Yet Rollin’s two very best films are perhaps his least typical. The Iron Rose (1973) was the director’s biggest commercial failure, and is best saved until you’re a few films down the road. Set almost entirely within a sprawling graveyard, the film plays like a series of nesting dreams, richly symbolic and steeped in an air of romantic tragedy. It’s a film much better experienced than described. At once poignantly sad and achingly beautiful, it’s a haunting marvel of dream-state ambience and logic.
The Night of the Hunted (1980) is similarly atypical, and similarly essential. Eschewing his usual rural environment, Rollin makes a rare foray into the city, the film’s institutional setting giving the feel of an early Cronenberg picture. Fittingly for a film about amnesia, the cast (populated by his hardcore pals) perform as though hypnotised, which lends an even greater sense of the somnambulant than usual.
There’s a cold distance at play here, unusual for Rollin, which is exacerbated by his fixed, objective camera. While the film offers a pat explanation for what’s afflicting the institution’s residents, the lifeless expressions of those drifting through its midst imply a more malignant trauma.
- Watch The Grapes of Death online on BFI Player
- Watch The Living Dead Girl online on BFI Player
- Watch The Iron Rose online on BFI Player
- Watch Night of the Hunted online on BFI Player
Where not to start
Unless you’re specifically looking for them, it’s best to check that any randomly selected Rollin film isn’t one of his hardcore joints. Otherwise, all of the films that bear his name as director are worth your time. Later pictures like Two Orphan Vampires (1995) and The Fiancée of Dracula (2000) knowingly hark back to his early works, and are best enjoyed with his more famous films already under your belt.
Then there’s those films Rollin made under a pseudonym, as cash-grabs to fund his personal projects. You’ll find little of what makes a great Jean Rollin picture in the likes of Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973) or Zombie Lake (1981). But it’s not easy to distinguish them when the home video labels that are releasing his good stuff are also releasing these pseudonymous films with his real name reinstated on the cover. Luckily, the IMDb marks clearly which films were directed under an assumed name.