French filmmaker Jean Rollin has passed away at the age of 72.
Though Rollin directed a number of films in various genres, including hardcore porn, under a variety of pseudonyms, I knew him best as a director of Eurohorror, that peculiar subgenre of horror in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s that favored dream logic, swinging lounge music, bright red blood, and more often than not, a heck of a lot of nudity. Many Eurohorror films had a shared fascination with lesbianism and vampirism, often depicting them hand in hand, as if every vampire were a sexy French version of LeFanu's Carmilla, and Rollin was certainly no exception. He loved the ladies as much as he loved the stage blood.
Let's face it, for all his notoriety and cult appeal, Rollin was at best an awkward director. His films often looked amateurish, slapdash, and his actors seemed chosen more for their looks than their abilities. But he was a great idea man, and he occasionally had an eye for visual poetry. In Night of the Hunted (La Nuit des Traquées, 1979), an environmental accident turns the entire population of a high-rise apartment building into wandering, semi-comatose amnesiacs; zombies, basically, but without the gross faces and hunger for human flesh. Enter a bunch of doctors, only they're not there to cure everyone, they're there to cover up the environmental disaster, which means killing all the victims. To say the ending is downbeat would be an understatement, but it's also beautifully rendered. (Ironically, in order to make ends meet, Rollin spliced a few hardcore sex scenes into this thoughtful horror film and released it the next year as Les Filles Traquées. You don't need to be Einstein to figure out which one had a faster return on investment.)
Living Dead Girl (La Morte Vivante, 1982) might be Rollin's best known film, thanks in part to the Rob Zombie song of the same name. This one too has a great idea buried in some spotty filmmaking: A dead woman named Catherine (Françoise Blanchard, pictured above) in resurrected by a toxic waste spill and comes back as a vampire. Her childhood friend Hélène takes her in (flashbacks reveal they may have been something more than just friends in childhood, of course) and keeps her alive with fresh blood from unwilling victims. She thinks Catherine is still the woman she knew in life, but of course she's more like an animal, and when Hélène can't supply blood anymore, Catherine turns on her. To Rollin's credit, this is portrayed as tragic and inevitable, not as a sequel-baiting twist.
Rollin was prolific and stalwart, working right up to the end of his life, though his more recent films never got the following the ones from his '60s-'80s heyday did. He may not be the best of the Eurohorror filmmakers, but he certainly left his mark on cinema, and his legacy remains for future generations of horror buffs to enjoy.