Director: Jean Rollin
Kino Lorber/Redemption

Louise (Alexandra Pic) and Henriette (Isabelle Taboul) are the “blind angels” of the Glycines Orphanage, but the Mother Superior (Anne Duguel) and kindly Sister Martha (editor/script supervisor Natalie Perrey, LIPS OF BLOOD) do not realize that Louise and Henriette are vampires who can only see at night. While stalking the local graveyard in search of food, the two orphans reminisce about their past lives in far off places and their encounters with equally strange creatures like a she-wolf (Nathalie Kersanty), a ghoul who feeds off the dead (Tina Aumont, TORSO), and “The Midnight Lady” (still photographer Veronique Djaouti) a bat woman who flies above cemeteries at night. When the Mother Superior calls in kindly Dr. Dennary (Bernard Charnace, DR. PETTIOT) to diagnose the cause of the orphans’ inexplicable blindness, he decides to adopt them and take them back to Paris in order to find a cure. The big city offers them more feeding opportunities and bigger cemeteries, but also greater dangers from both humans and their own kind.

Although director Jean Rollin continued to work in low budget film and TV throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, most viewers in English-speaking countries last heard from him with 1982’s THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (although the unsuspecting would catch up with ZOMBIE LAKE [1981] and EMMANUELLE 6 [1988] a couple years later without suspecting his involvement). Most of Rollin’s growing fanbase had only read of his works and seen still photographs in books like David Pirie’s Vampire Cinema (1977) and Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs’ Immoral Tales (1994), a copy of the latter – in its 1995 St. Martins American edition with the garish cover – is glimpsed in the lair of The Midnight Lady. Besides Wizard Video’s tape of the aforementioned ZOMBIE LAKE, the only other Rollin film on the rental market in the 1980s – other than a couple of Spanish-dubbed tapes for the Latino market (including a version of SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES with an alternate score) – was a truncated cut of REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE under the title DUNGEON OF TERROR in a Best Film and Video double feature tape with a shortened version of Robert Voskanian’s THE CHILD/KILL AND GO HIDE. Best Film and Video had licensed a number of films from Box Office International’s Harry Novak for a series of double bill cassettes, who had acquired the English versions of THE NUDE VAMPIRE, SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, and REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (although he only released REQUIEM under the title CAGED VIRGINS). Although Japanese VHS could usually be relied upon for uncut and widescreen versions of Euro fare, the few Rollin releases would have been in French with Japanese subtitles only, as well as optically censored. Novak’s imperfect elements for the three Rollin films later served as sources for VHS releases by Something Weird Video. THE NUDE VAMPIRE was slightly incomplete (although its French title sequence was longer than the English sequence seen on the Redemption tape and DVD releases, and the first scene was presented more effectively as a pre-credits sequence) but THRILL OF THE VAMPIRES featured additional nude footage not shot by Rollin. Something Weird also released the rare English cut of DEMONIACS under the title CURSE OF THE LIVING DEAD (although it had also been released stateside as STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN AT NIGHT). These releases went out of print when grey market company Video Search of Miami purchased the US rights for Rollin’s films and released more complete subtitled editions on VHS with videotaped introductions by Rollin and associate Lionel Wallmann; however, these tapes were sourced from PAL and SECAM pre-records (Redemption’s UK tapes of some of the same titles were sourced from superior elements, although they had been scissored by the BBFC). Laserdisc collectors with deep pockets, however, could acquire LIVING DEAD GIRL on a special import laserdisc with English subtitles, English audio commentary by Rollin, trailers for the film and THE IRON ROSE, and a German soundtrack with an alternate score (this special feature was fortunately carried over to Encore’s 3-DVD import edition).

1997’s TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES was not only Rollin’s return to international visibility (although it took its time getting to English-speaking countries outside of the grey market), it was also his return to vampire cinema. Rollin wrote the source novel – actually a series of five novellas published separately and later in a single volume – while on dialysis and waiting for a transplant. Rollin’s novel was published in French in 1993, and Redemption published an English version in the UK. The movie was pitched as a tie-in to the books and vice versa. The production reunited Rollin with longtime collaborators Natalie Perrey as actress, editor, and script supervisor (she had previously supervised the extermination of scantily-clad vampire babes in Rollin’s LIPS OF BLOOD), her onetime husband Jean-Noel Delamarre (assistant director on REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and THE IRON ROSE), line producer Sam Selsky (an American ex-patriot who had secured funding for several of Rollin’s films starting with his feature debut RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE), production manager Lionel Wallmann (whose collaboration went back to REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE), as well as muse Brigitte Lahaie (who plays a circus ringmaster attacked by the two vampires). Lahaie was first utilized by Rollin in a striking supporting role in GRAPES OF DEATH before earning lead roles in FASCINATION and NIGHT OF THE HUNTED. Besides acting, Veronique Djaouti also did the film’s still photography and his subsequent films including NIGHT OF THE HOURGLASS.

