A young lady from Los Angeles, of the bi & poly persuasion, mentioned to me that she was someday hoping to get a copy of Shiver Of The Vampires. I made a note of the title somewhere, and a good deal later, I found it and looked it up on Amazon. I discovered that it was a Jean Rollin film, and with warm feelings flowing through me from happy memories of his masterpiece Le Lac Des Morts Vivants (Zombie Lake), I ordered the whole trio. Now I’ve lost touch with the person who brought it up, but I think we may someday meet again...
Rollin has apparently made a number of other vampiric movies besides these three. The “trilogy” box set does not include La Vampire Nue (The Nude Vampire), or Lèvres de sang (Lips of Blood). What it does got:
Up to this time, Rollin had done only short films. This was his first feature... sort of. See, the original Le Viol Du Vampire was only about thirty minutes long, and ended with most of the characters dead. No problem, he just went and filmed a sixty minute sequel, in which characters are brought to life for another go round. Then they showed it in theaters as a feature, even though there are credits in the middle. It’s in black & white.
In part 1, there are these four sisters who are vampires — or are they? — living in some kind of old mansion. There’s a boss vamp who gives them orders. They may or may not remember incidents from 100 or 200 years in the past. A smug psychiatrist shows up and tries to convince them that they’re ordinary women caught up in a delusional belief system. At first he seems to be making headway, and it looks like maybe he was right. But things go wrong and people end up kilt.
The thing is, the story only makes any kind of clear sense when you boil it down to one paragraph like that. At full length, figuring out what’s going on is much more difficult. You can’t follow who’s who, or whose agenda is what, or whom is on whose side, or whether assorted crap is happening in the present or the past. Characters wander around, one sister or another randomly has her boobs out for no reason, a blind character apparently recovers sight and then is blind again, villagers attack, people shoot and stab at each other, and somehow the last of them spill out of the mansion onto a beach, where the final corpses end up sprawled. Three quarters of the action either serves no discernible purpose or makes no discernible sense. Even the music is confusing.
In part 2, it gets even worse. A new Queen of the Vampires type character shows up with a platoon of hench-vamps, and the number of characters multiply. Action shifts into a more urban setting, there are vamp rituals enacted on theater stages, there are characters sipping blood through plastic tubes from big jars, there are doctors scheming to find a cure and devampirate themselves, and the challenge of telling who is working for and against who else becomes three times as difficult as before. People die and come back to life so often, you wonder if this is Le Univers du Comiques Marvelle. Somebody spreads poison, other people make with guns and other weapons, there’s general carnage and you can’t tell if the good guys are winning or losing, because you just can’t keep track of anything... except the vamp queen, who stands out because she’s different looking from everybody else, being mixed race or something.
One thing I’ve learned in my pursuit of bad movie gold is that there is no such thing as the worst movie ever. No matter how awful a movie you find, there is always an even worse one lurking somewhere else. You might think you’ve reached bottom with something like The Beast Of Yucca Flats or Manos: The Hand Of Fate, and then something like this comes along and shows you what real ineptitude looks like. This is filmmaking so incompetent that Ed Wood would sneer “That guy has no idea how to make movies. No idea!”
On the other hand, the wound effects are superior to some that Rollin would use in later years.
The only way in which part 2 shows any growth in Rollin’s filmmaking skill over part 1 is that the use of nudity is more purposeful and less random. But if you’re wondering where’s the rape that was promised in the title (or just wondering whether it referred to a vampire rapist or to a vampire rape victim), you’ll have to keep wondering — there isn’t any. Not this time...
What a world of difference. In just three or four short years, Rollin has actually learned how to make a (bad) movie. Unlike its predecessor, this one actually tells a story, and the audience can actually follow it. This may be a very poor, crappy, incompetent bit of filmmaking, something that the meanest Roger Corman apprentice would never have put his name on, but relative to Le Viol Du Vampire, this is a big, big step up. And, as a bonus... it’s very, very French.
You know you’re in for a treat when the film opens with a car chase shootout in clown makeup. Two young women dressed as clowns are being getaway-driven by some guy, and are blasting away at a pursuing car with revolvers. Their driver gets shot, one clown grabs the wheel, and somehow they elude the pursuit, which was about 50 feet behind them, by ducking down a side path. They burn the car with their ex-companion’s body, and set out on foot. They wash off the clown makeup in a pond and uncover their street clothes, and start looking for whatever they can find... which turns out to be a motorcycle that they steal. One of them seduces a roadside vendor away from his stuff so the other can steal some of it, they dump the motorsickle when it runs out of gas, and they wind up in a cemetery. After a bizarre sequence in which gravediggers shovel soil on top of one girl without noticing that she’s there, they finally end up in the vampiric castle. And space distorts so that no matter which way they try to leave, they end up back where they started.
