Monday, May 25, 2015

Jean Rollin's THE ESCAPEES is no erotic vampire story

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Director: Jean Rollin

Cast: Laurence Dubas, Christiane Coppé, Marianne Valiot, Brigitte Lahaie, Louise Dhour

Redemption Films / Region A / Unrated / 1.78:1 widescreen (1080p) / French language with optional English subtitles / 104 minutes

EXTRAS: "One Day In Paris: An Interview with Jean Rollin"

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In 1968 then unknown French short-film maker Jean Rollin took his short Le viol du vampire aka Rape of the Vampire and added a second part to the end to make it a feature film's length. The very controversial themes of the movie stirred up outrage and with the widespread civil unrest in France at the time, Rape of the Vampire was not very popular in theaters. This wouldn't stop Rollin from realizing his artistic, erotic vision as he would go on to make more vampire movies, each varying in quality and explicitness, and even filling time in-between "legit" filmmaking with writing, directing and even acting in adult films under pseudonyms like "Michel Gentil" and "Robert Xavier".

Though he would become known primarily for his horror output he was a man who could tell a story both with beautiful visuals and poetic dialogue. He would also delve into dreamlike dramas like 1981's Les Paumées du Petit Matin aka The Escapees (or The Runaways) that are still erotic, containing some of the same themes as his horror films, like complicated female lead characters.

The Escapees follows two young girls who break out of a mental institution; Michelle, a headstrong hell raiser and Marie, who is afraid of her own shadow. Marie tags along with Michelle when they meet a traveling burlesque show and are hired to serve drinks, but when the show is raided by cops they once again escape with the help of Sophie, a pickpocket. They end up at a bar run by Louise who takes in runaways and the duo, along with Sophie, plan on stowing away in Sophie's boyfriend's boat to get away. The night before they leave, they meet two swinger couples who would take advantage of the girls but may just get more than they bargained for. If you are looking for the artistic mastery of his more beloved films, you may be looking in the wrong place with The Escapees.

Overall the film's cinematography by Claude Bécognée (The Grapes of Death, Bacchanales Sexuelles) just doesn't hold up to Bécognée s earlier work or Rollin's masterworks with renowned cinematographer Jean-Jacques Renon (The Shiver of the Vampires, The Demoniacs). There are indeed some wonderful scenes–most notably the ethereal ice-skating scene–that are incredible to look at, but overall it is pretty pedestrian by comparison. It's also pretty tame with a little nice, beautifully shot nudity (especially from Rollin alum and blonde sex goddess Brigitte Lahaie) and very little violence and blood. Although The Escapees isn't as great as Rollin's other movies, it is still worth seeing and pretty haunting in that inexplicable way that only Rollin's movies can be.

The Escapees was once one of Rollin's most sought after films on home video due to its scarcity. A few years ago Redemption Films released it on DVD and while it was a relief to finally get to see it, the issues with the picture and audio quality were pretty evident. The image was flat and blurry and the sound was terribly muffled. Fast-forward to 2015 and Redemption has now remastered the film from the original 35mm negative to what can only be described as stellar results. Rollin's trademark vibrant color palette is on display here and while the technical aspects of The Escapees aren't on par with some of his more famous, earlier work, this new high-definition will be a welcomed sight for fans of this somewhat uneven movie that highlights some fantastic individual scenes. The lone yet very interesting supplement "One Day In Paris: An Interview with Jean Rollin" is brought over from the DVD.

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