The Iron Rose

The Iron Rose is the rare Jean Rollin movie that misses its mark, and I say this as a fan of his work. There are elements of an interesting movie here, but it’s way too slow. I don’t mind films with a leisurely build-up, but you can skip the first twenty minutes of this and not miss anything.

The Iron Rose follows the trials of a pair of adult lovers, labeled The Boy and The Girl. The Boy returns for a wedding, where he reads a bad poem to a room full of drunk people. For whatever reason, The Girl is impressed by the Boy’s literary efforts. They make a date to go bike riding and end up frolicking in the railroad station amongst the trains, he play-chasing her. Foreshadowing!

Afterwards, our lovers go on a bike ride and stop at the local cemetery, which is huge. One of this movie’s neat touches is that the tombs are better cared for than the city’s buildings, which are falling apart. After walking the grounds, they clamber into an underground tomb to rut. Cut to a clown entering the graveyard and leaving flowers. The Iron Rose’s symbolism isn’t exactly subtle, hitting you over the head like a sledgehammer. By the time The Boy and The Girl are done with sexy-time night has fallen and they can’t find their way out of the cemetery. And that’s your plot.

As someone who got lost once as a kid, I can tell you it’s no fun. Still, these are adults we are talking about and it’s only a graveyard. That’s the point. There is nothing there, just the lovers and a bunch of headstones and tombs. The dead don’t rise, but tempers sure do. Soon The Boy and The Girl are acting like frightened children.

The Iron Rose has an interesting premise, but it takes too long for anything to happen. That’s because Mr. Rollin has made an 85-minute movie out of 40-minutes of material. The acting is so-so and there are way too many close-ups of the characters’ faces. We also have a scene at the beach that will be familiar to watchers of Mr. Rollin’s movies, as that same stretch of beach shows up in many of his films. It’s his version of Roger Corman’s burning chicken coop.

The best thing about The Iron Rose is the setting, an enormous unkempt cemetery that feels like a city of the dead. Lest fans of Mr. Rollin worry that he’s turning into a highbrow indy director, this movie contains lots of sex and tasteless nudity. Unfortunately Mr. Rollin might not be the right person to handle this kind of material. He is a wonderful director, but he’s not subtle, and psychological nuance isn’t his thing. An interesting failure, The Iron Rose is for Jean Rollin fans only.

Grapes of Death

Jean Rollin is at it again! Instead of yet another cinematic masterpiece featuring female vampires, he serves up a zombie movie. I’m not sure if Grapes of Death is the definitive French zombie movie of the 70’s because I know nothing about French cinema, but it should be in the running. Although no lady bloodsuckers appear in Grapes of Death, Rollin’s obsession with uncovering the Platonic pair of female breasts remains.

The plot: if you watch the above trailer you will see most of the highlights. If you do, there’s not much reason to watch the movie, which would be a shame. Elizabeth is traveling by train to Roubles to meet her fiancée, who works at a vineyard. A man with pustulant sores on his neck enters the train and attacks her. She escapes and spends the next 80+ minutes wandering the French countryside, leading to many nice shots of the landscape.

Elizabeth’s first stop: a farmhouse inhabited by a farmer and his adult daughter. The farmer has sores on his hands. Mom’s indisposed, her throat slashed ear to ear. Dad kills his daughter, ripping open her blouse to reveal the sore on her chest and then finishing her off with a pitchfork. Elizabeth flees in the farmer’s car but then stops for reasons I’m not smart enough to understand.

She meets a blind woman named Lucy who is lost. They return to the blind woman’s village, where everyone seems to be dead, but Elizabeth insists on telling her everything’s fine. Lucy isn’t stupid, and flees Elizabeth as soon as she can. Big mistake. Come night, the infected – or zombies – or drunken French people – rise up, lurching through the village. This leads to Lucy’s reunion with her infected lover, which is the highlight of Grapes of Death. Elizabeth soon makes another friend, the scythe-wielding woman from Fascination, and they have a decent catfight before a pair of gun-wielding peasants show up and spoil the fun. They flee to the Roubles vineyard and a genuinely ambiguous ending. Phew, that’s a lot of plot.

I am going to assume George Romero’s Dead duology and The Crazies influenced Grapes of Death – sort of. American zombies movies in the 70’s weren’t interested in things like sex, unless you count Dave Cronenberg up in Canada. They were mostly about showing the hair on the wall. Jean Rollin has a different aesthetic – The Grapes of Death has plenty of gore, but doesn’t skimp on the torn blouses, bare breasts and nudity. I will be kind and say that the makeup in this movie is mediocre. The sores are okay, but most of the effects are quite cheesy, which makes sense since cheese and wine go so well together!

A must-see for Jean Rollin fans!

Helloween Day One: Lips of Blood

Lips of Blood.jpg

Lips of Blood is a 1975 movie directed by Jean Rollin. The first time I heard of Jean Rollin was on Neil Gaiman’s blog. Gaiman used the phrase ‘Euro Trash,’ which made my ears prick up. I didn’t know what Euro Trash meant, but there’s no denying I liked the sound of it. After watching a few of Rollin’s movies I decided Euro Trash meant sleaze, violence, gore and gratuitous sex & nudity. You know, the good stuff.

Lips of Blood is set in Paris, although the Eiffel Tower is nowhere to be seen. It’s in French with English subtitles. I saw it for free on YouTube, and the picture quality wasn’t great. Anyone familiar with Jean Rollin’s work will be unsurprised to learn that this movie features lots of female vampires.

The plot: 32 year-old Frederic sees a photo of a castle at a wine & cheese party, a photo that triggers a repressed memory of a twelve year old Frederic meeting a beautiful young girl at that selfsame castle. Frederic decides that he must return to the mysterious castle because he’s still in love with the girl, but dark forces – led by his Mom! – are hell-bent on stopping him.

At one point the ghost/projection/vision of the beautiful young girl leads Frederic to a tomb, where he accidentally frees four female vampires. These fetching creatures of the night wear fake-looking fangs and not much else. At one point they drink the blood of the night watchman while the camera focuses on their bloody lips. Thus, the title!

Is Lips of Blood scary? No. There are lots of naked women, though, which means this flick would probably earn an X rating if it were shown today. The creepiest scene occurs when Frederic enters a tomb to find a life-sized mannequin of a praying Virgin Mary, which I kept expecting to reanimate and leap into the air.

Lips of Blood is like all the other Jean Rollin movies I’ve seen. No budget, but eye-catching imagery and an interesting premise kept me watching until the end. Rollin directed over fifty movies, and my favorites – made in the late 60’s, early 70’s – all have the word ‘vampire’ in the title. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on a best-of horror list, which is a shame because I like his movies. They’re cheaply made, badly acted with awful effects, but I can never shake the feeling that he’s better than the material he’s working with.

Or maybe it’s all those female vampires with fake fangs.