoise Pascal) – who venture off into the French countryside for a picnic. The pair stumbles upon an old cemetery and, at the urging of The Boy, venture inside to have a look around. The cemetery is mostly deserted, save for a trio of eccentric visitors (including a Felliniesque clown), and The Girl decides she wants to leave, but The Boy convinces her to join him inside one of the tombs where the two make love. When they emerge from the tomb later, they find that the sun has set, and, with cemetery bathed in darkness, they can no longer find their way out. The Girl becomes hysterical, prompting The Boy to strike her. The Girl reacts by fleeing off into the darkness, and, when The Boy catches up to her, there’s a violent struggle followed by an uneasy truce that quickly crumbles as they succumb to fear, distrust, and paranoia.
The Iron Rose is an unconventional horror film – one driven by mood and atmosphere rather than plot or dialogue. Much of the horror here is implied, with the actors’ expressions and reactions telling the story, while cinematographer Jean-Jacques Renon’s lush photography fills in the gaps. It’s very much like a silent film in this regard, with precious little dialogue – the most being spoken during The Girl’s recitation of a poem (the same one The Boy used to woo her with in the film’s opening) in a surreal denouement involving her planting the titular iron roses along a beach whilst nude.
Unlike Rollin’s other films (save for the underrated “zombie” gem, The Grapes of Wrath, which also featured Pascal), much of the eroticism in The Iron Rose is quite subdued, with only brief flashes of skin and uncharacteristically abbreviated love scenes. Even the film’s aforementioned finale, in which the lovely Pascal doffs her clothing and parades about on a dreary beach, is handled with wide shots, odd angles, and a sort of clinical detachment that’s more in keeping with the dreamy/nightmarish aesthete of the film. It’s an interesting departure for Rollin – a lyrical and thought-provoking meditation on love, sex, and death .
Redemption’s Blu-ray presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, culled from the original 35mm negative. The transfer shows its age, with some noticeable wear and tear during the credits sequence, as well as the occasional flicker and artifact, but, otherwise, the image is quite impressive. Colors are vibrant, with The Girl’s yellow shirt and plaid skirt standing out in stark contrast to the drab scenery of the cemetery, while fine detail is evident in clothing and skin. Blacks are deep and true, which is important seeing as how much of the action takes place in the dimly lit confines of the cemetery, while contrast is spot on. The accompanying LPCM 2.0 mono track (in French with English subs) is remarkably crisp and free of the warbling or distortion one usually encounters with low-budget films of this era.
Extras are all in HD and include an introduction by Rollin (accompanied by a mysterious masked man), as well as a lengthy interview with star, Francoise Pascal, in which she reminisces about the production and her history with Rollin. Also included is an interview with script supervisor/actress Natalie Perrey, who offers some interesting tidbits about the location, relationships between cast members, and Rollin’s struggles with the studio in getting the film made. Rounding out the extras is an alternate opening credits sequence, as well as trailers for this and other Rollin Blu-ray releases.
The Iron Rose won’t appeal to everyone. It’s a challenging film in that it eschews traditional horror tropes and tactics in favor of implied scares and experimental arthouse sensibilities. Fans drawn to the film by Rollin’s name, expecting the same sort of eroticism on display in films like Fascination or Lips of Blood will be sorely disappointed, but those interested in seeing a completely different side of this notoriously provocative filmmaker should consider this a must buy as Redemption’s Blu-ray presentation is exquisite. Highly recommended.