October 3, 2017 Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (Book Review)
Women do not seem to have much luck in Horror films. Aside from a lucky few, they are usually the victims of the killer/monster/ghost, etc, and even the ones that end up victors usually end up suffering as well as surviving (Meir Zarchi’s 1978 I Spit on Your Grave or Tobe Hooper’s 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Not everyone can be a winner in Horror, otherwise it would not be horror, but the odds generally do not favor the fairer sex when it comes to the genre. Although, French film Director Jean Rollin (1938-2010) played by different rules, and the book Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin details just how his films, starting with 1968’s Le Viol du Vampire (The Rape of the Vampire) through to 2009’s Le Masque de la Méduse (The Mask of Medusa), defied those odds and posed a deeper look into his female protagonists than his contemporaries.
Edited by Samm Deighan (assoc. editor Diabolique magazine, co-host Daughters of Darkness podcast), with contributions from Kier-La Janisse (founder of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, author A Violent Professional: The Works of Luciano Rossi 2007) and Marcelline Block (author French Cinema and the Great War: Remembrance and Representation 2016, Situating the Feminist Gaze and Spectatorship in Postwar Cinema 2008) amongst others, Lost Girls is packed with information from experts and enthusiasts alike as they examine Rollin’s films one by one.
The first chapter on Le Viol du Vampire and its sequel Les Vampires Femmes (The Vampire Women) gives the reader a good idea of how they stood out, describing how its Surrealist take on the genre was greeted by jeers, riots, and threats against Rollin himself. Its greatest crime, aside from its cheap budget, was being a black & white, unearthly yet sympathetic take on vampires than the classic Hammer Horror style of blood and cleavage in Eastmancolor.
Though that is not to say Rollin’s films were without image or some degree of titillation, and the book has plenty of them to share. Each page is decorated with pictures ranging from screenshots from the films, posters, behind the scenes photos of cast and crew, and some neatly illustrated chapter banners by Jessica Seamans, Furthermore, they have their own share of gore and sexuality as they progress through Rollin’s oeuvre. Rather than just being fanservice, the authors explain the context behind their use in his films, such as the protagonist’s retention of femininity in the likes of 1979’s Les Raisins de la Mort (The Grapes of Death) or the blurring of friendship and romance between the two female leads in 1971’s Requiem Pour Un Vampire (Requiem for a Vampire). It is less anti-sex than an examination of sex when it crops up.
This studious take can appear dry at times. Readers looking for a light-hearted romp through the Horror genre, like John Landis’ 2011 book Monsters in the Movies, might find themselves biting off more than they can chew as the read takes on the female ownership of sexuality, or allegories of feminist theory risking their lives and sanity over their inability to handle gendered politics. The synopses of each film are explained clearly and succinctly from their outset to their end, as well as little parts on how they were made, but it is more about what the movies mean and what Rollin was trying to express than a simple biography and chronological list of films. It is not without some feeling though, as the foreword by Françoise Pascal, the star of Rollin’s 1973 La Rose de Fer (The Iron Rose) offers some warmth in her recollections of the director, while Kier-La Janisse’s afterword covers the rising popularity of his films since the early 90’s and meetings with him in his later years give the book a personal touch.
For readers looking for some in-depth, interesting food for thought within Horror, they should find plenty to ruminate on with this book. People new to Rollin’s work may find the impetus to give them a go, while those already familiar with his films may see them in a new light after reading the articles within. Either way, it is worth checking out. Thus, for these reasons, CrypticRock gives Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin 4 out of 5 stars.