August 01, 2005



Jean Rollin’s 1967 movie The Rape of A Vampire is totally symbolist in the best way. If one were to try and transcribe what one saw it probably wouldn’t make any real sense at all. It works on a completely different level. It is hard even to convey the range of imagery in a movie like this. Flashbacks to unspecified pasts commingle with 60s hip. Rundown rural locations and boarded up country mansions bracket beachside sequences. The sterility of a laboratory is set against the dusty, musty dampness of a dark auditorium. Scenes are peppered with highly charged imagery: a dead white bird on the floor, for example, or a stiff bat prop poorly affixed to the breast of a sheer nightgowned female vampire pressed up against a tree. Rudimentary costumes and set designs like the bat run throughout the fantastic architecture and landscape. Not to mention the motley crew of cast members set loose in this movie who are all amazingly game and all look like they are genuinely having fun, like a bunch of friends who decided on a whim to make a movie (“like” being the operative word since it is amply clear that everything in this movie is, in its own peculiar way, carefully worked out). The vampire sisters can’t stay in their nightgowns, or hoodies, or any other costume for that matter, for more than a second. The village idiot’s apelike choreography is straight out of Vaudeville. Many of the characters, in fact, look like they belong in a silent movie. The rest are decked out in 60s Euro-sheik with pageboy haircuts, tight jeans, leather jackets, miniskirts, high heals and big round sunglasses. And the queen vampire… what a goddess! She is light-skinned with a tight cut Afro. You either see her carried around by her minions on a throne, diabolically fingering the tip of her rapier, or reclined, half nude in the backseat of her 50s Oldsmobile convertible. From one moment to the next the action shifts mysteriously. Dreamy sequences are interspersed with violent attacks, such as the mob of village farmers incited to kill the foreigners who have come to cure the vampire sisters. Then there are the isolated one-off type shots, such as when the male lead discovers his dead girlfriend has come back to life. The shot is of him framed against a large white wall darkly shadowed on his left due to the extremely bright spot light that shines on him from the opposite direction. The camera lingers on him unusually long as he tilts his head back and opens his mouth in a strained grimace that issues a string of piercing cackles that sound somewhere between hysterical laughter and primal screaming. There is no actual narrator to guide us through this carnival-ride of a movie, although there is the white-mustached lord of the manor with the bad French accent who is, early on, the mysterious voice behind the ram horned pagan straw devil who controls the vampire sisters. In the first part of the “melodrama”, as Rollin calls it, his is the hypnotic voice of omniscience, endowed, as it is, with that certain brand of impersonal perspective that, in a pinch, at least, commonly passes for profundity. Somewhere at the onset of the surreality of the blind vampire beach bowling, the misguided visitors, armed as they are against ancient superstition only with reason, and all the rest of the unnatural mayhem that ensues, it is he who says, in a moment of pure cornball poetry: “We are all damned souls, haunted by our desires.” In the context of the movie the line works on a couple of different levels. In the most basic sense it describes the two major mythologies that are thrust together in the story. The belief system of the vampire sisters, on the one hand, and that of the rational scientific mind of the outsiders with their foreign ideas. Rollin spares neither mythology and probably trashes a bunch of others along the way. A similar theme is touched on in the Hughes Brothers’ documentary American Pimp. Already well known for Menace II Society (1993), their documentary is all about the excesses of male fantasy. The Hughes brothers manage to interview some very colorful characters that like nothing better than talking shit. There is no perspective other than the pimp’s. This documentary is not about economic exploitation. Social injustice is not the issue. This movie is about pimping… and, as far as that goes, besides the glitz and glamour of fancy cars, stacks of cash, and ridiculously oversized jewelry, a lot of what these guys talk about is the psychological relationship they have with their whores. And they don’t shy away from the nitty-gritty of the dynamic either. One pimp puts it this way: it’s all about the whore’s fantasy. The pimp just has to understand what that fantasy is. There is no doubt something predatory in the statement. Con men and advertisers have probably known it for years. If you know what someone’s fantasy is you can control and take advantage of them. Rollin probably didn’t have such a mercenary meaning in mind for his haunted and damned souls. Nevertheless there is also a sense of doom in the lord of the manor’s pronouncement. Like all of us, the characters in the movie are likewise controlled by their fantasies which make them all the more easy to manipulate.

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