Color, 1970, 95m.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Starring Sandra Julien, Michel Delahaye, Dominique, Jean-Marie Durand, Nicole Nancel, Marie-Pierre Tricot, Kuelan Herce, Jacques Roboilles
Kino Lorber (Blu-Ray & DVD) ( US R0 HD/NTSC), Encore (Holland R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Image / Redemption (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)
While Jean Rollin directed two experimental vampire films before this one, Shiver of the Vampires (Le frisson des vampires) fully established the visual motifs and overall stylistic approach to which he would return for most of his subsequent horror efforts. A blatant homage to the erotic/horrific comics and serials of which Rollin is so fond, Shiver played more widely than prior Rollin titles in various countries under so many alternate versions that trying to assemble a genuine, complete cut has become virtually impossible. However, this edition from Image and Redemption is purportedly Rollin's personal preferred cut, and at 95 minutes, it remains the longest and most purely "Rollin-esque" edition available.
The plot, to use the term loosely, finds a newlywed couple arriving at a castle populated by mysterious lovely women and two hippie hosts. Their odd but uneventful stay is interrupted when a strange, amazonian vampire (Dominique) steps out of a tall grandfather clock at midnight and exerts her bloodthirsty influence on the other vampiric inhabitants. Like most Rollin films, this winds up on a beach for one of his traditional visually striking, melancholy finales that linger in the mind long after the film is over.
Drenched in bizarre, candy-colored lighting which predates Dario Argento's Suspiria by at least six years, Frisson is still one of its creator's most visually intoxicating works. The extremely thin storyline only has the slightest relationship to the actions onscreen, which tend to involve various performers falling into sexual and vampiric poses. Extremely long, non-dialogue passages provide some beautifully poetic moments seething with gothic malaise and decay, a treatment which would reach its zenith in Requiem for a Vampire. Though not his most polished effort by a long shot, Shiver is really where it all started and remains an important contribution to European vampire cinema.
In an attempt to make this film as commercially viable as possible, distributors have inserted new scenes, thrown in outtakes, and hacked away entire sequences to create a number of wildly different variations. One English-language version, Sex and the Vampire, runs as short as 75 minutes, while a longer English cut, Thrill of the Vampires, contains some additional S&M footage thrown in for extra salacious value. Most European video collectors first became acquainted with this film on the gray market thanks to a Spanish-language release, which features some alternate dialogue and sex scene takes as well as a different (and quite good) music score in its bookending sequences with a funky Pink Floyd flavor. The original French score by the amateur group Acanthus is wild and consistently amusing progressive rock, as garish and outre as the irrational lighting schemes.
The DVD contains the original French language version with optional English subtitles. The film is slightly letterboxed, revealing the maximum amount of image available, and easily outclassses any other version available before; extras consist of a director filmography and both the English and French European trailers (identical except for the text cards). A later two-disc edition from Encore is one of their more modest efforts as far as Rollin goes, but it's worth it for completists thanks to some of the aforementioned alternate scenes and a 16-minute selected scene commentary with Rollin. The subsequent Blu-Ray edition from Kino under the revampted Redemption banner is easily the most visually impressive of the bunch, finally capturing those wild red-drenched sequences in all their fiery glory compared to the more muted tones of the standard def releases. It's pretty spectacular, and the transfer was done with an absolute minimum of digital interference. This also means you'll see a few white specks here and there, but it's not much of a distraction. Extras include a brief two-minute video intro by Rollin (presumably excerpted from another longer piece), a lengthy 41-minute video chat with the director from 2004, the English and French trailers, and trailers for the four additional Kino/Rollin Blu-Rays in the initial batch, along with a booklet containing the usual excellent liner notes by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas.