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Two Orphan Vampires (Blu-ray)

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Black Gloves
Les deux orphelines vampires
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Directed by: 
Jean Rollin
Alexandra Pic
Isabelle Teboul
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Louise and Henriette (Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul) have grown up in a Girls' orphanage run by French nuns in the countryside, and have been blind for as long as anyone can remember — tapping their way around the old stone building and the surrounding grounds with their ancient cemetery, by way of their distinctive white canes. With their pretty, porcelain features and pigtails, and attractively innocent demeanours, the girls are treated with tender indulgence by the simple nuns("they're our little blind angels, we try to protect them"), but nevertheless, their carers still hope to one day find them a home and a family to bring them up; and who could be a better candidate than the distinguished widower Doctor Dennary (Bernard Charnace) — who often visits the orphanage to examine the girls' eyesight —he's perfectly placed to provide them with the privileged and respectable bourgeois surroundings that would be best suited to such beautiful young innocents.

But unknown to all but themselves, the girls regain their sight by night, sprout large white vampire fangs and roam the graves and crypts of the churchyard, nearby, looking for stray animals and sometimes people, hunting them, then slaking their thirst for human blood! The girls see themselves as mortal goddesses who're locked into a Nietzschean eternal cycle of secret vampirism, their true nature always destined to be discovered, leading to their eventual demise and then their equally inevitable rebirth — and always then the same cycle starting all over again. When the unwitting Doctor Dennary takes them in, the girls continue their secret night-time escapades in which they encounter lots of other outcasts from consensus reality: among them a woman in a cocktail dress & pearls, who lives in a rail yard and claims to be a She-Wolf; and a bat-like woman in an underground cellar at Pere Lachaise Cemetery who offers them a coffin as a place to crash for the night. But their secret is perpetually on the edge of discovery and if their life of dark, romantic danger and picture-book fantasy is to be maintained, then brutal murder and a life on the run are inescapable accompaniments.       

"Les deux orphelines vampires" is, in many ways, a typical Jean Rollin film: full of images both childlike and charming; simultaneously romantic and wistfully tragic; suffused in equal measure with wildly poetic utterance and unabashed but lovingly rendered b-movie vampire motifs. Often naïvely gauche in execution yet all the more oddly compelling (at times) for that fact. Rollin is a filmmaker who has ploughed a familiar furrow since beginning his career during the revolutionary ferment of Paris '68. With his first student feature, "The Blood of a Vampire", he rejected the French New Wave's intellectualism for an idiosyncratic but distinctive approach steeped in French popular culture and surrealism. Since then, even when occasionally departing from his favourite twin vampire theme with its languid, erotic lesbian undertones, his films have always maintained the very particular atmosphere which has made them instantly recognisable.

This film was shot in 1997 when the director was very ill and was undergoing a difficult regime of kidney dialysis treatment; it is adapted from his own novel, a medium he'd taken up as a last resort during this time when his illness had appeared to make continuing with film-making an impossibility.  It is full of classic 'Rollinesque' imagery. In particular, the visual motif of the twin vampires (often, as they are here, dressed in diaphanous white night-gowns) who have a completely co-dependent relationship. The film is interesting since, as well as being much longer than the seventy or eighty minute long films of his heyday in the Seventies and early-Eighties, there is much less emphasis on eroticism (don't be fooled by the eye opening DVD cover, it's from the only brief scene of nudity in the whole film!) and it is much more ambiguous than much of Rollin's other work about the status of the supernatural world the two girls seem to inhabit. In fact it tends towards the idea that the girls aren't really vampires at all: when one of their victims, played by a much older but still very striking Brigitte Lahaie, accuses them of wearing plastic vampire fangs, she might actually be right! It certainly appears to be the case that their daytime blindness is a ruse, their dreams of past lives pure fantasy, and their knowledge of the roots of Aztec culture (they believe themselves to be Aztec gods) entirely derived from books stolen from the Mother Superior's library at the orphanage. 

The film presents the girls' relationship as a classic folie a deux, similar to the one depicted in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures", except it is given a typical Rollin treatment here in long drawn-out scenes full of pseudo poetic dialogue with awkward, stilted delivery, from actors who often appear to have been recruited from the local amateur dramatics society. The uncanny and the absurd materialise in the form of strange semi mythical 'creatures' (to the viewer they appear to be merely odd-looking middle-aged women) who pop up in incongruous surroundings, like a rail yard or a gravel pit, and deliver long, rambling and bizarre monologues. The vampire 'attacks' are, as is usually the case in Rollin's cinema, quite drained of action or any kind of urgency. — By normal 'mainstream' standards, his films are clumsy and crudely drawn, and this film, lacking the overt eroticism of works such as "Fascination" or "Lips of Blood" has an even tougher job when it comes to converting the average filmgoer. But that faltering uniqueness of style is exactly what endears him to his loyal fans, of course, and, at over a hundred minutes long, "Two Orphan Vampires" is only truly likely to appeal to the confirmed Rollin fan. But, although by no means a classic in the mould of, say, "The Living Dead Girl", it does have its handful of quintessential moments of Rollin genius to remind those fans of what they find so different and alluring about all those strange little films this unusual director has authored over the years.

Redemption Films and Kino bring Two Orphan Vampires to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1 transfer, remastered from the original 16mm negative. It's is a fairly grainy and occasionally soft affair, with a few moments of exceptional clarity. The color palette skews dark and drab, but there are a few instances where the image pops, especially in darker sequences where Rollins theatrical-style lighting washes (think reds and blues) are framed in shadow. As with the other releases in this collection, print damage and excess grain are confined to the opening and closing credit sequences, with everything in between looking very clean, especially considering the budgetary restraints and source materials.  The French LPCM 2.0 audio track (with optional English subs) will be the choice of most Rollin fans, and the track sounds crisp and clean. Obviously, this two channel mix is somewhat lacking in terms of LFE, but dialogue is up front and center, and the film’s minimalistic score has some body to it. There’s also an English dub option, and, save for a slightly tinny quality to the dialogue, the rest of the track is virtually identical to the French track.

Extras include a lengthy mini-documentary entitled Memories of a Blue World, which features reminiscences from the film’s star, Isabelle Teboul, as well as one of Rollin’s regular collaborators, composer, Phillipe D’Aram.  Other bonuses include trailers for this feature as well as all of the other films in the collection (1080p), and liner notes by Tim Lucas.

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