Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Nude Vampire - review

DVDDirected by: Jean Rollin

Release Date: 1969

Contains spoilers

The Nude Vampire maybe should have been entitled The (may as well be) Nude (not really a) Vampire. The reason for saying this is that the ‘vampire’ (Caroline Cartier, in a role credited as vampire) spends most of her time wearing see-through chiffon and because, by the end of the film, we discover that the character isn’t really a vampire. That said I believe that the film is a genre film which is why I have written a review rather than Vamp or Not? piece and I have kind of put the cart before the horse by saying all that.

This was Jean Rollin's second feature and for those who have never seen Rollin movies, well let us just say that he is a French director who is often very surreal and has a propensity to throw much nudity and fetishism into his creations.

This is possibly as surreal a Rollin film that I have seen (with the possible exception of Rape of the Vampire) and the psychedelic or, even, dreamlike nature of the film can cause you to wonder whether there is actually a story under it all. There is and it is strangely compelling.

We start with a masked man in a doctor’s coat. A hooded girl is brought to him by hooded men and he takes a sample of blood. We then see a girl sneaking out of a town house, she is the ‘vampire’. masked men in ParisShe is followed by men in animal masks and one wonders why her escape remains furtive rather than one of fleeing as they are mere yards behind her. She comes across a man, Pierre (Olivier Martin), and touches his face. He sees the extravagantly masked men and flees with her until they are surrounded. One of the masked men shoots the girl, Pierre climbs to safety and they carry her body back to the Town House. Several people in evening dress enter the Town House gate and Pierre tries to follow. He is stopped because he has no invitation – which is the first dialogue we get.

strange oufits and hardly practicalCut to Pierre at home, being ‘served’ by identical twins (Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel) in bizarre outfits. His father, Georges Radamante (Maurice Lemaître), enters the room and tells him that he was seen near his Town House and to stay away. He can have all the money and girls he wants but he must stay out of his father’s business. He decides he will discover his father’s secrets.

We cut to the scene of a woman dancing for Radamante and his two associates Fredor (Jean Aron) and Voringe (Bernard Musson). It is a somewhat psychedelic exploitation scene that I mention for three reasons. Firstly because we hear the men talking about the risks they are taking. Secondly because we meet Radamante’s secretary Solange (Ursule Pauly) and thirdly because of a brief scene where we see a blonde dancer on the telephone saying that she will follow him (unnamed), but cuts the conversation when Solange enters.

We cut to night and people in formal wear going to the Town House, Pierre mugs a straggler for his invitation and gets inside. He ends up in a room where, almost ritualistically, a projection slide of a woman is selected. She is one of the attendees. She steps forward, takes a gun and blows her own brains out – though my description is more powerful than the most unconvincing gunfire noise and suicide scene you’ll see in a movie. Everyone puts on hoods and a hood is placed on the corpse. She is carried to a stage and the ‘vampire’ comes down some stairs. She tries to lift the hood from the corpse, is stopped and then licks at the blood which has dripped to the neck. The curtains close and another slide is chosen – it is Pierre. He takes the gun but shoots the slide chooser and runs. He is hunted by masked men but the one who corners him is stabbed by an oriental lady. He meets a man in a cape (Michel Delahaye), credited as the Grandmaster, who tells Pierre to go to his father’s offices as more mysteries await.

Again cut, this time to a painter, Robert (Pascal Fardoulis), who, after she does some self touchy-feely, is about to get down and dirty with his model. The phone rings, Pierre wants picking up and taking to the offices. enlarge to read subtitleWhen they arrive, both in formal wear, they find pictures of the girl and records of blood types of night workers. Perhaps she is a robot, suggests Robert. Meanwhile Radamante has been told of the incident at the Town House, though Pierre is not named, has had it shut down and the girl moved. Alarms go off in the office and everyone puts hoods on as the girl is brought through but she unmasks Robert and he and Pierre are caught. Pierre is taken to his father.

His father explains that she has a rare blood disorder and cannot go out in the sun but it does cause miraculous healing. That she is worshipped by fanatics as a Goddess and those worshippers are a suicide cult. He explains that he is searching for a cure for her and needs an identical blood-type, someone with the same disease and the reason everyone wears hoods is that she has never seen another human (yeah I know) and he doesn’t want her to know how different she is. He says to Pierre to give him 48 hours to prove this to him.

Radamante then sells the Town House and buys a remote chateau and transports the girl there. The person who sells him the chateau is the grandmaster. Radamante confides to his associates that others of her species might be looking for her.