This has been called Rollin’s most “personal” film. It certainly does feel less like generic exploitation product than some others, what with the visual oddities and unexplained peculiarness in the opening act.
The first 35 or 40 minutes of the film, by the way, contain very little Rollinian nudity. A little bit during the vendor seduction scene, and a brief scene which establishes that the two girls are more than just friends, but which is quickly interrupted...
And then, once the girls are in the clutches of the vampires and their henchmen, he hits you with ten solid minutes of rape scenes.
Fortunately, it’s not lifelike. There are several women “chained up” in a dungeon being assaulted by the brutish louts who work for the vampires, and they’re totally just holding onto the chains. The pelvic regions of assailants and assailees don’t particularly line up, and as often as not there’s a layer of cloth separating them. This section ends with a woman vociferating as a vampire bat “feeds” on her hoohah.
The girls themselves get some pawing, but it’s important that they remain virgins. Because, see, the dying boss vamp needs virginity to sire a new full-strength vampire to carry on his evil work. The random grownups he’s bitten don’t become as fully vampiric as they ought. (Hence the French title, which translates as “Virgins and Vampires”.)
The two girls get lightly bitten (with totally cardboard-looking vamp teeth)... in Rollin-land, one quick nip is enough to both feed the biter and place the bitee under some degree of control... and the following day, they get their orders: you will go out and bring others here for us to feed on. And one of them obeys: she gets naked, attracts a man into the castle, and pistol-whips him. The other — the hotter and marginally less innocent of the two, played by Marie-Pierre Castel — brings a guy back but has him take her precious virginity. She then tries to hide him, though he can’t get away from the castle any more than she can.
Then there’s a bunch of back-and-forth where one girl is getting into drinking blood and the other wants to protect her instant boyfriend, and the boss vamp gets histrionic when he finds one of his prize heifers is devirginated, and tries to extract the guy she’s hiding, and there’s a flogging, and somebody plays a piano in a cemetery, and finally the girls end up gunning down all the henchmen (which for some reason they couldn’t before) with their eleven-shot revolvers (which have been appearing and disappearing throughout the film) and getting away, and with their hopes dashed the boss vamp and Mrs. vamp gracefully expire.
This is, overall, the least bad of the three flicks.
What interested me in this one is that it was described on Amazon as having “lashings of lesbian sex”. When I got it home, that same phrase was also on the box copy.
This one starts out sssssllllllllllllllooooooooooooooowwwwwwwww. The first thing that happens is, two young women (one being Marie-Pierre Castel, back from the previous film), go into a castle and get a brief expository speech from a dying vampire. That takes five minutes of film. The next thing that happens is, they go to a graveyard in order to stake any vamps who aren’t up yet, or if one happens to be up and active, to offer their servitude so they won’t be killed (this helpful suggestion is courtesy of the dying guy). A vamp lady (played by mononomic actress Dominique, who was Mrs. Vamp in the last film) gets up before they can stake anyone — and bam, there goes another five minutes of film.
Then our protagonists show up, a pair of newlyweds. She has relatives who live(d) in the castle. Turns out they were vampire hunters, but their luck ran out just a few days ago, and they are now bevampened. They settle in with the help of the two girls, now acting as ubiquitous household staff, and encounter assorted unpleasant surprises. The bride rebuffs the groom’s amorous desires because she’s upset about her relatives... and then the vamp lady climbs out of a grandfather clock (!) and seduces her into the dark ways with scarcely more than a look and a light touch on the boob.
The two undead relatives now reveal themselves, and we get interminable talky scenes with the two of them blathering philosophical justifications and who-cares family history, alternating with the husband seeing bits of evil ritual and trying to figure out what’s going on, and the servant girls constantly running around in blue gauze gowns. The wife gradually becomes more vampiric, more attracted to blood and less tolerant of sunlight, and finally there’s a showdown where he drags her out of the final ritual that will complete her envampation... but he may be too late for her to return to humanity.
It’s all quite dull. The best part, besides the nudity if you’re into that, is that the three vamps are all middle aged hippies. Their wardrobe is a memory to cherish. And to go with that, the score is bad prog/acid rock.
I’m willing to forgive all this if they make with the “lashings of lesbian sex”. But at the end, I’m forced to conclude that whatever a “lashing” is, it must designate a very very small amount. Because the amount of lesbian sex depicted in the movie is, essentially, none.
There is one more positive thing I can say about this one: it contains the single goofiest kill of any vampire movie evar. Dominique the vampiress puts sharpened cones on her boobs, and stabs someone else with them... in the boobs.
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