'Two Orphan Vampires' (Les Deux Orphelines Vampires) follows Henriette and Louise (Isabelle Teboul and Alexandra Pic), two blind girls of unknown origin, raised in an orphanage by two adoring nuns. Little do the nuns know, each night as the sun goes down, their 'little angels' acquire night vision (they 'see blue'), as well as an appetite for blood and teenage mischief.
Rollin's entire filmography, more or less, could be summarized as a poetical consideration of death, termination, and unreality, but coming to terms with his own pending death had a way of affecting how he regarded them (the film was undertaken just as he was diagnosed with kidney failure).
Something previously conceptual and child-like, nostalgic and precious in Rollin's work becomes more concrete and dimensional, unflinching and adult. When they commit one violent transgression against their kindly benefactor, the scene's abrupt and awkward brutality recalls the best of Henri-Georges Clouzot." (excerpt of the essay by Tim Lucas).
After his long departure (the entirety of the 1980s through to the mid-90s) from the usual dreamlike fantasies he is commonly known for, Jean Rollin returns to what he knows best with 'Two Orphan Vampires.' Not since 1979's 'Fascination' has the once prolific filmmaker of cult erotic horror focused his attention on the musing but mournful vampire. His nearly twenty-year retreat from the subject matter had as much to do with audiences losing interest as his desire to explore his creativity in other genres, such as crime thrillers 'The Sidewalks of Bangkok' and 'Killing Car.' Unfortunately, his sudden resurgence with a familiar genre is not quite the triumphant comeback his fans would love to have seen.
Adapting his own fantasy novel of the same name, Rollin's film about a pair of young vampires is a sometimes vexing and plodding story of two blind girls trying to understand who and what they are. Living at an orphanage before being adopted by an optometrist, the girls explain to themselves their abnormal predicament. They are blind during the day, but their eyesight is fully restored by night, although they can only see in blue. This bizarre attribute is not uncommon in the cinema of Jean Rollin. He's always favored undead characters with oddities that break from stereotypical folklore and legend. Here, their sympathetic condition and youthful beauty not only makes them appear vulnerable to their victims, but it also gives a different perspective on their existence.
Part of the movie's tediousness comes from Rollin's script imparting these two characters with dialogue that strains to seem philosophical and enlightening. The girls have that usual morose responsiveness we see in Rollin's earlier work but also come with a childish, carefree outlook of the world. This often has them feeling at odds within themselves and with their desires, going so far as to construct beautiful god-like fantasies for their situation in order to resolve their internal conflict. This aspect is actually fairly interesting and gives audiences something to admire, but it's all for naught when some lines suddenly sound pseudo-existential and nihilistic. It's as if someone just finished Albert Camus's The Stranger and believed it interesting to see a similar exploration of various thoughts with creatures that already have no purpose to their existence than to live according to their nature.
I admit the possibilities for a film with vampires at the center is rather intriguing, though sometimes I think Neil Jordan's 'Interview with the Vampire' comes decently close in already delivering that. Sadly, 'Two Orphan Vampires' does not. The young actresses Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul do the best they can in conveying the dialogue with as much dramatic seriousness and gravity as is possible. Yet, the problem remains that in the girls' wanting to understand the meaninglessness of their affliction, they are ironically spewing a bunch of hollow words of nothingness. One idea I do find attractive, however, is their recognizing that life is an illusion where we are responsible for constructing our individual histories and creating a sense of purpose. That's the reason for the pair of orphan bloodsuckers choosing to believe they are actually misunderstood goddesses.
In 'Two Orphan Vampires,' Jean Rollin shows he still possesses that unusual visual flair that teeter-totters between a romanticized, dreamlike state and standard vampire horror. As we follow the girls on their nightly blue escapades through the streets and cemeteries of Paris, they encounter a waspish female werewolf whose train yard is her hunting grounds. Later, they bump into the only other vampire who's even more dramatic than they are and a crazed ghoul living in complete ruins. It's not quite as impressive and oddly striking as his other films, but it's still fairly stylish and interesting. In the end, the movie is frankly a mediocre effort to form, one which clearly demonstrates a slight loss in creativity. The film can really only be appreciated as admirable finish to a long and notable filmmaking career, even if only for cult horror aficionados.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'Two Orphan Vampires' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase, the Region Free, BD50 disc goes straight to an animated main menu with music.
The package also includes a glossy 12-page booklet with a lengthy essay on the films of Jean Rollin by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog entitled "The Depth of a Sister's Love" with a variety of photos.
After a very rough start, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode for 'Two Orphan Vampires' shows a significant improvement over its DVD counterpart. Mastered from the original 16mm negatives and presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio (although the back of the packaging reads otherwise), we couldn't reasonable expect too much from the presentation although the elements appear to be in great shape, all things considered. We still get lots of white specks and some debris scattered throughout, but never quite as bad as the first few minutes. The video is awash in a thin grain structure that's consistent and gives it an attractive cinematic quality. Contrast is stable and well-balanced while blacks are often accurate with good deep shadows. Colors appear clean and bold with natural flesh tones of the cast. Without the full benefit of a major restoration, fine object and textural details are quite sharp and distinct with excellent clarity into the distance.
The audio fares much better with two language options made available to fans. Both the English dub and the original French are presented in uncompressed PCM stereo soundtracks, and as is expected, the dubbed version is laughably horrendous. The original language track is nicely centered in the middle of the soundstage with satisfyingly wide imaging and great balance. Background activity comes in cleanly with excellent detailing. Although not impressively expansive or demonstrating much variety, the mid-range maintains superb clarity with strong fidelity and presence. The lossless mix surprisingly offers a deep, healthy low bass, which is most appreciated during the musical score. Through all this, vocals remain well-prioritized and centered so that we can hear every bit of the two vampires' silly pseudo-philosophies on their existence.
Special features mirror the movie's DVD counterpart.
'Two Orphan Vampires' marks Jean Rollin's return to form after nearly twenty years with a dark gothic fantasy of two blind vampire girls contemplating their existence. Sadly, the film is anything but a triumphant comeback for the French filmmaker of cult erotic horror, pushing a bit harder than usual to be insightful while surrounding his unique visual flair with philosophical nonsense. The Blu-ray is a nice improvement in audio and video, but nothing very spectacular. Supplements are new and enjoyable, but likely only to entice hardcore fans who may still want to keep their Shriek Show DVD for the exclusive bonuses.