Under Radamante’s orders Solange goes to Robert. She tells him she needs help as the girl is a vampire and Radamante wants to breed her with another in order to steal her immortality – this is pure "Bond villain giving plot away" (though not so simple in Rollin’s world) and then shoots Robert dead. Pierre is then told that his father has gone away.

It is here that things have gotten interesting story-wise, despite the weirdness. Here we have some form of scientist or doctor, Radamante, who has captured a vampire and is trying to find a male in order to breed them. The vampire has a different blood-type (in fact is a whole other species), heals quickly, must avoid sunlight and feeds on blood – but as I have intimated it is not so simple.

vampire released from cellThe two associates are woken by the sound of drums and get Radamante. Meanwhile the oriental woman releases the ‘vampire’ from her cell. Having released her from her cell she then meets the girl on the roof, cuts her own breast and allows the vampire to feed. She then signals the Grandmaster to let him know the girl is loose. The three men discover that their drivers are dead and then see the girl, they try to shoot her, to no effect, and run.

together againPierre comes in and walks straight into the ‘vampire’ who touches his face. Radamante takes them all to a room to prepare for a siege and admits he is searching for immortality. Pierre leaves and meets the twins who wear the same ring as the Grandmaster and the oriental woman. They tell Pierre that he will wear it some day and that his father has had Robert killed (this is observed by Solange). He then finds the Grandmaster who tells him that what he will see is not real, as his father and the associates believe in vampires they will see vampires. Pierre is destined for someone, obviously the girl.

Solange attacks the twins and, with a most unconvincing swipe of a candlestick, knocks them down the stairs, apparently dead. She reports to Radamante but the Grandmaster comes in and carries the girl away, unaffected by bullets. He passes her to Pierre and then signals an attack where dozens of people (including the blonde dancer, remember her from earlier), carrying torches, walk slowly into the chateau. crosses do not work

Eventually cornered, and realising that bullets are useless, Radamante holds up a crucifix that the Grandmaster takes from him and then hands back and then simply leaves as the men know they are defeated. Meanwhile the twins, with burnt faces, go after Solange – who gets away to a graveyard and then just twins exact revengecollapses on a grave. Pierre is sent to see his father by the Grandmaster, a pointless exercise as he simply looks at him and then leaves, but it means his father can follow him to the finale. Outside Pierre follows the Grandmaster’s voice to a house, in which he is given a ring (the same as the Grandmaster’s) and told to go through a curtain.

Radamante wants to follow but the associates abandon him. As they leave they discuss the situation. “Was she a vampire?” asks one. “She was something,” is the only answer.

Radamante jumps through the curtain and ends up on a beach. Everyone there has grey faces. grandmaster with grey faceHe fires his gun but it is useless, they are in another dimension. The Grandmaster tells Radamante that Radamante himself was the true vampire, he made the girl feed on blood and kept her from sunlight. They are not vampires, they are mutants – the new evolution of humanity, immortals.

Okay, I said it was bizarre. There is some wild jazz over parts of the soundtrack that really works and the cinematography and costuming make this surreal experience dreamlike. The acting is poor, the associates seem permanently worried, Pierre virtually never breaks a sweat and the ‘vampire’ just seems bemused. Yet the acting also adds to the dreamlike quality, making the characters almost like flitting figures in a subconscious fantasy.

Nothing fits into the real world, slowly pacing masked figures hunting a chiffon wearing girl in the heart of Paris could never feel real and that is the joy of the movie. That said Rollin made more commercially normal films (to a degree), which are likely a better starting point for those who have never seen his films rather than discover his films through this one. Strangely, as I watched this, I couldn't help but think of Alien Blood and, whilst the film is about evolution rather than extra-terrestrials, the later film must have been influenced by this - though Alien Blood is nowhere near as fulfilling. There are also elements that feel like they influenced Twin Peaks.

It is so difficult to score this that I rather wished I had written a Vamp or not? (As I do not score those.) As I said, poor acting and a storyline hidden amongst surrealism pushes the score down, as does the fact that there are better Rollin films out there. However the film is weirdly compelling and has all the motifs that Rollin’s fans look for – plus a large amount of naked flesh for those searching for that (though I’ve got to say I didn’t think this film worked on an erotic level particularly). I’m forced to 3.5 out of 10, most casual viewers will hate this, it is probably only for the Jean Rollin aficionados. I also realise that if you love Rollin then you might think I've scored too low, if you hate him too high - but I've tried to capture a fair mark on the quality of the film.

The imdb page is here.

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