I don’t think you could call Jean Rollin a good film-maker, but he certainly is a distinctive one. I’d only seen one of his films, Demoniacs, yet when I saw the trailer for Requiem for a Vampire on the latest 42nd Street Forever compilation (under the charming and tres subtle title of Caged Virgins), I thought, “Gee, that looks a lot like that kinda dull, kinda interesting French horror film I saw a while back.” Sure enough, both were directed by Jean Rollin.
Requiem for a Vampire opens, literally, with a bang. Two young women dressed as clowns and their getaway driver are fleeing from a pursuing car, and all the while gunfire is exchanged. The girls’ driver is fatally shot but they manage to throw off their pursuers; they then douse the driver’s corpse and the car with gasoline, set it on fire, and then set off across the countryside. Still dressed as clowns. Yeah, I know it’s French and all that, but still.
Incidentally, this opening scene occurs exactly as I’ve described it. There’s no context for any of this. Just some girls dressed as clowns running away from some people. The girls (whose names we never learn, by the way) amble along, change out of their clown gear, steal a motorbike, drive til it runs out of gas, steal some food, and take a nap in a cemetery. Oh, and one of the girls nearly gets buried alive. Right about the time you’re wondering if this movie’s real title is “Mains” - Le Mains du Destin, the movie kicks it up a notch when the girls discover a seemingly abandoned chateau, go inside, and get naked together in the chateau’s bedroom.
However, the fun and games are interrupted when the girls hear a noise downstairs and investigate, finding a rotting corpse, a skeleton band, vampires whose fang placement varies from shot to shot, and a trio of thugs who help out the vampires and grope anything female along the way. The girls are told they are to become vampires, until the lead vampire emerges from his crypt and has other ideas.
With its striking cinematography (all the more so for being achieved on what’s obviously a minimal budget), lovely use of locations, and its repetitive, almost fetishistic use of certain images (in particular the nearly mute, doe-eyed girls), Requiem for a Vampire feels less like a movie and more like a filmed dream, presumably Rollin’s dream. However, this means it’s often about as interesting as hearing someone recount their long, involved dream. You find yourself letting the movie wash over you while you nod and say, “huh” at the more oddball aspects. While he certainly has a way with lightly surreal imagery, Rollin hasn’t David Lynch’s gift for translating the feel of a dream to the screen.
The result is a film that’s too dull to create excitement yet too intriguing in its oddball way to be an outright snoozer. It’s worth a peek if you’re in search of something different (though be forewarned there’s a scene of the thugs groping/molesting/raping several captive women that’s not only unpleasant but goes on far too long). But it’s probably safe to say that if you’ve seen one of Rollin’s movies, you’ve seen them all. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – his movies are different from anything else you’ll see, but they’re just not all that good.
Redemption has put together a tolerable disc complete with their usual tits-and-blood introduction, and extras that include trailers and a photo gallery.