Some movies require a specific mindset to watch them. A specific mood must be established to find some measure of enjoyment — this is beyond simple apologetic phrases like "mindless popcorn entertainment" or "guilty pleasure." When it comes to the cinema of French auteur Jean Rollin, you definitely need to come in with some sort of awareness and expectation, perhaps some mild familiarity with the genre to which he contributes. The prolific filmmaker had a unique approach to his bizarre tales of erotic horror that could only be described as shamelessly brazen, undaunted by narrative details or coherent logic typical of most movies. He cared only for developing an environment of sensuality immersed within a gloomy reality of vampires, creatures of the night which personify our most innate fears of the body and sexuality.
But before I start to give the impression that 'Requiem for a Vampire' is any good, be warned that finding some redeeming quality can be a bit of a challenge. Not just in this specific movie, but in pretty much all of Rollin's films. That sentiment should perhaps extend to any feature that falls within the exploitation genre, but the works of Rollin — and believe me, his canon is quite extensive — seem more unusual and particularly eccentric than most. In some respects, we could even argue the director, who grew up with a strong passion for American movie serials, is somewhat of a pioneer and inventive forger of art, albeit in a genre where some viewers are likely to whip out more than just their wallet to enter one of the unsavory 42nd Street theaters where it was probably shown.
When I refer to Rollin as forger of art, I mean that in a humble and frank estimation of his attitude towards filmmaking, and coming from the perspective of an admirer. His movies are basically a form of counterfeit in that they pretend a tastefully stylish and surprisingly artful approach to eroticism. Granted, he does include scenes which blatantly gravitate towards softcore territory, such as the trio of barbaric men forcing themselves upon women chained to the columns of a dungeon, but it's not so explicit as to earn that label, like his later, pornographic feature 'Bacchanales Sexuelles.' Rollin's films like 'Requiem' are more teases of the imagination with a creatively flair, occupying the frame with bizarre camera angles and a spooky atmosphere that's amusingly immersive.
'Requiem' probably demonstrates this better than any of his other movies, a blend of horror, fantasy, eroticism and mild BDSM that aspires to bring the fantastique literary genre to the silver screen. The terribly shallow and flimsy plot about two young runaways, played by newcomer Mireille Dargent and Rollin's muse Marie-Pierre Castel, is essentially a means to an end. There only as the central point moving the story, a simple pretext for Rollin to fashion an array of sensually gothic imagery. The odd tale does live up to its title, however, by including a malcontent vampire mourning his existence, explaining to the girls that he's the last of his kind and unable to continue the bloodline. By the end, we're left wondering what the best friends' experience amongst the sexually-crazed bloodsuckers is all for, other than an excuse for nudity.
'Requiem for a Vampire' is Rollin's most successful film (at least in the U.S. grindhouse market) and arguably his best known, even amongst his devoted fans. Although it doesn't amount to great cinema, as it is quite corny and flimsy, it is still the director at his finest within his own personal canon of exploitation features. It displays the creativity and ingenuity of a filmmaker with very little money and resources forging ahead to deliver a wildly atmospheric picture. With an interestingly minimalist approach that's also hypnotically sensual, Rollin takes his oneiric adventure through gothic eroticism and makes stylish art out of sleaze. Of course, one's definition of art will play a big part on individual assessments of the film, but Rollin, himself, would be content with a simple "stylishly erotic."
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'Requiem for a Vampire' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase, the Region Free, BD50 disc goes straight to the main menu with still photo and music.
The package also includes a glossy 16-page booklet with a lengthy essay on the films of Jean Rollin by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog entitled "The Bizarre Melodrama of Jean Rollin" with a variety of photos.
Despite being remastered from the original 35mm negative (as promoted on the back of the packaging), you can immediately tell that the film would greatly benefit from a proper restoration. But as it stands, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode reveals that the elements are actually in great shape, minus the occasional bits of dirt and white specks spread throughout. Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, fine object and textural details are sharply rendered with distinct clarity in the stone walls of the castle and first-rate shadow delineation during the many poorly-lit sequences. Colors are bold and often striking without feeling artificial or exaggerated. Contrast is accurate and well-balanced while blacks provide an impressive richness with excellent dynamic range.
Although the audio on this Blu-ray isn't as notable as the video, the uncompressed PCM stereo soundtrack is still a step up from its standard-def counterpart. The design doesn't offer much in terms of background activity, but the little we do hear comes through with great clarity. Some noise and hissing still permeates much of the lossless mix, but never really detracts from or overwhelms the rest of track. Dynamics are fairly clean and sharp, except in the upper ranges where we hear a noticeable crackling effect. Low bass is healthy and adequate, though only appreciable during scenes with music. Speaking of which, the original score of Pierre Raph and the piano melodies of Louise Dhour benefit the most from wide and decently warm imaging. Dialogue reproduction is also well-prioritized and intelligible from beginning to end, apart from the apparent hissing during a few of the higher-pitched moments.
Although it doesn't compare to the 3-disc special edition DVD released in the U.K., this new release from Kino Lorber is still a nice upgrade from previous U.S. incarnations and mirrors the supplemental package of the last DVD release.
Questionably tasteful but largely sleazy, 'Requiem for a Vampire' is a bizarre tale of two runaway girls encountering a pack of sexually-crazed bloodsuckers. Although not to everyone's standards, this low-budget exploitation pieces is perhaps Jean Rollin at his finest, providing the story with a stylishly gothic atmosphere amongst its fantasy erotic theme. The Blu-ray arrives with a very good picture quality but only an average audio presentation. Supplements are also an improvement to previous home video releases in the U.S., yet this is one film only fans are likely to appreciate.