Jean Rollin had such a rough introduction to film — being chased by the forces of Generalissimo Francisco Franco while making a documentary, running out of money, causing scandals, suffering an accident during the filming of La Vampire Nue which left him traumatized — that the fact that his movies ever came out is nothing short of a marvel.
After 1971’s Requiem for a Vampire he finally became a success, making a movie that he called a naive film, one that had a simplified story, direction and cinematography. And yet he made movies he knew would fail, like La Rose de Fer (The Iron Rose) and would work in adult films as Michel Gentil to pay the bills. Yet he would keep making absolutely deranged movies like Les démoniaques — two women are assaulted and killed by pirates and then have sex with Satan to return and get their revenge — and Lèvres de sang in which a man is obsessed with a childhood memory that could really be a dream.
He’d go between getting close to success with movies like Les raisins de la mort and then having to go back to make adult films to pay the bills. Even the artistic success of Fascination was poorly distributed meaning more Michel Gentil or Robert Xavier porn films.
In 1982, however, he made La morte vivante which may be his most commercial and successful film.
Catherine Valmont (Françoise Blanchard) has been dead and buried in her family vault beneath the Valmont mansion before grave robbers, some dumped chemicals and a tremor awakens her. She can only live by drinking blood and fades in and out of reality — much like one of the director’s films — remembering her childhood friend Hélène (Marina Pierro) who ends up helping keep her alive. There’s also Barbara(Carina Barone), a photographer obsessed with the image of Catherine.
This movie is probably the most accessible Rollin movie. Sure, it moves at the same languid pace as his other films, but it has a story, one drenched in sadness and childhood nostalgia and perhaps even young love. It has more gore than much of his other movies and no small amount of nudity, yet the true reason this succeeds is that it’s the most potent of all strains of Eurohorror drugs. Watching Rollin is like finding out that joint has been laced and you keep waiting for the real drugs to kick in and before you know it, it’s too late and there’s nothing you can do to stop the slow creep of the high and before long you’re enveloped by it and love it but also unnerved at the very same second. By the end, that same love has destroyed everything. A woman has been set ablaze and Hélène has given of herself to Catherine’s unending need to drink blood, cracking her open like some kind of delicacy. Françoise Blanchard went so over the limit in this scene that the crew thought that she had really lost her mind.
Supposedly, there’s an English version that was shot with the same cast and crew, directed by Gregory Heller who would shoot his scene right after Rollin. It is a lost film.
You can watch this on Tubi.