Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

AKA Caged Vampires, Caged Virgins, Crazed Virgins, Dungeon of Terror,
Sex Vampires, The Crazed Vampire, Virgins and Vampires, Virgins and the Vampire
Rated R
France

"Why must you make me go on whipping?"

There's this loony Halloween attraction in Tucson, Arizona called Valley of the Moon. It basically consists of a dirt lot splattered with primitive, folk-arty paper-mache castles and mushroom shaped fairy houses. Half of it was built in the 1920's by mad visionary George Phar Legler, who planned an entire theme park built around the concept of relaxation and introspection. Since these are not the sort of themes that make for family fun and frolic, Leglar was forced to abandon his dream, and so the park fell into disrepair, becoming perhaps the most surreal homeless hangout ever. Many years later, it was bought by a coalition of historically-minded citizens and given a low-budget makeover. Leglar's original attractions were scrubbed clean and painted, and just to make things even weirder, a bunch of old props from a shut-down mini-golf course, The Magic Carpet, were added to the mix.
Now, every October, the Valley of the Moon hosts guided tours through the joint. During said tours, the park is populated by enthusiastic non-actors dressed in Halloween Store outfits who act out a nonsensical tale about demons and ghosts and the enduring spirit of...I dunno, Leglar, maybe. Visitors stumble around in the dark, led by a stoned teenager armed only with a madly bouncing flashlight, as community theater castoffs mumble through their half-remembered lines and hit each other in the head with plastic axes. There's witches and ogres, cowgirls and genies, and even a spider-lady who makes Youtube jokes.

It all ends with a stand-off between the dazed visitors and "The Evil One", portrayed either by a chirpy girl in 80's go-go boots or a metal kid in a plastic skull mask and a Burger King crown.
It's a truly remarkable experience, both ponderous and enthralling, and there is nothing in the world quite like it.

Nothing, that is, besides Requiem for a Vampire. If you are lucky enough to experience both, you'll marvel at the similarities: the remote, off-putting location, the seemingly random bits of set decoration, the laughable special effects, the dimestore costumes, the gorgeous-but-perpetually-out-of-it protagonists, and the nonsensical storyline. It's all there, and exactly like Valley, Requiem is the work of one starry-eyed dreamer with a startling vision. The film was conceived and executed by one Jean Rollin, a French horror auteur who has carved out a very long and strange career making, for the most part, films exactly like this: moody, fuzzy, lesbian vampire romps with sparse dialogue, shoddy production values, and a bizarre and unshakable atmosphere of free-flowing weirdness and anxiety. Much like a trip to the Valley of the Moon, his films can often seem endless, but they stick with the viewer for a long time afterward, haunting the edge of your dreams for weeks and months and possibly forever. Jean Rollin's films may, in fact, be magical, and Requiem for a Vampire is one of his most potent concoctions.

Two girls dressed as clowns and a wild-eyed driver zip through the French countryside with another car in hot pursuit. A high-speed gunfight erupts. The clown car gets away, but the driver is fatally wounded. The clowns douse him in gasoline and set him ablaze (you can clearly see the dude blink during this scene, but whatever). Then they tromp slowly and silently through a field. Then they steal a motorcycle and zip around the people-less countryside.

After awhile, they get hungry. Marie, (Marie-Pierre Castel) the big-eyed blonde one, lets the food truck guy chase her around in the woods, while Michelle (Michelle Dargent), the big-eyed brown-haired girl steals some grub. Works perfectly. Later on, the girls sense that they're being followed, so they hide in a graveyard. A couple of drunken gravediggers show up and they run for it. Michelle, however, falls face-first into a grave, and accidentally gets buried alive. Marie waits until the coast is clear and then yanks her out.

The girls wander into a spooky castle. They find a bed with a purple furry blanket, so they strip down to make sweet 70's love in it, but they are thwarted by a bunch of barbarians and a vampire girl, who chase them around until Dracula shows up. He has two bats that fly out of his armpits and attach themselves to the girls' chests.

They end up back at the castle where a mini-orgy goes down - hairy barbarian dudes mauling chained-up naked chicks and such. One of the vampire ladies asks the two girls what they're up to, and they tell her they broke out of school during a field trip.
"We're lost," they tell her.
"Yes," she agrees. "Eternally lost."
And then she chomps 'em both.

The next morning, they wake up on the purple bed, and assume it was all just a crazy dream. But when they try to escape from the creepy castle, every road just leads them back. Marie tries to stake Dracula, but she gets nabbed by Erica, Dracula's second-in-command. The girls are given their orders: it's now their job to go out during the day and lure victims back to the castle.

Given that both girls are gorgeous - if a tad undercooked- this proves to be remarkably easy work. Michelle doffs her top and snags a local doofus for her efforts; Marie finds a handsome young stud, but decides she wants to lose her virginity with him before leaving him to the monsters inside. They fuck in the dirt. Seems uncomfortable to me, but she seems to dig it. And then she lets the dude go. Michelle, on the other hand, chomps the doofus but good.

That night, both girls are taken to their initiation ceremony. It mostly involves a piano. Then Dracula has a heart to heart talk with Marie. He tells her that he's the last of a dying breed, and that the rest of these clowns are delusional; they'll never become vampires no matter how hard they try.

Dracula allows her to hide the stud. The rest of the vamp wannabes try to find him. Michelle even strips her best friend/lover naked and whips her to get the info, but she won't budge. They decide to just let her go and see what happens.

And that's pretty much it. Dracula decides to die (can he do that?), and he lets the girls split. The end.
Jean Rollin is often accused of making torturously slow films, and while it's true that Requiem's pace is glacial, it is virtually impossible to stop looking at. There is something entirely otherworldly about it, from the clown-suited Lolitas to the tired, frumpled Dracula. It makes no sense in this world, but in some downer-addicted parallel dimension one lost weekend away from this one, it's probably dead-on accurate.

Much like a trip to the Valley of the Moon, after watching Requiem, you will find yourself in a pitch-black parking lot, scratching your heard, wondering if the last hour or so was just some strange, disquieting dream. And then, when you find out that yes, this did just happen, you'll plan on visiting again next year. And that's why Jean Rollin, much like George Phar Legler, is a genius. Not an Albert Einstein type genius, mind you, but at least on the level of the guy who invented the pet rock.

Clips:

Valley of the Moon!




Requiem For a Vampire Trailer

- Ken McIntyre

2 comments:

  1. Wow. I've read every review you've posted on the site so far, and in my opinion, this was the most inspired one yet. The transition from the Valley of the Moon was masterful and it's a nice reminder that even though I come for the sleaze -- there's no doubt that you can fire on all gears. Very nice. Great piece of writing.

    Cheers, Roel

    (PS: I like the nice bit of symmetry between your banner and the Something Weird ad at the top of the page. I don't know if it was intentional, or just a cool coincidence, but it's kinda fun.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for that, man. It just sorta hit me while I was watching it...I've been here before!

    The similarities in banners is unintentional, but we are clearly cut from the same cloth!

    Ken

    ReplyDelete

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