The era of cinema referred to as Eurohorror is defined by its eroticism, over-the-top violence, and psychedelic supernatural approaches to storytelling. It’s a rabbit hole of movie culture. There are twisting avenues and bizarre subsections that seem endless, but few filmmakers created a library as compulsively watchable and weirdly hypnotizing as Jean Rollin’s. This man’s filmography is massive, a good amount of them representing his work-for-hire hardcore movies and the cheesier selection of horror films. One gets what one might expect: waif-like young women seducing men, seducing each other, and drinking gallons of bright red blood.
Yet something sets Rollin’s films apart from similar offerings: they’re literate. Rollin draws many of his plots from classic Gothic romances. He must have adapted Carmilla in one form or another a dozen times. Sheridan Le Fanu’s story, about an innocent girl seduced by a lonely but evil companion, introduces queer subtext to vampirism. Rollin’s queerness can hardly be called subtext. Most of his popular films feature women being intimate with each other, but he also includes honest love in these stories, which Le Fanu was far too traditional to even hint at. La morte vivante, or The Living Dead Girl, tells of a woman come back from the dead, and her friend who hunts down prey in order to keep her alive. Fascination and Requiem pour un vampire also present characters who seem honestly bisexual. They’re cheesy and exploitational, but also heart-wrenching at certain moments in their portrayals of shunned desire.
Rollin’s visuals have more poetry than these films have any right to possess. He shoots cemeteries, lonely grassland, and icy beaches with pastoral but eerie beauty. Chateaus loom, abandoned and melancholy, and graves lurk behind high iron gates. It’s classic Gothicism, the kind Bava and Corman captured in vivid Technicolor, but Rollin’s images have the somber graininess of countryside photography taken by a ghost. The interiors are nearly silent, vivid with reds and oranges, or blue-cold as a tomb. These images speak to the themes found in his better films: the call of a forbidden love, aberrant but addicting, which consumes one’s body and soul. La rose de fer, La morte vivante, and Fascination all feature this haunted photography, while the phantasmal women whisper of love and death.
These films contain his cheesier elements—lots of naked kissing—but those scenes feel like excuses. The real meat is in between, with some of the most gorgeous dialogue to be found in Eurohorror. La rose de fer displays an obsession with death through highly unnerving images of the protagonist waltzing through tombstones, glaring into space like an ecstatic ghoul. Between warm scenes of intimacy, Fascination chills with cloaked women slowly approaching with scythes, and strange rituals of a blood cult. Most of all, perhaps, La morte vivante makes its violence so hateful and pained, the monster is aware of her evil. Le frisson des vampires also explores the undead’s self-aware disgust of their situation, while also pitting them against an ultra-normal married couple. Rollin is aware of aberrance and outcasts. His vampires cry for acceptance from the dark places of the world, lost in shadows.
Want to delve more into the secret poetry of this singular filmmaker? Lost Girls: The Cinema of Jean Rollin, from indie publisher Spectacular Optical, explores these themes through a series of essays written entirely by women academics. These works delve into Rollin’s themes of femininity, exploitation, and the fantastical, finding contradiction and meaning within. It’s an easy spell to fall under, and perhaps one you will want to escape; but there are few filmmakers who were as prolific and obsessive as Rollin. Take a journey into his crypts and find the lost girls calling there. To learn more about the project and support some seriously badass work, visit:
The book will launch at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. For more information about Spectacular Optical, go to: