Color, 1970, 85m.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Starring Olivier Martin, Caroline Cartier, Maurice Lemaitre, Ly Lestrong, Jean Aron
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Redemption (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)
Following the nearly plotless black-and-white gothic mayhem of his first film, The Rape of the Vampire, director Jean Rollin returned to bloodsuckers again for a far more visually extreme variation that still stands apart from the rest of his filmography. Though his trademark obsessions with beachscapes and aesthetic nudity are still in evidence, the ultra-saturated color schemes and mad scientist motifs instead feel like some sort of unholy mash-up between Barbarella and The Diabolical Dr. Z (and almost never like a traditional horror film). The film kicks off with a group of hooded scientists doing something nefarious with their Bunsen burners and brightly-colored beakers, while others in their cult run around in animal masks and chase passing pedestrians. During all of this mayhem, young Pierre (Martin) is captivated with a scantily-clad woman (Cartier) who winds up apprehended by the sect, which turns out to be a more sinister and deadly group than they first appeared. Visitors commit suicide, blood drinking is involved, and as usual, it all winds up with haunted characters wandering a beach as their mortality comes back to bite them in the, uh, neck.
Though the pacing of The Nude Vampire is still recognizably Rollin-esque, this film may prove easier for newcomers to swallow as its story veers from one oddball element to the next. Leopardskin fabrics, party masks, and lots of teasing partial skin shots set this one firmly in 1970, and as a mod French art film gone berserk, it's plenty of fun. Rollin mixes the sci-fi and gothic elements together without really trying to scare anyone, but his poetic touch keeps the entire enterprise from becoming a nasty collision of contrasting styles. The actors aren't required to do much beyond wandering around and acting as clotheshorses, but the limited Martin makes a reasonable enough protagonist whose past causes him to slowly unravel as the film unspools.
Among all of Rollin's horror films on home video, The Nude Vampire has easily suffered the rockiest history. Decent video prints have been hellishly difficult to obtain, and even the DVD era has proven wildly erratic. A non-anamorphic Spanish DVD contained the dubbed English track (which is a disappointment, but the film only contains about 10-15 minutes of dialogue at the most), and reputedly the French-language British disc with English subtitles isn't much of a visual improvement. For some reason, Redemption's North American DVD fudges the release by including only the English dub again, and the transfer's non-anamorphic, which is quite bizarre at this stage in the digital game. (The film's negative was in Redemption's possession, so there has to be more a story behind this.) That said, colors look bold and bright, and the framing appears accurate enough if you don't mind zooming in a bit on a widescreen TV set. The English dialogue doesn't sound particularly well-mixed, often fluctuating wildly in volume compared to the music and effects track.
As far as extras, you get both the French and English theatrical trailers, a plotless and artsy early short film from Rollin ("Les Amours Jaunes") centered around the beach (of course), stills galleries for the feature and short, and the usual Redemption cross-promoting trailers and book promo.
The only truly satisfying version out there came later when Redemption jumped over to Kino for HD overhauls of Rollin titles, including the first genuinely attractive version of this film in its original language. The Blu-Ray release is quite the stunner,with eye-popping colors that finally capture the deranged pop art flavor Rollin was going for. It's finally presented with its accurate 1.66:1 framing as well and offers a major upgrade in every department. The short film from the US release and the Rollin interview from UK one go bye bye, but it's a minor loss compared to the fact that you get a far superior rendering of the film along with some new extras including a Rollin video intro, a shorter interview with the director (just under 20 minutes instead of the 40-minute one on the UK disc), a three-minute Natalie Perrey interview, and trailers for the first five Kino Blu-Ray Rollin titles.