Many of you know me as Diabolique’s Associate Editor, but I’m also excited to be the editor of an upcoming book focused on the career of French fantasy and horror filmmaker Jean Rollin, Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin. To be published this summer by Kier-La Janisse’s Canadian micro-publishing company Spectacular Optical (responsible for Kid Power and Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s), the book is written by all female writers, critics, and historians, including fellow Diabolique editors Kat Ellinger and Rebecca Booth, as well as important critical voices like Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (Senses of Cinema), Virginie Selavy (Electric Sheep), Marcelle Perks (Eyeball), and many more.
From the Indiegogo campaign : “This collection of essays covers the wide range of Rollin’s career from 1968’s Le viol du vampire through his 2010 swansong, Le masque de la Méduse, touching upon his horror, fantasy, crime and sex films—including many lesser seen titles. The book closely examines Rollin’s core themes: his focus on overwhelmingly female protagonists, his use of horror genre and exploitation tropes, his reinterpretations of the fairy tale and fantastique, the influence of crime serials, Gothic literature and the occult, as well as much more.”
We’re currently running an Indiegogo campaign to get the book printed in full color–as Rollin’s iconic and unusual imagery is undeniably one of his trademarks–and to make sure all the contributors are fairly paid for their hard work. We’ve met our initial goal, thanks to some amazing perks like a Rollin-themed mystery boardgame (with artwork from the book’s cover artists, Jessica Seamans), Jean Rollin documentary The Stray Dreamer, a subscription to the genre-themed streaming service Shudder, various festival and event passes, books, Blu-rays, a tour of Rollin locations in France, and more.
I’m also excited to announce a brand new, one of a kind perk: a book from Jean Rollin’s own collection (pictured right), L’univers fantastique des mythes (The Fantastic Universe of Myths, 1976). Myths and fairy tales played an important role in Rollin’s films, particularly later titles like Les paumées du petit matin (1981), Perdues dans New York (1989), and Les deux orphelines vampires (1997); all of these films feature a book of tales as an important plot point and it’s not much of a stretch to imagine L’univers fantastique des mythes inspiring Rollin as he drew from European, Greek, and Aztec legends for his own scripts.
Though the campaign has reached it’s first goal, we have about another week to reach our stretch goal, which will allow for another 40 pages of full color images in the book, and the boardgame pieces will be sculpted in cold-cast metal (instead of resin).
And as an added bonus, check out an exclusive excerpt from one of my chapters in the book, which explores Rollin’s soft and hardcore films as well as his later work-for-hire projects (such as Zombie Lake), and includes some equally exclusive imagery:
Phantasmes: Jean Rollin’s Hardcore Reveries and Work for Hire
by Samm Deighan
From the forthcoming Spectacular Optical book LOST GIRLS: THE PHANTASMAGORICAL CINEMA OF JEAN ROLLIN
While Jean Rollin is generally remembered for the vampire films that overwhelmed the early years of his career, his work had a sweeping range that included not just surreal horror, but spy thrillers, romance, fantasy, and his own stab at the French serials popular from the dawn of cinema through his childhood in the ‘40s, as well as soft and hardcore sex films. Like many other “Eurocult” directors from the time—including Jess Franco, Walerian Borowczyk, José Bénazéraf, and Joe D’Amato—much of Rollin’s bread and butter in the ‘70s and ‘80s involved taking on directorial assignments, over which he had varying degrees of personal investment and creative control. He shot these films under pseudonyms—Michel Gentil was most often his handle for softcore or artier sex films films, while Robert Xavier was the face of his more explicit hardcore work—but his approach to any genre was generally one of guileless creativity and melancholic poetry.
While it would be easy to view many of these producer-driven titles as the sort of commercial hardship imposed on many artists, they instead stand an example of Rollin’s flexibility and willingness to meet challenges head on. He was often at his best when working against limits: budgetary, critical, or even creative. One of his chief strengths as a director, and an artist, was the ability to bring his dreams and fantasies to life regardless of the circumstances. While none of these projects are generally described as cinematic masterpieces, and some are deeply flawed by the director’s own admission, they are all interesting examples of a changing time and are the products of a director determined, often against many odds, to keep alive his dream of making art and poetry.
In the 1970s, pornography was elevated to an art form and ushered in a brief wave of porno chic, where mainstream audiences flocked to conventional theaters to see sex films on the big screen for the first time. Thanks to the release of films like Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972), Radley Metzger’s Score (1974), and Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle (1974), it seemed like an era of new permissiveness had arrived, one which just might change the face of cinema. According to Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs’ Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies, 1956-1984, Alex de Renzy’s A History of the Blue Movie (1970) was the first hardcore film to be widely shown in commercial cinemas in France, though it was a far cry from the artful movies to come and was essentially a “documentary” compilation of hardcore clips from throughout cinema history, dating back to titles like the American film A Free Ride (1915), which is among the earliest known hardcore films. But Rollin himself was part of the movement that believed sexual permissiveness could develop away from the content of these earlier stag films and towards a new utopia. In Virgins and Vampires, Rollin writes, “Treating it [explicit sex] as a dramatic element, integrating sex into a story (as in Empire of the Senses for example) could have led to a kind of auteur cinema.”
This utopian fantasizing is exemplified by events like the emergence of a sex film festival—the Wet Dream Film Festival—which began in 1970. Tohill and Tombs write, “All across the world there was an opening out of the arts, a new liberalism. Youth had come to the fore in the late 1960s, now there was a harvesting of the seeds that had been sown then.” This amalgamation of relaxed censorship laws, eager producers, inspired artists, and a new kind of audience—fresh off the Summer of Love—transformed not only mainstream movie-going and the fate of erotic cinema, but had perhaps the biggest impact on arthouse and genre films, where sexual content was allowed more artistic validity. Auteur directors—particularly those in France—dabbled in sex, violence, surrealism, and genre themes, proving that not only could they create challenging works of art, but films that were also financially successful.