I have to admit – I was a little worried about Two Orphan Vampires. I’d never seen a Jean Rollin film from the 1990s and I imagined something with synthesized saxophone music and lots of softcore lesbian sex. Rollin wears this mantle from cinephiles as the king of lesbian vampire sexploitation, but I’d never really found that title fitting when examining his work. It’s mostly artsy, with only the briefest flirtations with sleaze. “Maybe this is the one,” I thought, picturing this later effort as something that would be right at home on Cinemax in 1997.
Well, Two Orphan Vampires is definitely not that. It’s unmistakably a Jean Rollin film, with its dual lead female roles and midnight jaunts through graveyards and train stations. Aside from the score (unimpressive noodling around with a synthesizer), it would be hard to pin a year to the film. It looks, sounds, feels, and tastes, for better or worse, like Jean Rollin.
There’s actually a pretty cool gimmick at the heart of Two Orphan Vampires, one that I’d like to see explored within a stronger narrative, in which the titular vampires (Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul) are blind during the day but have full vision at night. They’re taken in by a doctor who thinks he may have a cure for their blindness, unaware of the secret they share. He doesn’t realize they’re leaving the house every night to feed and generally get into trouble.
It’s a decent hook, and Rollin expands his monsters beyond vampires for a change to include a she-wolf, a demon, and a ghoul, to perhaps reinforce that being a vampire, in the grand scheme of things, ain’t all that bad. These encounters are timed perfectly, as each time I’d given up on the film, a different monster would show up (all depicted as women – don’t get your hopes up for some Rick Baker-styled beasties) and fan my dwindling interest. Two Orphan Vampires, though Rollin through-and-through, is just not the most exciting Rollin film.
I was left wondering what I would think if I’d never seen a Jean Rollin film before this one. I imagine I would’ve been surprised by its artful approach, but turned off by what I would’ve perceived as its pretentious “Frenchness.” Having seen a lot of Rollin by this point, I recognize some of those elements (long, seemingly pointless scenes with no dialogue, the fetishization of fanged teeth) are just part of who he was. Rollin’s an auteur. He made films that he wanted to see. First-timers might pick up on that, but Two Orphan Vampires‘ languid pace and disinterest in a compelling narrative structure might not lead to further exploration of his work.
Kino Lorber’s release is slightly more feature-heavy than others in the Redemption line, with a worthwhile short doc on the film, interviews with the late director, and a substantial booklet that gets into how Two Orphan Vampires fits into the directors’ filmography better than I could ever explain. Oddly, though the film was made in 1997, the source material Kino used has more defects than some of the older Rollins’ films. Colors and contrast are mostly good, but some of the blue scenes that portray the night (and there are a lot) aren’t particularly sharp and the print is flecked with occasional dirt. This is not the fault of Kino, who continually turn out HD transfers for these “lesser” horror films that put some studio releases to shame, but, again, a fault of the available 16mm negative. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad at all, just not great (and most of the Redemption line is great).