Although I didn’t get to see TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES until Shriek Show’s 2002 DVD release (issued simultaneously with their disc of FIANCEE DU DRACULA), I imagine that the film was a major disappointment to some fans who had just been exposed to most of his oeuvre through these VSOM tapes and not long after in improved form by Redemption Films (through a VHS and DVD distribution deal with Image Entertainment). The nudity and lesbian sex quotient was drastically reduced, the episodic story meandering at 107 minutes, Philippe D’Aram’s synth score sounded cheap (although I do like the main title track) and Norbert Morfaing-Sintes’ 16mm photography looked somewhat bland and relied heavily on blue filters and day-for-night tinting. The naiveté of the few special make-up effects and the spare set dressings – although charming in his earlier films – probably did little more for viewers when direct-to-video auteurs started churning out even more budget and imagination impoverished “lesbian vampire” efforts with more explicit content (for instance, the star vehicles of Misty Mundae). Although I was enamored with the film when I first saw it (having purchased it and FIANCEE DU DRACULA in-store at very close to retail price), the film has improved substantially for me with subsequent viewings of it and Rollin’s other work. Although Louise and Henriette are vampires, they are every single pair of female antiheroes that populate most of Rollin’s oeuvre from REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE onwards (the twin servants of THE NUDE VAMPIRE and SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES were ornamental supporting characters) to the decidedly less commercial THE ESCAPEES. They’re a bit gabbier than REQUIEM’s clown and more shameless, but not quite as calculating as the two ladies-in-waiting of FASCINATION. Injured, they’re not unlike the innocent duo of DEMONIACS, but they do not need to be sexually infused with supernatural powers to wreak vengeance. Louise and Henriette try to fashion together a shared past through storytelling, not unlike the two amnesiacs of NIGHT OF THE HUNTED.

Short of suggesting that the entire story is a delusion of one or both of the girls, we know that they really are vampires, but the other “creatures” they meet along the way might be madwomen like Karsenty’s she-wolf (who admits to escaping an asylum), Djaouti’s Midnight Lady (although I’d argue that the wings she wears are not so much a poor “special effect” or a costume so much as a surrealist creation), or Aumont’s ghoul; but do creatures of the night really have to prove their magical qualities to other creatures of the night? Teboul and Pic are charming and sympathetic leads, even as they take advantage of kindly and innocent victims: there seems to be nothing unseemly about Charnace’s kindly doctor, and in the cemetery scene, the two orphan vampires do not turn the tables on the middle-aged man chasing them with a stick, but they do munch on the girl who sent her boyfriend off to protect them. Their fate is affecting; we do not know if they actually will reincarnate, but as storytellers their end seems to symbolize the death of imagination. Early on, the two orphans are seen reading a purloined copy of Georges Bataille’s THE STORY OF THE EYE in their convent bed after dark. Bataille was a family friend during Rollin’s childhood and told him stories (presumably not the ones he himself penned). While Lahaie and Aumont are prominently credited, the opening titles also cite the amiable participation of one Martin Snaric (who plays the painter victim in the New York sequence). Snaric (former husband of 70’s supermodel Pat Cleveland) was a former model who had become a highly successful movement coach. D’Aram’s soundtrack was released on CD as part of the German-produced English-language book on Rollin titled VIRGINS & VAMPIRES by Peter Blumenstock (by jason). Other than the main title track and ars antiqua’s wonderful “Reis Glorios” that underscores the orphans’ visit to the cemetery and their encounter with the bat woman, the soundtrack does not fare well isolated from the images.

The film’s rights were picked up by Eurocine in the late nineties, and the film had its first US DVD release in 2002 through Media Blasters’ Shriek Show line in an interlaced, dual-layer anamorphic widescreen (1.62:1) transfer. The edge-enhanced image was very murky during the darker blue-tinted night and fantasy scenes. The original French audio and an English dub were included, but the optional English subtitles did not appear on all DVD players. Kino Lorber’s dual-layer, AVC-encoded 1080p widescreen (1.78:1) transfer was remastered from the original 16mm negatives. There does not seem to have been a lot (or any) restoration work performed on the master. White specs abound, but the picture is thankfully swimming in grain (finer than other 16mm-originated horror flicks because it was shot on newer stock and they have utilized the negative instead of the 35mm blow-up). The blue filters and tints are not as saturated as on the previous release, resulting in a more consistently readable image during the night sequences. The 1.78:1 framing may be stretched slightly from the original aspect ratio rather than cropped (or slightly stretched and slightly cropped) since we do not appear to lose much on the top and bottom of the frame (there is space above the cross on the wall at the top of the frame when Sister Martha says her prayers, and the she wolf’s head is fully visible in the long shot with her standing on top of the train with the oblivious orphans walking below). 1.66:1 just seems like the more appropriate aspect ratio for this (and most spherical French films), but the compositions never seem adversely effected. The original French and English mono tracks are rendered in 24-bit LPCM 2.0, with the French track being superior not only in terms of performance but also technical quality and condition. I have not compared the optional English subtitles to the previous release, but I noticed no spelling errors or any awkward phrasing.

