Written by: Jean Rollin
Directed by: Jean Rollin
Starring: Brigitte Lahaie, Vincent Gardere, Bernard Papineau
Netflix giveth, and Netflix taketh away. After the great MGM title purge of May 1, which was inexplicably blamed on Warner Archive Instant (Who immediately and vehemently disavowed any involvement in a really snarky statement that amounted to, “We didn't take these titles back so we could put them on our service, and if you don't believe us just come look at our tiny selection!” Really guys, you want to brag that you don't have a bunch of awesome AIP movies?), a bunch of the titles were reinstated a day or two later. Netflix announced that it was simply removing some lesser-viewed titles, and it would seem that enough people watched The Minotaur in a blind panic that not only was it renewed (and you should check it out, because the monster is just...wow), but a bunch of previously unavailable 60's peplum flicks were added as well.
But just a few days later, while checking my queue again just in case (kind of like how I check that my alarm clock is set for the right time about seventy times before I can finally lay down and fall asleep at night, because I missed an important final in college due to careless alarm setting and now I have OCD), and noticed that a bunch of Jean Rollin movies were disappearing, while others are staying. All are under the Redemption Video banner, so I'm not sure what the reason is, but basically I've seen a lot of nekkid French vampires in the last week.
Rollin is a fascinating filmmaker (and insanely prolific – in 1978 alone he directed six movies!). I can't think of anyone else who has essentially made the same movie several times a year since the late sixties, with the occasional digression, but somehow managed to make each one a unique vision. Now, I understand that, for most values of criteria by which normal filmmakers are judged, Rollin's movies are terrible. While all the ones I've seen have a sort of internal logic, they bear no resemblance to a coherent narrative in the real world. The acting is typically awful, shots tend to linger on to uncomfortable lengths before and after scenes so that you get a lot of the actors just staring at the camera awkwardly, and no one but William Beaudine has so little regard for matching shots so that scenes don't take place at noon and two in the morning simultaneously. And yet, I love every one of his movies I've seen. My favorite remains my first – Living Dead Girl – but the dreamlike quality he invokes is hypnotizing. Of course, being able to shoot in majestic ruins does a great deal of the work of generating atmosphere for you, but despite the fact that Rollin never learned when to yell, “Cut!”, and couldn't tell the difference between the moon and the sun, the man could compose an image like few other filmmakers I've seen. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious art house douche bag, Rollin was a visual poet.
And so we come to tonight's movie. It's one of those digressions from the vampire mold I was talking about earlier, and it begins with another of those dreamlike images Rollin (I keep typing Rollins, which makes me picture Henry Rollins behind the camera yelling at the cast to stop staring vacantly into the distance and deliver their goddamn lines already) had such a knack for. A man named Robert is driving down a country road late at night, when a woman in a gauzy nightgown (another thing Rollin used a lot) is caught in his headlights. He picks her up, and discovers that she has no memory. She can't even remember sentences in their conversation as soon as they've been said. He takes her back to his place so she at least has a safe place to stay until he can figure out where she belongs, and this being the kind of movie it is, they have an incredibly protracted sex scene and immediately fall in love even though she can't even remember who she is.
No sooner has Robert left for work in the morning than Dr. Francis and his assistant show up and take her back to a huge apartment complex full of people with no memories. After several failed escape attempts, she manages to let Robert know where she is (she wrote down his phone number so she'd remember there was someone out there she could call for...waffles, maybe?) and he comes and confronts Dr. Francis. It turns out there was a massive radiation leak at a nuclear reactor, and the radiation absorbed by passersby caused a rapid and eventually fatal degeneration of their brain cells. To cover it up, the government rounded up all the afflicted people, stuck them in an abandoned apartment complex, and hired Dr. Francis to take care of them until he could either figure out a way to cure them or they all died. It's the 70s, what are the chances a horror flick about a government covering up an environmental incident is going to have a happy ending?
Despite this being on the longer side of my usual review length, you may have noticed that plot summary is pretty short. However, that really is all the plot there is. That's pretty typical of Rollin so far in my experience. There's enough story and dialog to get the point across, but no more, nothing fancy. The rest of the movie is composed of details of life in the tower full of slowly vegetating people, including the (sort of) famous bit where a friend of Elizabeth's, sure that Elizabeth will forget where her room is as soon as she leaves and terrified of spending the rest of her life alone with no identity, kills herself by shoving a pair of scissors into her eyes. The gore here and a couple of other scenes isn't particularly impressive, but the haunted performance of the actress really sells this scene. A little before this, the two are approached by an older woman who insists she has a daughter, but can't remember her name. They make up a story and a name for the little girl, and the old woman walks off happy, but a moment later, turns to them and says, “What did you say my little girl's name was again?” This kind of ethereal weirdness is what Rollin does best, and it works here better than some of his other movies because the actors' vapid, wooden performances actually make sense with the material.
Squirrel chopsticks bologna vase. What did you say my review blog was called again?