Director: Jean Rollin

A bit of a departure from his previous films, Jean Rollin’s THE IRON ROSE has no vampires, zombies or lesbians. Instead its minimalist plot sounds more like the outline for an independent film from a young suburbanite, who has borrowed the family camcorder, grabbed a group of buddies and ran off to the local cemetery to shoot. Featuring two main actors, one set, little dialogue, bad poetry and a random clown, this film should not work. Yet somehow, through the lens of Mr. Rollin, it does. Eerie and thick with gothic atmosphere, THE IRON ROSE may be short on dialogue but it is long on mood.

While at an apparent wedding reception, a young man (Hugues Quester) finds fancy with a young girl (Françoise Pascal) from across the room. After some meek flirting, the two excuse themselves from the party, which has all the jovially feeling of an intervention, to meet outside. After minor introductions, the two make plans to get together the following day for a bike ride. Meeting the next day at a fog covered train yard, the couple chases each other in a playful game of hide and seek before eventually setting out on their bikes. Passing by a large gated cemetery, the young man convinces his date to take a break from their outing to enter the graveyard, as it would provide a more private setting. Once inside, the two find the grounds all but desolate, bar a few lone mourners, and decide to further isolate themselves by unlocking and entering a crypt for a topless make out session. Time escapes the couple and the two young lovers quickly find themselves lost and disoriented in the dead of night. As their attempts to find the cemetery gates prove futile, the couple begins to lash out at each other, fearful of what the graveyard and the night have to offer.

The film's main set piece, a cemetery located near Amiens, France is a gothic dream of seemingly infinite rows of tombstones, crosses and cherub statues. From the first frame, the film is awash with an unnatural fog and overall damp feeling, making it very much a mood piece. Jean Rollin effectively captures the feeling of being secluded and unfamiliar of one's surroundings; as graves and crypts seem to run on endlessly, with the entire facility overgrown with fallen decaying leaves and winding moss. The film’s score is used as modestly as the dialogue, but is more than effective at raising a hair or two.

There is a very noticeable and constant sense of contrasts throughout. Hugues Quester's bold red shirt against the damp grays of the cemetery tombstones, the outburst of lust amidst the surrounding decay and the random clown in a setting which conveys anything but whimsy, all standout as stark opposites. The two leads even contrast themselves, as the young man, played effectively garish by Quester, starts his cemetery exploration very much adventurous but as the night progresses he become skittish and paranoid. Françoise Pascal's character is however an exact opposite to her companion's, as she is at first a nervous wreck but slowly she begins to become fond of her crumbling surroundings and eventually becomes enveloped by them. Pascal is also a striking beauty whose buxom figure is a bouncy standout among the stone headstones and rusting metal crosses.

Having previously released titles through Image Entertainment, Redemption has recently entered the market as an independent, distributing through RYKO. THE IRON ROSE is a strong initial release, but not without its flaws. While the film does appear to be properly framed in 1.66:1 widescreen and anamorphic, there is however a constant digital error line located in the upper left of the frame. The persistent fault is barely noticeable during night scenes, which do dominate the films 86 minute running time, but during daylight scenes the defect borders on annoying. Otherwise, the picture quality is satisfactory, with only mild flecks of grain and appropriate coloring. A French language audio track comes across clear and is presented with optional English subtitles.

LES PAYS LOINS, a short film of Jean Rollin’s, can be found in the disc’s extras and is a welcome addition to this release. Just under 16 minutes in length, it's similar to THE IRON ROSE in that it too features a couple lost in their surroundings. Filmed in black and white, the short’s picture quality is adequate, with constant pops and scratches, but the bothersome digital error of the disc’s feature is thankfully not present. The visuals however turn to black for the last two minutes, with only the French dialogue track left to play out its conclusion. The short is offered with its original French language track with non-removable English subtitles. Also available in the extras is an original trailer for THE IRON ROSE, marketed as THE CRYSTAL ROSE or THE NIGHT OF THE CEMETARY. Trailers for HURT and BLACK MASS (both releases of Redemption), a Blood & Dishonour book teaser and short still galleries for both the feature and short film round out the discs extras. (Jason McElreath)