Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Rape of the Vampire (4 Stars)

If you're a vampire fan who hasn't yet seen this film, my advice is that you forget all you know about vampires before you sit down to watch it. It's usual for every new vampire film to rewrite vampire mythology, but the vampires we see in this 1968 film by Jean Rollin are so different that many people might reject the film without giving it a chance. The vampires in this film are immortal and drink blood, but that's the only thing they have in common with traditional vampires.

In "Rape of the Vampire" the vampires don't have superhuman strength.

The vampires fight with swords and daggers.

The vampires aren't harmed by daylight, even though they find it unpleasant.

The vampires can't be killed by a stake through the heart. Only beheading kills them.

Jean Rollin made nine films about vampires during his career. Common to all of them is that the vampires are beautiful women. Either there are no male vampires at all, or the males are servants of the females. I'm not sure whether or not the vampire mythology is consistent from film to film -- it's been years since I watched them -- but one constant feature is that they walk unhindered in the sunlight. This is because Jean Rollin liked to make films with bright, vivid colours. He didn't want to film night scenes. Everything had to be bright for him. ("Fascination" takes place at night, but mostly indoors. I'll review it soon).

The film takes place in two acts. The first act lasts 30 minutes, and the second act 60 minutes. The characters from the first act appear in the second act, but they are different stories which have very little to do with one another.

In the first act three psycho-analysts visit an old manor where four sisters live. The people in the village say the sisters are vampires who have lived for hundreds of years, but the psycho-analysts are sceptics and say that they're just mentally ill and need help. They force the sisters to go outside to prove that they won't burn up in the sunlight, but as I've already said, the vampires in the Rollin mythology aren't harmed by sunlight, so it proves nothing. As a result of the treatment one of the psycho-analysts is killed and another becomes a vampire.

In the second act a vampire queen arrives. She has been searching for the sisters for many years, to add them to her followers. She kills any vampires who refuse to serve her, and she also kills vampires she considers to be too weak. She has a doctor who works for her healing injuries to her followers. Vampires can be wounded, even if they can't be killed. Unknown to her the doctor is working on a cure to vampirism. He sees it as a sickness that can be cured, making it possible to turn the queen's followers back into normal people.

This is a beautiful film. It lays the foundation for Jean Rollin's later films. If you watch his vampire films I suggest you watch them in order, starting with "Rape of the Vampire".

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