Director: Jean Rollin
Writer: Jean Rollin
Cast: Solange Pradle, Bernard Letrou, Catherine Deville, Ursule Pauly, Nicole Romain, Marquis Polho, Louise Horn, Jacqueline Sieger
Running time: 90 minutes
Year: 1968
Certificate: 18

In 1968, Le Viol du Vampire (The Rape of the Vampire) first appeared on the screen in France. The film marked the debut of auteur Jean Rollin. And although Rollin would go on to write and direct more thrillers, his focus on the theme of vampirism and his penchant for a dreamy, highly stylized imagistic signature added to a sense of mystique that made him one of the most noteworthy names in French genre cinema.

With the advent of such European films as I Am Curious Yellow (1967), nude scenes became de rigueur, leading to a propensity for further sexual and often violent content soon to be labeled “exploitive.” Jean Rollin’s movies generally feature a bevy of popular actresses from the era, almost always with scenes where they are naked, or partially nude. Additionally, Rollin’s filmic motifs, particularly the use of dilapidated castles, rocky beaches with rolling surf, sepulchers and their accompanying coffins, sheer diaphanous gowns, and overtly staged lighting find their way into the brunt of his output to the point of becoming tropes by which the maestro’s oeuvre is easily identifiable.

Le Viol du Vampire stands out as the starting place for such characteristics with one major difference. Shot in black and white, the concept of such nuanced lighting effects are largely ignored. Yet, Rollin’s scenes capture a sense of suspense by providing mood and atmosphere without the cinematography degenerating into the muddy lack of clarity one sometimes perceives with lower budget fare. In fact, the incredible contrast represented by the sensible use of dark and light adds a stark quality to the work that will inform his later films, such as The Nude Vampire, The Shiver of Vampires, Lips of Blood, and Two Orphan Vampires.

Other critics have noted the disastrous responses from reviewers and audience alike. Many filmgoers were put off by the lack of coherent narrative, partly due to the film’s construction as Rollin initially imagined Le Viol du Vampire as a short, then added a second section called Queen of the Vampires (often utilized as an alternative title for this feature). These disparate segments do not link together well, nor does the added parts help to clarify the already confusing storyline.

In short, there are four sisters who worship a frightful idol crucified in a field near their haunted-looking chateau. One of the sisters believes she was blinded by the local villagers who fear and despise them. A weird old man who, when not fondling them, controls their actions, commanding them to kill outsiders. When a trio comes to help the sisters, mayhem ensues. None of the three believe in vampires, or that the sisters are anything buy crazy – driven so by the harassment of the local people. When the vampire sisters attempt to add Brigitte (one of the three researchers) to their tribe, the others rebel leading to the death of almost everyone. Thomas (one of the three who have come to save them) tries to rescue Brigitte, but they are both shot and killed.

However, it is at this point that an uncredited Jacqueline Sieger arrives as the Vampire Queen. She commands that the bodies of the two lovers be cut up so they cannot rise as vampires, but there is rebellion in her ranks and the order is ignored. Blood from the old man who once controlled the sisters flows over the two and they come back.

From here, the plot becomes a murky mélange of weirdness with a human doctor overseeing demented experiments overseen by the Queen. He is secretly perfecting a cure for vampirism. By the conclusion, the Queen is poisoned, and Thomas and his vampire lover chain themselves up to die rather than risk going out into the world unable to control their hunger for blood.

Such a lackluster description might make one feel disinclined to give Le Viol du Vampire a go, but as it is Rollin’s first major effort and does introduce the look and feel of the style the director will soon perfect, this one is worth at least one viewing.

The recent release of the movie on Blu-ray from Indicator truly punches up the aforementioned contrast and provides a wonderful booklet with essays on Rollin and the subgenre of “lesbian vampires” he is credited with creating. The image quality is a step up over the version released by Redemption on DVD through Image and later on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The various extras and documentary footage add a touch of elegance to the overall presentation as well.

Although Indicator will likely release a standard version, the limited edition (10,000 copies) has the following:

• New 4K HDR restoration from the original negative by Powerhouse Films
• 4K (2160p) UHD presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
• Original French mono soundtrack
• Audio commentary with writer-director Jean Rollin (2007)
• Audio commentary with film expert and author Tim Lucas (2023)
• Jean Rollin Introduces ‘The Rape of the Vampire’ (1998): filmed appraisal
• Jean Rollin on ‘The Rape of the Vampire’ (2007): the director in conversation with festival programmer and journalist Joshua T Gravel at the Fantasia Film Festival, Montreal
• Fragments of Pavement Under Sand (2023): updated documentary on the making of The Rape of the Vampire, directed by Rollin’s personal assistant, Daniel Gouyette, and including interviews with key collaborators Jean-Denis Bonan, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and Jean-Loup Philippe
• New interview with Jean-Denis Bonan, editor of The Rape of the Vampire and assistant director on The Far Countries (2023)
• Newly edited archival interview with actor Jacqueline Sieger (2023)
• Newly edited archival interview with actor Alain Yves Beaujour (2023)
• Newly edited archival interview with actor Jean-Loup Philippe (2023)
• Newly edited archival interview with composer François Tusques (2023)
• Critical appreciation by author and film historian Virginie Sélavy (2023)
• Alternative scene
• Super 8 version: cut-down home cinema presentation
• 4K restoration of The Far Countries (Les Pays loins, 1965): Rollin’s second fictional short film tells of a couple lost in a maze of streets who can’t remember how they got there
• The Far Countries audio commentary with Rollin (2007)
• L’Itinéraire Souvenir (2018): artistic reconstruction of Rollin’s lost work from 1962 by filmmakers Victor Poucalow and Raja Tawil
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image galleries: promotional and publicity material, and behind the scenes
• New and improved English translation subtitles
• Limited edition exclusive 80-page book with a new essay by Beatrice Loayza, archival writing by Jean Rollin on the making of the film, an archival interview with the director by Peter Blumenstock, Jean Rollin’s recollections of shooting The Far Countries, and full film credits
Fans of genre films, especially those who appreciate macabre, eerie themes with a bit of titillation, should not pass up the opportunity to own this, a stepping off point for Rollin and an inspiration for the generations of filmmakers to follow.

Indicator release date is 28 August 2023.

Where to watch The Rape of the Vampire
The Rape of the Vampire (Le Viol du Vampire) - Indicator
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