This is the UK Redemption/Salvation VHS video release. The box reckons it's 85 minutes long, not realising that this version had 6 minutes 55 seconds lopped out by the BBFC and is even panned-and-scanned. Mind you, according to the IMDB there's a 95-minute French version of the film and a 65-minute US version. I don't know if I believe the former claim. So I didn't watch the definitive Jean Rollin cut, if such a thing exists. But that's not going to stop me writing a review!
The film started so abruptly that I wondered if I was watching a trailer for something else. There's a car chase in which someone gets shot, which has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film. Perhaps Rollin deliberately started with a sequence in which exciting stuff happened, bearing in mind that very little was going to happen thereafter. I can actually get behind that thinking. It's like a Bond pre-credits sequence, right down to the fact that it takes place before the title credits.
We then watch our heroines wander through some boring French countryside, first as sexy clowns and then as sexy schoolgirls with pigtails. Personally I preferred the clowns.
Nothing happens. At great length.
This film had me thinking better of Jess Franco. From what I remembered, Vampyros Lesbos had genuine aspirations towards being a movie, except that it had unfortunately been churned out by an incoherent hack who neither understood nor put much thought into film-making but wasn't going to let that stop him turning out eleven titles before Christmas and having a crafty wank behind the camera. The softcore porn was tediously protracted, yes, but one could imagine it as the equivalent of song-and-dance numbers in a musical. They slow the film down, but at least stuff happens between them.
Requiem for a Vampire? No. It's so bloody French! I bet Rollin thought he was making art. There's no plot and no acting, by which I don't merely mean that the acting is risible (though it is). The camera just isn't interested in the cast as human beings. They're walking images, not people. More attention is given to our heroines' nipples than to their personalities (and I say that after watching a censored version). A cemetery scene confirms once and for all that Jean Rollin is only interested in imagery. The blonde heroine sees her brunette friend being buried alive and does nothing but go on watching from behind a gravestone! She doesn't try to save her, oh no. It's not even as if it's a deliberate burial. Our blonde bubblehead only needed to stand up and say, "Excuse me, Mr Gravedigger sir, my friend's down that hole."
With apologies to anyone who thinks Jean Rollin is a genius, this film reminded me of amateur fan videos. Perhaps the lack of narrative is a daring artistic statement, confronting our conventional ideas of storytelling? Or is it the work of a cinematic incompetent who's got hold of a camera and doesn't know how to use it? Requiem for a Vampire isn't a narrative with bizarre images. It's just bizarre images. You can almost hear Jean Rollin behind the camera. "Cool, a hand in the wall! Now let's have some skeletons wearing cloaks! This is so intense. I'm a genius, a genius! No, girls, stop acting. You don't look pretty when you're scared. That's right, doll face as usual. Now show me your tits."
It's so juvenile. When not being directed one-handed (if you know what I mean), it's the kind of thing you'd expect from a teenager in a Halloween store. Even when Jean Rollin accidentally stumbles on a cool idea, he can't get it onscreen. At one point the girls are trying to escape the vampires, but they discover that all paths lead back to the chateau. I actually like this. It's spooky. It's Lovecraftian. It's also only conveyed to the audience through dialogue! Cinema is a visual medium and Rollin is interested in visuals above all else, yet he can't get it across! Getting this information to the audience visually would have required actual narrative and at least some kind of grasp of movie grammar. And this is one of the film's good bits.
The vampire stuff is godawful. The bats are ridiculous, being either rubber toys from a joke store or a simply adorable fruit bat. The vampires themselves either wear foppish Anne Rice numbers (frills and ruffled velvet) or the usual opera cloak, etc. Their fangs are laugh-out-loud bad. They get two unsettling moments (no, not scenes), but otherwise they're as threatening as Hammy the Hamster.
There's almost no dialogue, but it's almost all laughable. These girls are virgins, are they? Wow, they must be the sluttiest virgins in the world, what with luring a bloke into the woods for some tit-fondling and being in an active lesbian relationship with each other. But how does the vampire know? Why is it important to him that they're virgins? Why can't a vampire be a virgin? Might Jean Rollin be having a crafty wank? And the bit where one girl falls for a bloke is so corny and sexist (I know, I know) that you'll beat your head against a wall. Though I relented later when this turned out to be an important plot point. Well, er, almost the entire plot.
I certainly didn't object to the sexism of naked women, but there I had another fundamental problem. 'Twasn't sexy! If you're going to give us Euro-sleaze, at least cast big-breasted actresses! (That was also my problem with Vampyros Lesbos... throughout, I was wondering why the camera was so in love with women as flat as ironing boards.) It's not all a dead loss, but there's something kitchen-sinkish about all the sadism and kinkiness. Rollin isn't as erotic a cinematographer as he thinks he is. (Caveat: it's possible that those missing 6 minutes 55 seconds would prove me wrong, but I'm in no particular hurry to find out.)
One odd thing about this movie - it's almost silent. It's largely dialogue-free, but there's rarely any music either (unlike what you get when watching a "silent film"). Rollin is too talentless to conjure up any atmosphere, so much of Requiem for a Vampire is an oddly dead experience. Though having said that, when music appears it's often quite good.
So basically this movie is rubbish. But is it worth watching anyway?
I've heard that the Redemption DVD is uncut. With that version, at least you can watch for the pointless interludes of lesbian action on a fur bed, or chained women being molested by henchmen in a dungeon. But even in this de-sleazed version, I managed to make it to the end. Eventually you could empathise with the plight of the girls trapped among bloodsuckers, and the plight of the main vampire is eventually revealed to be rather poignant. He was a good character, in more than one sense. And if you violently lower your expectations, the succession of images becomes vaguely diverting in a sort of Alice in Wonderland way.
Requiem for a Vampire is a work of cinematic incompetence, populated almost to the end by non-characters. However the world it creates is, while overcooked, almost interesting enough to justify Rollin's 88-minute bus tour of it. I also liked the end, which stumbled despite itself into actual storytelling. However I'm not too fussed that the BBFC removed seven minutes of footage; if they'd removed another hour then this might have become an interesting visual cartoon.