Vampires are cool. They’re the new zombie: recurring, revised and reanimated (from beyond the grave).
It could, therefore, be refreshing to watch a vampire picture from the early 1970s, such as Requiem For A Vampire, that explores that essential tic that made Dracula and co. an interesting monster in the first place. That essential tic is, of course, the sexualisation of the monster and it is the common theme of sexuality that has underpinned all vamp cinema from Nosferatu to Twilight via Sarah Michelle Geller and Christopher Lee.
Requiem For A Vampire works as a neat touchstone in this rambling history of repression, anxiety and eroticism and as such the new reissue by Redemption will be received rapturously by a very specific type of horror fan. The type who get their kicks watching old French dudes have messed up bitey sex with nubile be-cloaked goth chicks.
The film is the fourth in a series of vampire based erotic horrors directed by cult favourite, and recently deceased, veteran director Jean Rollin. Rollin is best known for his first feature length film, the rather bluntly titled The Rape of the Vampire. Rape… was released in its native France in May of 1968, coinciding with large scale strikes and rioting. Rather hilariously because people were not in the workplace and had taken to the streets, the film received a much larger audience than would be expected of a low budget surrealist soft core horror porno.
Rape… received a decidedly severe critical panning (the reviewer from French daily Le Figaro noted “this film is certainly made by a group of drunk people, probably medical students. It’s a joke”) and audiences looking for a little post-barricade-manning entertainment were equally disappointed. As Rollin later commented “people were really mad when they saw it. In Pigalle, they threw things at the screen. The principal reason was that nobody could understand the story. But there is a story, I swear it!”
Though he swears it Rollin is not a man whose word can be trusted, there is a narrative – a series of things happen – but the movie can’t really be described as being in possession of “a story.” Nevertheless The Rape of the Vampire has gone down in horror folklore as an interesting movie, perhaps because of its release at a unique time and place in history or perhaps because it is one of very few films, and a very early one, to feature a black woman as a Queen vampire. A black lesbian woman who spends the majority of her screen time topless, no less.
The Rape of the Vampire should, however, be notorious for another reason; it gifted Jean Rollin a career that probably should never have happened. Requiem for a Vampire is a very similar movie to its predecessor Rape.. a movie that had come a meagre four years before (that’s one a year). It treads a well worn path familiar to much of Rollin’s output that takes in Giallo themes, occasional superficial nods at French Avant Garde erotic poetics and theory (particularly Bataille), some good camerawork and a God awful nonsensical ‘plot’ acted out by women in varying degrees of undress with the odd sado-sexual whipping scene thrown in for good measure.
The film opens with our two heroines dressed as clowns firing revolvers out the back of a car as they escape from a robbery. That’s a damn fine way to start a movie. Actually, the opening shots could only have been improved with the addition of the soundtrack from Shaft.
Their getaway driver is hit by a stray bullet and dies, his death coinciding adroitly (though presumably unintentionally) with the death of the film’s narrative structure. From this jumping off point the movie descends into a surrealistic, dreamlike state: the girls seduce a gentleman manning a burger van in a clever ruse to nick some ’pommes frites’ they then wander into a graveyard, Michelle (the brunette) is part buried alive in a recently dug grave, before our plucky heroes finally wind up at a creepy looking Chateau.
Congratulations are in order to whomever discovered such a brilliant location, all gothic arches and tall spires and spiralling staircases, it makes for an authentic looking vampire pad. In fact, much of the film is well shot and the scarcity of the dialogue covers a multitude of acting sins and poor dubbing – it is clearly a smart financial choice as much as a stylistic one.
Sadly though, by the time the girls are hiding dans le chateau the film has become an insipid run through of a dire bunch of incoherent scenarios that attempt to create situations to justify: tits, spectacularly unimpassioned lesbian love, run-ins with the last vampire left on Earth and his small troupe of New Romantic minions, dashing about Benny Hill style with local men complete with oo err nurse giggles, indulging in sadomasochistic sex rituals and stretching the sexual metaphor of neck biting to idiotic, thoroughly uninteresting extremes.
This part of the film, basically the last hour, is a hallucinatory haze of topless girls and gaudy lighting a la Dario Argento, except way more boring than that sounds.
The thing with these sort of erotic-horror exploitation movies from this era that makes them worth watching is through their excesses, repressions and insanely elaborate set ups they tend to reveal something about a society’s obsessions. Rape of the Vampire is an interesting movie because of its historical position and its implicit racial (and possibly racist) comment – it is a movie that seems to reveal much about its chaotic context. However Requiem For A Vampire reveals very little beyond the occasional titty. There is no depth, no interesting reading, no insightful rumination on any of the above, no clever rendering of the bloodsuckers themselves. There is just, to reiterate, the occasional titty.
Some competent camerawork and a veneer of art-y-ness does not a film make and Requiem… is a woefully ineffectual horror in that the only truly scary moment came when IMDB explained to me (in slightly too graphic for comfort detail) that the actress playing Michelle, one Marie Pierre-Castel, ended up making hardcore incestuous lesbian porn with her sister.
Requiem also failed in holding up the other end of its dubious genre tag of erotic horror – I found it about as erotic as John Major. Avoid this and buy a bunch of Hammer vampire movies, if you’re desperate for lesbian vampires get Vampire Lovers – a much better film than this pretentious wank fest (wank meant both figurative and literally).