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The Shiver of the Vampires

by Glenn Erickson Apr 15, 2023

A Jean Rollin film scores a first 4K disc release before Bava, Franju or Fisher; we review the Blu-ray edition. Once again dipping into free-form softcore Ero-horror, the French filmmaker imposes his improvisatory style on a fairly conventional vampire story, embracing the lesbian trends of the day (night). Should we be surprised that Rollin is one of the few French directors to consistently work in the horror field?  To stay in business, he had to alternate his feature output with straight pornography.


The Shiver of the Vampires
Region Free Blu-ray
Powerhouse Indicator
1971 / Color / 1:66 widescreen / 94 90, 72 min. / Le frisson des Vampires, Sex and the Vampire, The Terror of the Vampires, Vampire Thrills / Street Date May 8, 2023 / available from Powerhouse Films UK / £19.99 and 4K UHD £24.99
Starring: Sandra Julien, Jean-Marie Durand, Jacques Robiolles, Michel Delahaye, Marie-Pierre Castel, Kuelan Herce, Nicole Nancel, Dominique.
Cinematography: Jean-Jacques Renon
Art Director: Michel Desailles
Film Editor: Olivier Grégoire
Original Music: Acanthus
Written by Jean Rollin, Monique Natan
Produced and Directed by
Jean Rollin

Jésus Franco’s arbitrary style has been compared to jazz, tapping a zoom-happy visual riff and seeing what develops. The far less prolific French director Jean Rollin seems to have envisioned his cinematic approach to horror as a communal hippie happening, en français. Acceptable commercial releases of Rollin’s films only came with DVDs, twenty years ago. Rollin’s first effort, the B&W  Le viol du vampire  was something of a disappointment when released on a fine Redemption Blu-ray back in 2012. Our review was convinced that for Viol Monsieur Rollin was inspired less by the Universal classics than the erotic paintings and photos found in art books, like Ornella Volta’s 1962  Le vampire.

We’ve seen several other Rollins, and very much liked some aspects of his  La rose de fer.  His third horror film The Shiver of the Vampires seems even more inspired by Ornella Volta’s collected imagery, that directly links ‘profane’ vampirism to ‘profane’ sex. Slow and sober, Shiver only occasionally evokes the surreal, Feuillade-like thriller feel that he claims was his inspiration. The story here could come straight from a Hammer Film, without the studio-bound production values. It has just enough visual polish to avoid being classified as a ‘backyard’ movie.

 

The elaborate extras on Powerhouse Indicator’s disc outlines Jean Rollin’s catch-as-catch can approach to cinéma fantastique. His producers secure a disused mansion or castle, hopefully with an atmospheric graveyard nearby. His art directors bring in some chosen antiques and furniture, and he shoots with a cast that is clearly very dedicated: lots of cold night filming sans vêtements. We also learn that he doesn’t always finish without upsetting the locals with his subject matter, or the red paint he splashes on tombstones, etc..

In other words, Jean Rollin is another industrious no-budget artist trying his best in difficult circumstances. On the positive side, he seems to have attracted loyal collaborators dazzled by his artistic vision. His films played to an active horror fringe thrilled by his willingness to transgress on good taste. It’s 1970 . . . who wants Good Taste in a horror film?

It’s a honeymoon drive for newlyweds Isla and Antoine (Sandra Julien). She’s still wearing her bridal gown when they stop off at a relative’s castle. Isla is told that her family members died just the day before, yet two young female maids show them to a room. It doesn’t matter that another woman, Isabelle (Nicole Nancel) says some weird things, as the castle itself is already having and influence on Isla. She skips her honeymoon night with Antoine to offer herself for seduction by Isolde (Dominique), a vampire who can seemingly materialize at will. Serving Isolde in addition to the maids are the resurrected corpses of Isla’s male relatives (Jacques Robiolles & Michel Delahaye). They play host to the young couple before revealing their own vampiric appetites.

Who will survive?  Antoine is even slower to realize what’s going on than the average Hammer male. The two maids appear not to be vampires, just ‘enablers’ quite happy to engage in the group’s sexual play. Isla is everyone’s focus, especially the demoniacal Isolde — but can she be saved?

 

We try not to judge Rollin films on the basis of higher production values seen elsewhere — Hammer Films manage some studio polish but by 1970 were hard up to locate an interesting idea. When they dipped into nudity and lesbian themes they mostly embarrassed themselves. Vampires both erotic and un- became the exploitaion playground for American International, which at this time was also trying to avoid Hard-R material. The game was to not be restricted in distribution, to be lumped in with the low-end horror product ghettoized in theaters playing sex films. Judging by the reels of alternate hotter-content scenes including on this PI disc, Rollin’s films were adjustable for a variety of exhibitors, from almost-mainstream to lower tier houses keen for kinkier horror material.

Rollin’s admirers praise his mix of eroticism and fantastic, slightly surreal effects. That’s fine, but surreal effects usually require style and finesse, qualities in short supply here. We see the director doing the best with what he has. The visual of the vampire Isolde creeping out of a grandfather clock is frequently compared to George Franju (Judex). Rollin’s cameraman grabs the shot, but there’s nothing particularly disorienting about the angle, the lighting or the presentation in general. In these rough conditions very few shots are arresting or even stylish — the grandfather clock shot is mainly just odd. Add to that his Franco-like zooms, or crude pans from one speaker to the next in dialogue scenes. We’re inclined to believe that Rollin’s positively-charged audience brings most of the surreal impetus with them, into the theater.

