JEAN ROLLIN by Lanesh Patel
Jean Rollin has to be considered the father of the trend of casting beautiful women in vampire films. In looking at his oeuvre of
films, one will get the knee jerk reaction that he was simply a pornographer. This would lessen his ability and accomplishments,
however, as his films are always beautifully shot with a poetic quality…Is it porn? Yeah, but a benign version if there is such a thing.
Rollin was an actor and theater director while half brother Olivier was an actor. He came from a family of self-styled Bohemians who never judged him for his work.
Instead of judgment, he received encouragement even for his more controversial works.
Rollin had a career that lasted over fifty years. Like most aspiring directors, he started making short films and eventually made
his way into features. He would become known primarily for the following vampire movies: The Rape of the Vampire (1968), The
Nude Vampire (1969), The Shiver of a Vampire (1970) and the Requiem of a Vampire. Other notable movies would include The
Rose of Iron (1973), Lips of Blood (1975), Grapes of Death (1978), Fascination (1979) and the Living Dead Girl (1982).
Rollin was one of those directors who did not move the camera much. His story lines didn’t always make sense and his
characters would often stop in the middle of heated action to make pretentious speeches. But Rollin made up for these
weaknesses (as well his low budgets) with judicious use of nudity and a brand of cinematography all his own. His career would
eventually devolve into making pornography in the mid-1970s as the market for his brand of horror films simply wasn’t there.
Rollin would use a variety of pseudonyms in order to protect his own identity and personal brand from being placed on the porno
flicks. Unfortunately, the word of his involvement would get out and many well-known actresses would refuse to work with him
out of fear.
Rollin was encouraged by his father to pursue a career in film. He loved American pop culture, indulging in American movies and
comic books. He would return home and practice drawing vampires and the monsters in his imagination. Rolling landed his first
job at the age of sixteen working for Les Films de Saturne where mailed out invoices. This company would make opening and
closing credits as well as short cartoons. They would soon expand into making industrial shorts and Rollin was eager to get
involved. He soon moved up from being an office clerk to being the electrical rigger on the company’s industrial shoots.
Rollin would then join the army and found work in their cinema department where they would produce army commercials. Rollin
would edit the footage as he worked alongside future director Claude Lelouch.
Finally, at the age of twenty, Rollin would direct his first film which he called “The Yellow Lovers.” Now out of the army armed with
only a 35mm Maurigraphe camera, Rollin shot the film around a local beach as his only location. He would use this beach in
Dieppe (a small coastal town in the Normandy section of France) for numerous films later in his career.
Being the ambitious type, Rollin wanted to graduate into making feature films. He was twenty-two years old, two years out of
the army but still had no money. He made another short, a sentimental story called “Sky of Copper”, but didn’t complete it. The
footage to this movie remains lost.
Eager to somehow, someway, make his way into the film business, Rollin served as an assistant director on the film “A Horse For
Two”. He didn’t like the experience, deciding that he had to be the man in charge. He made a decision to go the political route for
a time and in 1964 made a documentary called “Life in Spain.” This would be an expose on Generalissimo Francisco Franco and it
didn’t turn out well. Rollin learned a lot, however, as he even risked his own safety to film the documentary. Both he and his crew
were chased out of Spain by the police, barely making it back into their native France.
By the age of thirty, Rollin decided to make something to get himself noticed. His first feature would be called “The Rape of the
Vampire” and it was shot on a very tight budget. It is separate into two parts as it was originally intended to be a short film then
more footage was added in so the movie could be released as a feature.
This movie would cause scandal and derision in the conservative quarters of France. It didn’t do well commercially either and
Rollin soon found himself facing death threats for the making of the movie as it was released sometime during a
student/government battle called the “May Revolution”. This disheartened him and he didn’t want to make any more films.
A year later, however, Rollin said ‘fuck it, I’m back.’
He would make his second feature film, “The Nude Vampire”, which would also be his first movie shot in color. The film was
inspired by the 1916 silent “Judex”, and was abstract in its presentation. Rollin wanted to dial down the controversial elements
and due something more conventional. This movie would also mark the first time that twin sisters Catherine and Marie-Pierre
Castel would appear in his films as the trio would join forces numerous times over the course of his career.