Media Blasters’ disc was strong in the extras department with interviews with Rollin (41:58), Teboul (10:36), and Pic (17:36). An Easter Egg [3:00] featuring footage of Teboul and Pic revisiting the Paris cemetery location was also included. The Media Blasters disc also featured a still gallery as well as the entire soundtrack (38:59) as twenty individually selectable tracks. The Kino Blu-ray includes a different set of extras starting with “Memories of a Blue World” (42:30), a recently-made retrospective documentary on the making of TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES featuring comments from actress Isabelle Teboul, actress/still photographer Veronique Djaouti, actress Nathalie Kersanty, assistant director Jean-Noel Delamarre, and composer Philippe D’Aram. Delamarre reveals that he was brought on as assistant director, but directed more than a few scenes when Rollin had to visit the hospital for treatment or when his illness kept him in bed. Delamarre discusses his efforts to match Rollin’s style as he knew it from working with him previously (although he generally shot more takes), sticking to Rollin’s script, and the professionalism of cinematographer Morfaing-Sintes. He doesn’t regard the scenes he shot – including the entire New York sequence – as “his” contribution. Besides serving as assistant director, uncredited co-director and second unit director, Delamarre was also the film’s title designer (although there is no discussion of that contribution, although he did the titles for several of Rollin’s films starting with DEMONIACS). Teboul – who answered a magazine ad for the role – dreaded shooting her nude scene (she took shots of whisky, and Pic was very assertive in chasing off onlookers) and was still uncomfortable with it when interviewed for Shriek Show’s disc; now she wonders why she made a big deal of it. She does however remain uncomfortable about filming the scene where she and Pic had to feed off the dog (the animal Iona – which was sedated by a veterinarian too appear dead – actually belonged to D’Aram and passed away years later). Kersenty also answered the magazine ad and was hoping for one of the leads. She describes her initial meeting with Rollin at his home. Both actresses do discuss the awkwardness of performing with the director absent. Djaouti has no memories of Delamarre’s directing because she also became a personal assistant to Rollin and not only drove him to the set but also to his doctor’s appointments. Not a trained performer, Djaouti was eager to fit in and went a bit overboard in trying to be a professional performer. The large metal bat wings she wore so heavy and stiff that she cracked three ribs and vertebrae walking with them (Teboul mentions that Djaouti cried between takes but no one except her realized that she was badly hurt). Djaouti also tells us that Aumont discovered when she arrived on set that she had learned the wrong role – the She-Wolf role – and was so distressed that she could not learn her intended role (she’s pretty much improvising in the finished film). In discussing his working methods, D’Aram says that he usually does demos with synthesizers but used synths in the final product here because of the budget; as such, he dislikes the use of ars antiqua’s version of “Reis Glorios” because his synthesizers clash with the acoustic instrumentation and vocal of the song (“Reis Glorios” is the popular name of “Alba” [Dawn], a medieval troubadour standard that has been recorded by several artists). Although Rollin fans will beg to differ, D’Aram says that TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES and the films that followed are better than his earlier works because the nudity is more organic to the story. Regarding the film’s reception, Teboul was thrilled that it got a release in the United States (if only on video) and makes the odd comment that she actually prefers the English-dubbed version of the film (the voice actor dubbing her is the better chosen of the two leads, but it may be an insecure reaction to seeing her first film performance). Alexandra Pic does not appear in the documentary but she receives special thanks in the end credits.

Next up is an interview with Rollin (20:19), from 2008, which is rather disappointing. The questions are very general (as are the responses), and the discussion is interrupted for several minutes as Rollin shows the camera props and self-created artwork featured in earlier films and ones he plans to use in future work. Although the interview covers a broad range of topics, it is illustrated almost exclusively with clips from TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES. Although the Gouyette featurette is fairly comprehensive, owners of the Media Blasters’ disc may want to hold onto it for the earlier interviews including that of Alexandra Pic and a superior one with Rollin. An unsubtitled trailer (2:03) is also included (looking much more “vintage” than the feature) along with a subtitled trailer for RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE, English trailers for THE NUDE VAMPIRE, SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE, THE IRON ROSE (using the title THE CRYSTAL ROSE), and French trailers for DEMONIACS, LIPS OF BLOOD, FASCINATION, and LIVING DEAD GIRL. The liner notes booklet by Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas appears to have been written for both TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES and the concurrent Blu-Ray release of LIVING DEAD GIRL. Lucas does engage thematically with both films (drawing parallels between the childhood flashbacks in the latter film with the mythmaking of the two vampire orphans), but – perhaps because I have not yet seen any of the extras on the new Kino Redemption disc of the other film – I found the factoids about American interference in the production of LIVING DEAD GIRL more interesting. (Eric Cotenas)