Monday, November 4, 2013

The Two Orphan Vampires (1997)

Title: The Two Orphan Vampires (1997)

Director: Jean Rollin

Cast: Alexandra Pic, Isabelle Teboul, Bernard Charnace

This film comes to use from one of the great French horror directors, Jean Rollin. Now this of course depends on who you ask because some critics dismiss Rollin as a pornographer, an amateur filmmaker or simply a maker of sleazy, gratuitous b-movies. But I beg to differ, I really do. Sure Rollin’s films had gratuitous nudity and violence, but to me Rollin’s films are also poetic and haunting and though some of them might come off as empty examples of style over substance, I also find relevant themes in his films. Take for example The Two Orphan Vampires, one look at it and you might say the film is paper thin, with little in the way of plot. And in a way you’d be right, because it is a simple film, but if you give this film a deeper look you’ll find a film that comments on religion and the contrasts between new ways of thinking versus the old.

In The Two Orphan Vampires we meet Henriette and Louise, two young girls living in a catholic orphanage. Their unique situation is that they are both blind, nobody knows why, nobody knows how, they simply are. One day, an ophthalmologist comes visit the orphans to inspect their eyes and soon decides to adopt and take care of them, he becomes their father figure, taking them from the orphanage and welcoming them into his home. The nuns are happy the orphans finally have a home, the orphans are happy they are finally out of the orphanage and the doctor is happy to help these two blind girls. But unbeknownst to all these people, the two orphan girls are only blind during the day! At night they become vampires and can see just fine! When night unfolds, the two girls roam the city streets looking for victims to feed on. How long will they continue this charade before others discover their secret? Will they ever be caught?

Thematically speaking, The Two Orphan Vampires is all about beliefs. First off we have these two girls living a lie. They live in a catholic orphanage, where they give this façade to the nuns, making everybody believe they are these two angelical blind girls. Now the meanings behind the girls being blind while living in a catholic orphanage are pretty obvious, this was Rollin’s way of addressing how religion can blind people, shutting their eyes to the realities of life. Humans are always drawn towards the lurid, seedy aspects of life, this is why the girls go out at night. It’s after they sneak out at night that these girls enjoy life, it’s at night that their vision returns, it’s when they escape the confines of the orphanage that they have their fun in the world, this is the time when they really see life for what it is. A mix of fun and struggle to survive, a dog eat dog world with moments of wonderment as well as suffering, a bitter sweet existence. An interesting aspect of all of this is that the girls are teenagers, a time when most people succumb to the more rebellious aspects of life; the teenage years are a time when you question everything and want to push your limits. This is why the girls escape their elders to smoke their cigarettes and drink their alcohol. So the film depicts two rebellious teenage girls giving their backs to Christianity in order to have their fun in life.

At the same time, the film addresses existential issues. The two orphan vampires are constantly questioning who they are and where they come from. They are vampires who have died many times over and have come back to life, with foggy memories of who they use to be. Problem is they can only remember a few of the lives they have lived, they can’t go that far back into their existence, so they start to wonder who they used to be in earlier lives and they come upon this book about Aztec civilization that gives them the idea that they were these ancient Aztec gods. Kind of like how humanity has a recollection of past civilizations, but at some point our history becomes foggy and we end up asking ourselves where we all really come from? Same as the two orphan vampires, we too have a foggy memory about these things. The two girls can only imagine they were Aztec gods, they are not certain, the same way we cannot find the answers to the big questions in life, so we make up answers and call these answers religion.

The Two Orphan Vampires features Rollin’s signature poetic visuals, the film is also told at Rollins usual slow pace, as if it was in no hurry to tell you its story, it simply unfolds at the pace it wants to whether you like it or not. I’ve grown to like this aspect of Rollins films because to me they are a breath of fresh air when compared to the frenetic pace of some of today’s films. So in that sense Rollin fans will find this to be like many of Rollins other pictures. But where this one takes a left turn is in the absence of nudity and violence, there’s very little of both on this film. Also, those looking for lesbianism will find the film lacking in that aspect as well, for while the girls hug a lot, it is never implied that they are in love. They function more as sisters. There is one scene where they are naked together, but it’s a completely unnecessary scene and seems to be spliced in the movie only to appease the producers who always asked Rollin to fill his films with nudity and violence. When compared to previous Rollin films, this one feels restrained in these areas, which was something that hardcore Rollin fans didn’t like about this film, personally, this didn’t stop me from enjoying this one.

The Two Orphan Vampires was made late in Rollins life, he was into his sixties when he made this one, and very ill I might add, yet the film still retains many of the aesthetically pleasing elements that I enjoyed about his earlier works like The Grapes of Death (1978), The Living Dead Girl (1982) and Fascination (1979), and though this film isn't nearly as good as these I've mentioned, there are still many good things to say about The Two Orphan Vampires, for example, the beautiful localizations are present…this was one thing that Rollin loved about filmmaking, shooting in actual beautiful locations, so we still have these beautiful shots of actual places, sometimes Rollin would compose these shots on the spot, an aspect of his films that I love. True, this is not Rollins best film, it has a few flaws, like the actresses who play the orphan vampires, though beautiful this was the first feature film for both, so sometimes their performance isn’t the best. The bad dubbing kind of hinders the enjoyment of the film; it makes the poetic dialog come off as robotic and unnatural. Still, I enjoyed the visuals, the music and the themes, it is not the disaster that some would have you believe. Sure it was late in Rollins career, but wow, the guy made this film through some serious illness, sometimes going from the hospital to the set, it’s a miracle he managed to pull off a beautiful looking film and on such a low budget! Admirable in deed.

Rating: 3 out of 5     


Chris Hewson said...

Locations sure are a great thing about Rollin's films! Even if a film is low budget, as long as there are real cool locations, they never feel cheap. One of the perks of living in Europe, you can just drive down the road and find a lush castle to film at.

Hae you seen Fiancee of Dracula yet? As of now, it's still my favourite Rollin film.

Franco Macabro said...

Rollin did just that for a scene in The Two Orphan Vampires, he was driving down a road and liked these gates that led to nowhere, and so he has the girls walk past the gates for a scene and included it in a movie. I liked this element of Rollins movies, the improvisation of the shots and the use of architecture.

I've read about Fiancee of Dracula but have not yet seen it, I shall make it a priority!


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