Director: Jean Rollin
Redemption USA

With a penchant for deliberately slow-paced storytelling, hauntingly surreal fairytale imagery and excessive sexuality and eroticism, French cult director Jean Rollin attempted to reinvent the vampire genre in the 1970s with a series of art horror films. One of five vampire films Rollin wrote and directed between 1968 and 1975, 1971’s REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (Vierges et vampires) is the one that got the most theatrical attention in the U.S. when exploiter Harry Novak and his Boxoffice International Pictures outfit dubbed the film into English and released it to grindhouses in 1973 in a shortened version known as CAGED VIRGINS (though it also played under several other titles, including THE CRAZED VAMPIRE).

Two trigger happy schoolgirls, Marie (Marie-Pierre Castel) and Michelle (Mireille D'Argent), escape the scene of a murder with their male companion, who quickly dies from gunshot wounds. Changing from their flamboyant circus clown costumes into a more conservative knee-high socks and mini skirts look, the duo of pigtailed honeys stumbles upon a very old cemetery (where Michelle is nearly buried alive by some very unobservant caretakers) and eventually they make their way to a crumbling, overwhelming chateau, where they take refuge. Conveniently locating a mattress aligned with a fur blanket, naked Marie and Michelle indulge in some heavy lesbian petting, but are soon interrupted by the unsettling noises within the chateau’s walls. The two girls are then abducted by a cult of vampires and are held prisoner (with the storybook premise that there’s no means of escape, and that all paths lead back to the chateau), and being that they’re virgins, they’re being prepped for some master ceremonial mass by the bloodsuckers. Michelle is the more willing of the two, drinking blood and coerced into whipping her nude and chained companion, while Marie plans to defy the vamps by losing her virginity to a willing young man who just happens to be trespassing on the nearby grounds.

A film which is almost totally void of dialog in its first half and void of any significant characterization, REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE is an easily watchable surreal exercise in foreign filmmaking, crammed with bizarre comic art imagery strung together with various incidents of fetishistic kinkiness and sadism. With the usual low budget Rollin was allotted, he makes excellent use of some authentic gothic locations, and the picturesque, massive chateau makes for a better vampires' liar than any studio could possibly provide. The use of oddball props, including rotted corpses affixed with squirming worms, severed arms protruding from stone walls, a line of hooded standing skeletons and assorted bats real and phony, add to the film’s unique appearance, and the clever use of colored lighting in some of the outdoor nighttime scenes is also noteworthy.

Marie-Pierre Castel (who also starred in some of Rollin’s films with twin sister Catherine) and Mireille Dargent are two very strange but perky and cute protagonists, often seen sans clothing. With an outlandish journey which involves murder, crime, promiscuity and entrapment by the undead, the camera loves Castel and D'Argent, and the stunned double gaze given by the wide-eyed duo in the face of danger is similar to two innocent doe caught in the headlights. The film’s sex angle is bumped not only by the two young leads never being shy of nudity, but also in a segment where the vampires’ barbaric henchmen indulge in the groping and eventual simulated onscreen rape of several stripped down, chained up beauties, and the scene concludes with the unforgettable image of a rubber bat nibbling on a female’s nether regions! Shots of the fancy-dressed vampires creeping out of coffins and trap doors are achieved well, but the vampires themselves are on the campy side, sporting ridiculously long plastic fangs that the actors can barely secure with their lower lips, not to mention that the caped “last vampire” (Michel Delahay) eresembles the Amazing Kreskin. Also on the lighter side, tell me that an early scene where Marie silently taunts a lunch truck worker in to chasing her in to the woods (so that Michelle can pilfer some grub) doesn’t remind you of a raunchy “Benny Hill Show” skit!

Redemption first issued REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE on DVD in the U.S. through Image Entertainment in 1998 with a flat letterboxed and very hazy looking transfer. This new DVD is a major improvement, and easily worth upgrading to (the old Image one is worth hanging on to if only for its inclusion of the dubbed English track). Presented here anamorphic in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, colors are quite vivid and detail is excellent, if less so in the darker lit scenes. There are a few non-distracting blemishes present due to the age and condition of the print source. The French language track is satisfactory with no major noticeable defects, and the soundtrack boasts some loud experimental jamming that reflects the progressive rock of the period (think King Crimson and The Soft Machine). The English subtitles appear small on screen, but they’re actually easy to decipher.

The supplements include three extra scenes, which basically add up to a few minutes of alternate “clothed” footage, including a chained-up Marie-Pierre Castel being whipped wearing a black bra and panties rather than being totally in the buff. Also included is a ten-minute video interview with French actress Louise Dhour, who plays the piano playing member of the vampire cult. Dhour touches upon REQUIEM, her appearance in Rollin’s DEMONIACS, and she tells a funny anecdote about her turn as a prostitute opposite Bernard Menez in DRACULA AND SON (1976). The only down side to the interview is that towards the end, she comments on some photos handed to her, but the viewer doesn’t get a glimpse of them to get an idea what she’s actually talking about. Also included is an English international trailer, the original French trailer, a brief color still gallery and several trailers for other recent Redemption DVD releases. (George R. Reis)