THE NUDE VAMPIRE (LA VAMPIRE NUE) was Jean Rollin’s second feature film after LE VIOL DU VAMPIRE, made a year earlier. Both films received poor responses upon their initial release, and it took several years before a cult audience would begin to take note of these and Rollin’s other films. Eventually his name would become synonymous with moody lesbian vampires, gothic cemeteries and crashing coastlines. As an early entry into his film library, THE NUDE VAMPIRE finds Jean Rollin still learning his craft, as scenes often drag on way too long. But also evident are the themes and passions of the man, as he weaves a story of atmospheric horror and mystery with touches of fetishism and sci-fi.
A mysterious woman (Caroline Cartier), wearing only a whisper thin orange cloak, is pursued late one evening by a group of individuals whose identities are concealed by animal masks. As she attempts to elude the mob, she bumps into a young man (Olivier Martin) and is instantly transfixed by him. After a brief moment of connection, the woman is captured by the gang and carried off to a local chateau. The young man follows her only to find a line of well dressed men and women at the front gate of the estate. Accosting a man at the end of the line, he steals his ticket, and finds entrance. Once inside he is escorted, along with the other patrons, to a large waiting room. There the audience gathers around a projector, as a slide is drawn at random from a vase. The slide is shown for the whole room to see, revealing a middle age woman in attendance. She steps forward and is presented a handgun. Placing the gun to her temple, she takes her life in front of the gathering.
Blue hoods are then handed out for all to wear, as a curtain is pulled back to reveal the mysterious woman in the orange robe, who drinks the blood of the suicide victim. As the curtain closes back, the next slide is chosen, this time, displaying the young man. He steps forward, takes the gun, puts it to his head but quickly turns it back on his bizarre hosts and makes his escape. As he investigates further it is revealed that the strange suicide cult is in fact overseen by his father (Maurice Lemaitre), who concedes to kidnapping the young girl for his own scientific purposes. He explains to his son that the girl is immortal, unable to walk in sunlight and lives only on human blood. It is his goal to study her and hopefully gain her secrets to everlasting life, but he is not the only one set after the girl, whose secrets may reveal more of his son's true nature than the secrets of immortality.
THE NUDE VAMPIRE is very much a tale of mystery and feels evocative of a collage. Varying images and scenes, while unique and often beautiful on their own, are arranged in a manner to reflect a whole. That’s not to say the film make any sense, just that Rollin’s goal to tell a story slowly with bits and pieces that lead up to a final reveal is blatantly evident. Any sort of cohesive plot was more than likely nowhere on his agenda when filming. Filled with odd animal and futuristic costumes and a distinctive use of vivid, often neon colors, the film feels set rather firmly in the realm of the fantastique. The title itself is somewhat misleading as the vampire in question never actually gets fully nude. This is a damn shame, as what is visible of Caroline Cartier, through the sheer gown she wears throughout, looks quite buxom. Cartier's silent performance is neither horrible nor memorable, but the same could be said for the majority of the cast. It’s not that they come across as amateurish; it is just that they often seem as lost as the viewer. This is particularly telling in a bit of dialogue toward the film’s end, in which two men are walking away just before the big reveal. “Do you understand any of this?” “Not really.”
It appears that Salvation Films' release of THE NUDE VAMPIRE, through its Redemption banner, is the slightly trimmed, English dubbed cut. Presented 1.66:1 widescreen and non-anamorphic, the source print used is reasonably clear, though specks of grain and other small blemishes are frequent. Colors seem to be spot on, with fleshtones and the bright neon colors of some of the more eccentric set pieces coming through clean and clear, maybe even too clear. Toward the film's end, the make-up of Michel Delahaye’s Grandmaster is so thick and poorly applied that it’s almost laughable. Keep your thumb on the volume control as the audio is a bit of a mixed bag. While the English dub dialogue is often too soft, the film’s sound effects and music cues are way too loud. Gun shots sound like the film's Foley artist just threw an assortment of pots and pans onto a much larger collection of pots and pans.
Among the disc's extras is Jean Rollin's first attempt at cinema, LES AMOURS JAUNES ("The Yellow Loves"). A black and white short shot on 35mm, LES AMOURS JAUNES is a welcome addition as it gives fans of Rollin's films a starting point from which to follow his development as a director and the reoccurring themes which persist through his collection of films. LES AMOURS JAUNES is a collection of scenes all shot around the cliffs and coastline of Dieppe, France, a favorite location of Rollin's. Inter cut with still drawings by Fabien Loris, the film's only dialogue comes from a voice over of a man reading from a Tristan Corbiere poem. The short is rather ragged and brimming with scratches and hairs, but these imperfections almost add to the short's mood rather than detract from it. The short is present in French with non-removable English subtitles.
The disc extras also include both the original French and English trailers, which are identical bar their spoken languages and title cards. A brief Stills gallery for both the feature and the short film, trailers for HURT, THE IRON ROSE and BLACK MASS, all current releases from Redemption are included, as well as a Satanic Sluts Book Teaser (Hello!) for Blood & Dishonour. (Jason McElreath)
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