Two from Jean Rollin

by Charlie Largent May 04, 2024

La Vampire Nue, Les Démoniaques
Blu-ray – All Region
Powerhouse Indicator
1968, 1974
Starring Christine François, Joëlle Coeur, John Rico
Written by Jean Rollin, Serge Moati
Photographed by Jean-Jacques Renon
Directed by Jean Rollin

Which came first, the art of Philippe Druillet or the films of Jean Rollin? There’s an easy answer; Druillet began his long career as an illustrator in 1966 with a series of illustrated stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Druillet’s work was partly the product of underground comix and overground Art Nouveau, a mix of relatively explicit sex and violence crafted in the ornate curlicue styles of Alphonse Mucha and Aubrey Beardsley. His drawings  were the highlight of Heavy Metal, a game-changing comic magazine born in 1977, created in part by Druillet himself. Jean Rollin directed his first feature film in 1968, and whether he was influenced by Heavy Metal or not, the spirit of Druillet hovers over Rollin’s movies, so much so that Druillet would produce the posters for two of Rollin’s films, 1971’s Le Frisson de Vampires and 1968’s La Vampire Nue.

Notable for their long passages of silence and serenely majestic landscapes populated by mostly naked women, the standard take on Rollin’s films is that they are “dreamlike.” I’d kill to have dreams like these, but even with their erotic atmosphere—like a Penthouse pictorial come to life, vasalined lens and all—Rollin’s work makes for great movie posters but mostly terrible movies. His second film, La Vampire Nue, or The Nude Vampire to those theater owners who actually wanted to sell tickets, is a typical Rollin effort with a slow-paced, quizzical storyline laced with imagery lifted from Belle de Jour and Last Year at Mariendbad.

As the somewhat nude quasi-vampire (she’s neither naked nor a bloodsucker), Christine François is the unwilling test subject of a man named Georges Radamante who sees her unusual metabolism—she lives on blood and seems invincible—as a pathway to his own eternal life. A mute but beautiful automaton,  Christine’s life blood is provided by a cult of swingers who have suicidal inclinations, for them, death is the ultimate thrill and giving their blood to this somnolent mystery girl is just a ticket to ride.

Hovering around these mortal ghouls is a tribe of night creatures who have other plans for Christine and Radamante—the young woman is in fact one of those unearthly beings, a mutant race that has, until now, existed in another dimension. It’s a plot turn that makes sense only when you realize Rollin really isn’t interested in plots but mood. In that respect La Vampire Nue has some striking sequences—Rollin had genuine visual chops and his use of ruined amphitheaters and delapidated castles revealed a real flair for haunted landscapes, even if their significance is as deep as a tourist’s postcard. 

Les Démoniaques, on the other hand, makes La Vampire Nue look like Last Year at Marienbad. Produced in 1974, the film stars John Rico as the nominal captain of a small band of pirates who do the things that pirates do best, raping and pillaging. Willy Braque and Paul Bisciglia are his shipmates and Joëlle Coeur plays the captain’s mistress—in keeping with the pirate terminology, she’s a lusty wench with insatiable desires.

This motley crew are known as “ship wreckers” who lure unlucky vessels into the craggy rocks where they plunder their treasure and abuse the survivors. Rico’s latest victims are two pale teenyboppers who the pirates promptly assault and leave for dead. But thanks to a mysterious oracle and his circus clown assistant, the women are reanimated and ready for revenge.

Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier play the ghostly victims and they are the most compelling aspect of this wretched movie. It’s easy to mistake this film as a parody of pirate movies, the performances are comically bad, especially the bug-eyed captain played by Rico who must have been the inspiration for The Simpsons’ sea captain; “arr, matey.”

Powerhouse Indicator has released both Le Vampire Nue and Les Démoniaques in superbly rendered Blu-ray editions (though the release comes with a 4K disc, this review concentrates on the standard Blu-ray edition). Both sets come with a generous assortment of extras that are surely more interesting than the films themselves. Highlights include: 

Two versions of La Vampire Nue, the original French-language version and the English-language version, with re-ordered opening scenes and alternative credits, an audio commentary with film historians Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby, and an 1998 introduction from Rollin himself.

There’s also Le Passage, a documentary about the making of La Vampire Nue and interviews with Rollin conducted between 1998 and 2003 (the director passed away in 2010). There are also image galleries featuring promotional material and behind the scenes photographs. The complete rundown of extras can be found here.

Les Démoniaques features similar extras including three versions of the film, one of which is a mildly explicit export version that resembles a late-night Cinemax broadcast (“Skinemax”) and an English version titled Curse of the Living Dead. Tim Lucas is on hand with an audio commentary for the export version and there’s a “selected scenes” archival audio commentary from Rollin. Willy Braque and Paul Bisciglia appear in two separate interviews and there are the usual image galleries and trailers to round off the supplements. The complete list of extras can be found here. 

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