Money issues once again became a problem during the production. He had an accident which left him financially destitute but
things looked up when he met Monique Nathan.
Nathan was the owner of Film Moderns company and chose Rollin to helm a production called “The Thrill of the Vampires.” The
movie would capitalize on the growing hippie movement during the time period and Nathan thought that a “hippies versus
vampires” would make for a nice financial coup. “The Thrill of the Vampires” would feature an iconic scene in which he had an
actress emerge from an old grandfather clock.
In 1971, Rollin would direct what would be arguably his most successful film, “Requiem for a Vampire”. The film would have a low
budget and was unusual in that the first forty minutes contained no dialogue. Rollin had wanted to tell a simple story,
emphasizing the direction and cinematography. Only one half of the Castel twins was able to take part, Marie-Pierre while the
second lead in the film was played by Mireille D’argent.
“Requiem for a Vampire” was shot in the French village of Crêvecoeur. The location provided spooky set locations with a
graveyard located outside the village and a castle which had genuine antiques inside. The castle belonged to the duchess of
Roche-Guyon but under the direction of Rollin it became a vampire manor. Rollin didn’t work exclusively in the castle, he worked
in the dungeon that stood above the entire area. It was his success with this film that firmly entrenched Rollin has the leading
director of the erotic vampire genre.
GOTTA USE A FAKE NAME
Rollin continued down the surreal film making path and many consider “The Iron Rose” to be his greatest work. He financed the
movie with his own funds but was realistic enough to think that it would be a commercial failure. In order to finance his pet
project, he would direct hardcore porn film in order to produce the movies that he really wanted to make.
He would produce “The Iron Rose” over a month-long shooting schedule. The critics panned the movie and Rollin was never able
to find anyone to help fund his future projects.
He also had no qualms about people criticizing his films.
“I’m not a perfectionist,” Rollin said in an interview with Fangoria. “I’m quite aware of this fact but it’s because I was always stuck
with the problems of time and money. A couple of days more would have probably made my movies much better. When I happen
to see them again, I’m aware that I could have done better, but I know that the essence of what I wanted to say is there, and
that’s what matters to me. I don’t compare myself in any shape or form to Luis Bunuel, but I believe he was never as creative as
when he didn’t have any money The lack of a budget did wonders for his imagination. He had to go to the essential, to the core
of what he wanted to show. I work a bit like that but it’s fun to think that some of the things I wanted to do and couldn’t for
lack of money would be possible now. I remember wanting to flood a cemetery for Rose of Iron. I t was too expensive at the
time but it would be easy and cheap to do it with CGI nowadays.
Going by the name of “Michel Gentil,” Rollin would direct adult films with the titles of “Schoolgirl Hitchhikers”, “The Vertical Smile,”
and “Fly Me the French Way.”
Despite being labeled as a pornographer, Rollin was quite introverted in real life and did the movies because he needed the
“A lot of people consider me a pornographer,” Rollin said in an interview with Fangoria magazine. “I heard at one point in my
career that I was a pimp1 Some actresses didn’t want to work with me because they were afraid they’d end up selling their
bodies in Buenos Aires. I couldn’t help it, but I had a lot of trouble because of that, and of course, these rumors were lies. I
don’t know where they came from, but they hurt me a great deal. Did I make some X-rated movies The answer is yes. Did I put
some naked girls in my films The answer is also es. But all my actresses were consenting adults! I admit to putting nudity in my
movies to sell them but I never acted weirdly with any of the girls. I’m a professional. When I started I was so shy that I couldn’t
imagine filming a girl without any clothes on. I remember that The Nude Vampire wasn’t totally naked because I couldn’t bring
myself to ask the girl to take all her clothes off.
In doing these movies he would accumulate enough capital to direct his own movie which he called “The Demoniacs.” The plot
involves two young women who are raped and murdered by a group of pirates after a shipwreck. They are then resurrected by
the devil so they can seek their revenge. Rollin did have co-producers on the film with whom he had disagreements with, getting
him so stressed out that he had to be hospitalized for two weeks. Neither of the Castel twins were able to take the role of the
star vampire, Rollin had to turn to a pair of rookie actresses in Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier.