Far Out!  A Vampire Happening, Man!

A major plus is the rock music score by a group called Acanthus — the music is used with discretion but often invigorates a scene that otherwise might just sit there. The music score also connects with Rollin’s handsome poster art that seems full appropriate for a rock ‘n’ roll concert. Did French audiences ‘light up’ in screenings of head trip movies, the way Los Angeles audiences did in the late ’60s and ’70s?

 

The cinematography is never inadequate, but its main mission is to record good skin tones on the actresses, so the naked bodies don’t look unpleasant. Various commentators note scenes filled with red and green-filtered light, or night angles with colored light projected on the castle tower. It’s exactly what it looks like, unmotivated colored lighting. Nobody expects Mario Bava effects, but neither do we derive any kind of surreal ‘frisson.’ The performers are definitely into their roles, but the overall effect is not particularly threatening or dangerous.

The sex is restrained, mainly being a lot of skin exposure. There’s nudity in almost every scene, with the softcore content the film’s most essential component. The leading lady is attractive, the chief vampire woman has a couple of creepy moments, and the two submissive maids seem to enjoy their roles in the ritual sex fantasies. Most of the dialogue is flat, with a lot of expository business — although the two male vampires Jacques Robiolles and Michel Delahaye deliver some of their speeches in an amusingly genteel manner.

Don’t get us wrong — at least in this stage of his career Jean Rollin achieves a lyrical effect now and then, and even when the cinematics are underwhelming, his cast seems sincerely motivated. That presumed audience hungering for surreal eroticism indeed worked up an affinity for Rollin’s work.

Odd notes — I don’t believe I saw any fangs on these Rollin bloodsuckers. The beach-set conclusion looks like the same location from Le viol du vampire. For one vampire entrance a coffin cover pops off one plank at at time, with the same kind of pixillation effect from Nosferatu. When vampires are destroyed there are no dissolves, opticals, or skeletal disintegrations. When struck by sunlight they just disappear (Pop!), an effect difficult to pull off under those overcast French skies.

 


 

Powerhouse Indicator’s remarkably clean and attractive Region Free Blu-ray of The Shiver of the Vampires presents Jean Rollin’s show in the best possible light. The cinematography is consistently attractive, including the opening prologue rendered in B&W.

We reviewed PI’s Blu-ray edition. Unseen is a simultaneously-released 4K Ultra HD disc. PI’s notes say that the renaster was supervised in-house.

A big draw for this edition are the extended extras. We see and hear a lot of Monsieur Rollin, who went on record at length about his pictures while still hale and hearty (he passed away in 2010). Once again, a ‘transgressive’ filmmaker turns out to be a pleasant fellow with a friendly disposition; we can immediately see how he might gather a group of motivated collaborators for his shows. In his commentary and video interviews Rollin is eager to explain the production circumstances, the camaraderie on set and the dedication of his performers.

 

A second commentary analyzes the film from an academic point of view, and (see below) other critics look at the show in the context of trends in the horror genre, and interestingly, as an expression of Rollin’s psychedelic creativity . . . we had just noticed Robiolles & Delahaye’s elaborate hippie costuming, with bell-bottom pants and Sgt. Pepper-ish regalia.

The best endorsements come from Rollin’s collaborators Daniel Gouyette, Natalie Perrey and Jean-Noël Delamarre, who confirm that they had the time of their lives staging his sexy pageantry in old ruins. They talk about a relative of the producer being hired to act, an outsider to the ‘Rollin clan’ who was resented and snubbed. When the time came to shoot a scene in which her ‘body’ is dumped into the castle’s moat in the dark of night, the regulars fully expected this woman to refuse. Not realizing that a rehearsal was underway, she voluntarily rolled into the un-heated, unsanitary water — and then didn’t complain, and was willing to go again for the camera. All accepted her from that point forward.

The alternate or extended sex scene material contains slightly more graphic material. At over four minutes, the trailers are about two minutes too long. Full image galleries are present, and the 80-page insert booklet (unread) contains numerous text essays and interviews. Powerhouse Indicator is releasing Jean Rollin’s 1997 feature Two Orphan Vampires at the same time, in 4K and Blu-ray editions. Two other horror items are offered in 4K as well. We happily repeat PI’s message: unlike the DVD and Blu-ray formats, 4K UHD discs do not employ region coding.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


The Shiver of the Vampires
Region Free Blu-ray rates:
Movie: A Rollin film (Marvelous for Rollin fans)
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent Original French and English
Supplements:
Audio commentary with Jean Rollin (2006)
Audio commentary with Jeremy Richey (2023)
Jean Rollin Introduction (1998, 4 mins)
Rouge vif (2023, 18 mins): updated documentary on the making of The Shiver of the Vampires by Rollin’s personal assistant, Daniel Gouyette, including interviews with key collaborators Natalie Perrey and Jean-Noël Delamarre
Fear and Desire (2004, 41 mins): lengthy discussion between Jean Rollin and the film theorist Patricia MacCormack, filmed in Paris
Macabre Psychedelia (2023, 8 mins): critical appreciation by the author and film historian Virginie Sélavy
Export inserts (25 mins): seven explicit sequences filmed for foreign markets
Original French and English theatrical trailers
Image galleries: promotional and publicity material, and behind the scenes
Illustrated 80-page book with an essay by David Hinds, and archival text from Jean Rollin, Peter Blumenstock, and Marie-Pierre Castel; Andy Votel on the music group Acanthus.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
April 13, 2023
(6917fris)
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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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