Written by Tron Delapp
Jean Rollin is the kind of director the word ‘auteur’ was created for. Much like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Jesus Franco, Rollins unique visual style and almost completely avant garde approach to film-making permeates every film he ever made, resulting in one man’s unique vision hitting the screen. You never know what you’re going to get with a Jean Rollin film; he may approach the heights of his masterpiece, The Grapes of Death or you could end up with Zombie Lake or anything in between. The Nude Vampire, his second film which played at Fantastic Fest this year as part of it’s usual repertory screening falls closer to The Grapes of Death than it does Zombie Lake but it’s definitely not for everyone. The Nude Vampire is far more of a fantasy than a horror film and crammed to the gills with Rollin’s signatures: extremely low budget, nudity, oblique camera angles, off-kilter plot progression and surrealistic approach to the subject matter, making The Nude Vampire much more of an interesting viewing experience.
The plot goes something like this; A girl in a sheer orange nightgown (Caroline Cartier) is wandering the streets pursued by several men wearing bizarre animal masks. She encounters a dandy named Pierre Radamante (Olivier Rollin) who is immediately struck by her beauty and attempts to help her escape. However, she is shot down before his eyes and carted off to an exclusive club his father belongs to. When he brings it up to his father, played by Maurice Lemaitre, he is told to mind his own business and continue dallying with the hot twins his father has provided for his amusement (the twins are Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel, with whom Rollin would continue to work with in subsequent films). Pierre is angry his father would keep such beautiful women for he and his club mates and is determined to find out what happens behind closed doors, drafting his friend Robert (Pascal Fardoulis) to help him infiltrate the club. Once they do the find a weird suicide cult where people play Russian Roulette where their bodies are offered up to the woman in the orange nightgown! They are almost caught and Pierre confronts is father for answers, only to be told that his father is protecting the girl from a rival cult, they wear masks to ensure she never sees their faces as she has never seen a human before Pierre and they don’t want her to know she is different, she eschews sunlight and exists on human blood. In short, she’s a vampire. His father is hoping to find someone else with the same exotic blood type as her in order to cure her condition, all the while hoping to uncover the secrets of immortality. He tells Philip to come back in 24 hours and more would be revealed. However, as soon as Philip is gone, he rents another mansion outside of Paris and retreats there with his vampire, the household staff and his science pals, leaving his assistant Solange (Ursule Pauly) behind to take care of some minor loose ends, such as misleading Pierre and killing Robert. Pierre is smitten and won’t take no for an answer so he tracks his father to the new mansion in hopes of getting more answers but instead finds more than he’s bargained for when it’s revealed that the house they’re renting is actually owned by the leader of the ‘rival cult.’ Hi-jinks ensue and the story definitely leads itself away from the trappings of a horror thriller and deeper into the realm of surrealist Fantasy.
The restoration is absolutely gorgeous with Rollin’s wonderful color palette really shining through. The acting ranges from competent to laughable but with Rollin’s hand at the helm the film does not degenerate into farce but rather makes the disparate elements work together and enhance the surrealism you’re currently viewing. There is the undercurrent of the lower class rebelling against the exploitation of the corporate classes but it’s so deftly intertwined into the story of a man attempting to save the girl he’s fallen for that The Nude Vampire almost becomes the perfect blending of art and exploitation and make no mistake, there’s enough nudity in this film to definitely be called exploitation. Yet that is one of the strengths of Rollin’s overall body of work – the bizarre blending of the fantastic, the socially conscious and the exploitative that it’s almost impossible to separate them. It’s low budget grindhouse meets Dadaist surrealism and it provides a fascinating and often challenging viewing experience. The Nude Vampire is a much more understandable work than his first effort, Rape of the Vampire but it still shares the same gonzo, free-wheeling sensibilities that made that film such a controversial piece upon release, though I’m sure less people hated The Nude Vampire than they did Rape of the Vampire.
Regardless of the pretentious criticism, The Nude Vampire succeeds as a film that, as stated before, is much closer in execution to Rollin’s masterpiece The Grapes of Death than it is to his lesser efforts such as Zombie Lake (which is by no means the worst zombie movie ever but it’s in the bottom 20% for sure, right next to Oasis of the Zombies). The film is full of mystery, science-fiction, a little horror and a ton of nudity, all wrapped up in Rollin’s trademark visual style. The story is secondary to the visuals, the most telling lines in the film occur at the end when two characters are walking away and one asks, “Do you understand any of this?” The reply, “Not really.” Rollin is less interested in telling you a linear story than to give you a pervasive sense of mystery throughout the viewing experience and, though this movie is far more understandable than much of his work, that’s exactly what Rollin delivers. The film is definitely not for everyone but if you like a little surrealism with your Fantasy and a little nudity with your vampires, then The Nude Vampire is TOTALLY RECOMMENDED.