BACK TO HIS ROOTS
Rollin would return to the vampire genre with “Lips of Blood”. The film is vintage Rollin, everything is surreal and the plot is
abstract. The Castel twins would return to be part of the cast but the audience once again said ‘no’ to Rollin’s vampire dreams
and the movie flopped financially. He was then forced to go to where the money was, directing another porn film in “Once Upon A
Virgin”. The difference this go around was that Rollin actually liked the end product and would use his own name in the credits.
For the next two years between 1976 and 1977, Rollin would direct nothing but adult sex films. His pseudonym of ‘Michel Gentil’
would see the credits numerous times as well as other fake name in ‘Michel Gand.’ The Castel twins would work with him on one
of the hardcore films but it would be the last time Marie-Pierre would work for Rollin. Her sister Catherine would continue to
appear in later movies.
Now forty years old, Rollin would direct the successful “Grapes of Death” which is considered by most to be the first French gore
movie. The movie stars Marie-Georges Pascal who finds herself overseeing a vineyard which is being overrun by zombies (the
local villagers have breathed in the pesticides, turning them into brain eaters.)
Brigitte Lahaie makes an appearance here and Rollin was able to detect that the actress had more going for her than just a great
body. Nonetheless, it is Pascal who steals the show as the movie doesn’t follow the zombie tropes of the time period like Night of
the Living Dead or Let Sleeping Corpse’s Lie.
The film earned Rollin some money but he still had to return to pornographic movies to earn a living. He adopted a new
pseudonym, Robert Xavier, and would produce more adult films in the next year until directing Fascination.
A DREAM ABOUT VAMPIRES
Fascination is described as a vampire film but there isn’t any drinking of blood. Like almost all of Rollin’s films, it would flop at the
box office, forcing him to once again go back to the grind of making adult films.
But in the summer of 1980, Rollin came up with a plan. He would make a horror flick in nine days and in order to keep the
production cost down he would use actors from his pornographic films. The movie would be called “The Night of the Hunted” and
while it was not well received in 1980 it has since grown on critics and audiences alike. The movie would feature Brigitte Lahaie,
Natalie Perrey, and Catherine Greiner. Rollin would later claim that he didn’t think the movie was very good and if he could remake
any film, it would be “Night of the Hunted.”
Rollin would then direct a Spanish zombie movie entitled “Zombie Lake” under the pseudonym of J. A Lazer. The movie was
originally scheduled to be helmed by Spanish horror meister Jess Franco but through a serious of events Rollin was able to take
his place. It was once gain another movie that Rollin didn’t care for and was really mean to be a vehicle for Franco’s style of film-
The next two years showed him returning to more commercial releases in “The Escapees” and “The Living Dead Girl.”
“The Escapees” would receive a DVD release in the United States to surprisingly positive reviews. “The Living Dead Girl” Was
supposed to be another zombie movie but Rollin turned the lead character into more of a vampire woman, flipping the script on
the types of vampire the audience was used to seeing.
Rollin would then once gain return to pornographic movies to make money before making The Sidewalks of Bangkok. It is the
one movie in Rollin’s oeuvre where there isn’t any trace of supernatural or horror elements. It stars Yoko, another pornographic
actress, but one who drew a lot of praise from Rollin as she plays a spy on the run from the French Secret Service.
Rollin rounded out the 1980s with two movies, Lost in New York and Killing Car. Lost in New York was done in an improvisatory
manner as Rollin was helping out a producer friend in looking for location shots in New York. Ever the opportunist, Rollin
improvised a movie in which two young women are separated and look for one another in the city.
“Killing Car” would be a revenge movie with a soft core adult theme. Rollin initially directed it under the ‘Michel Gentil’ pseudonym
but changed his mind after he saw how good the film could be. It stars Australian model Tiki Tsang who plays “The Car Woman”,
a violent woman who gets in her car and proceeds to run people down as revenge for a past wrong. All known film negatives of
the movie have been lost.