The following interview originally appeared in Video Watchdog #31 and appears here through the kind courtesy of Tim and Donna Lucas of Video Watchdog and Peter Blumenstock who conducted the interview.


There was a time, not so long ago, when Jean Rollin--the French master of erotic horror cinema--was prepared to pound a stake through his art and declare his directorial career dead. Now, appropriately for someone who has spent so much time filming beautiful people climbing in and out of coffins, it is a grand and well-deserved time of resurrection for Rollin.

After many years of having his films discussed more often than actually seen, a half-dozen Rollin films have appeared on the Redemption Video label in the UK. More recently, Video Search of Miami signed with Rollin to oversee the exclusive, authorized release of his films on video in the United States. This long overdue awakening of interest in Rollin's work put the 60 year-old director (born November 3, 1938 in Neuilly-sur-Seine) in the position of being able to direct his first horror film in twelve years.

Rollin's comeback, Les Deux Orphelines Vampires ("The Two Vampire Orphans"), based on his own novel, was filmed last July on location in Paris and New York. Filmed on a tight budget of $3,000,000 Francs (about $700,000)--Rollin's most indulgent budget ever--the production was beset by a comedy of errors. Star Tina Aumont, cast as "The Ghoul," reportedly arrived on the set expecting to play a Gypsy Woman, wearing an appropriate costume and having memorized appropriate lines, though no such character or dialogue appeared in Rollin's script! Later, when the owner of a chain of French cinemas saw the film's final cut and expressed interest in financing a small theatrical release in Paris, Rollin and the exhibitor went out to a celebratory dinner. As they dined, the first two reels of the workprint were stolen from Rollin's car (along with his video camera)--killing the time-sensitive distribution deal, and necessitating that the film's first 20m be re-edited from scratch! Despite these drawbacks, the result is perhaps Rollin's most beautiful achievement--nostalgic, erotic, and above all, charming in its imaginative flourish. It screened at MIFED this past autumn, and is presently seeking international distribution.

The following interview was conducted by Peter Blumenstock at Rollin's cozy, book-cluttered apartment in Paris, in May 1995. -- Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog Magazine.

Interview by Peter Blumentstock:
How did you become interested in cinema?

I saw my very first film when I was about five years old, out in the country, during the second World War. It made a profound impression on me. It was Capitaine Fracasse (1942) by Abel Gance. I particularly remember the storm sequence. I have never seen anything more fascinating and magical; it simply changed my live forever. My mother told me that, after the screening, I said I wanted to do exactly that when I grew up, so making films is a desire I've carried around with me for quite some time now.

Where your parents happy about your choice of vocation? The War years were a difficult time, when films were not commonly regarded as respectable art form.
Well, you know how it is when children want to step into a certain profession. Nobody believed this was more than a temporary idea. Also, my father was an actor working in the theater, so that was also a heavy influence and helped. My parents were separated. I never lived with my father, but once in awhile, I went to the theater where he worked and saw him performing some of the classics on stage. Thus, my wish to step into an artistic profession didn't appear to them as a curse.
When I was 15 years old, my mother gave me a typewriter, because she thought it might be useful if I knew how to use one. That was an important moment; that's when everything started. I found a means of expressing myself. I began to write little screenplays and stories, heavily influenced by the films I saw. I adored Cecil B. DeMille's work, and when I was about 13 or 14, I became really obsessed with American serials. When I was a schoolboy, television didn't yet exist, so after school, I regularly went to the movies with my friends. The cinema and comic books were our whole lives! We were playing them, talking about them, living them.
I remember JUNGLE JIM (1948) with Johnny Weissmuller, also THE SHADOW (1940) and THE MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN (1940). These were serials, always to be continued next week, so once an episode was over, nothing mattered but getting through the next week as quickly as possible! The serials were not just a special piece of culture; they also had a real spirit to them, which changed our lives and attitudes. I certainly know, that these events are the source for most of the ideas that recur throughout my films. The spirit, structure and contents of the serial is the key to my type of cinema. I work from childhood memories, and even if I sometimes cannot name a film in particular, I know that all my ideas originated from that time.

Can you trace some specific examples?
The beach, for instance. That's a motif often seen in my films. I don't know exactly where I saw it first, but I am sure it was in one of these serials. The whole beginning of Les Demoniaques (1973), for example, is a strange remembrance of the pirate and swashbuckler films I saw back then.

It's strange: most people directing or writing in the genre also work from childhood memories, but they usually don't have nice stories to tell. They seem to have experienced awful things as a child, which is the reason why they chose the genre as their medium.
My childhood was wonderful, and my reflections of it are very romantic, sweet and utterly transfigured. Like recalling one's first love, 20 years later.

What were your first actual steps toward working professionally in the cinema?
When I was about 16 years old, I found a job at Le Films des Saturne. I was just there to help, to write invoices and so forth, because I wanted to earn some money and I certainly wanted to do something connected with cinema. They specialized in creating opening and closing titles and little cartoons, but they also shot real films, industrial shorts and documentaries now and then. One day, they were assigned to make a short documentary about Snecma, a big factory in France which builds motors for airplanes. I was part of the crew, so we went to the factory and started shooting. It was my first time on a real movie set with a camera and objects to be filmed. Of course, it had no actors, no fictional story to tell, but it was enough to get me completely excited. It was a new world for me. I remember working very hard, although it didn't seem to be work for me. I did everything: I arranged the travelling shots, laid the tracks, checked the electricity, helped the cameraman.

I've also heard that you worked as an editor in the French army?
That's correct. When I did my military service, I worked in the cinema department together with Claude Lelouch, who had to join the army at the same time as I did. We worked on army commercials there. He directed and I did the montage. We did two films. One was a documentary about the mechanographic service called Mechanographie; the other was a real film running one hour, with actors and a story, called La Guerre de Silence ("The War of Silence").

It's hard to believe that you started as an editor. When I look at your films today, I never see montage being asserted as a stylistic device.
For me, montage is just a means to combine scenes, nothing more. I think the creation of a film should happen during the shooting. Since I began in this business as an editor, I know exactly where I want to have a cut, so I usually edit my films in camera. Later on, the editing process is just a formality for me. The scenes are shot in a certain way and it is impossible to arrange them differently. I never use a lot of cameras and shoot scenes from a variety of different angles to choose from afterwards. I hate that. For me, the creation of cinema should occur during the writing and shooting stage. Afterwards, we can re-arrange a bit here and there, sure, but that's about it. Also, from a stylistic point of view, the montage not particularly important to me. I very much prefer long scenes and plateaus. Editing is something completely abstract; it adds another dimension to the story which I don't really care about. I have chosen different ways, so for me, the editing is basically nothing but a reflection of the shooting process.

Beautiful Sandra Julien in
Le Frisson Des Vampires

In 1958, you directed your first short film, Les Amours Jaunes ("The Yellow Lovers"). How did that happen?
After my army service, I wanted to shoot something on my own. Shortly before I had to join the army, I worked as an editor for a film company that produced newsreels. I was in the editing department, but of course, there was also an actual camera staff of six or seven operators, ready to go whenever something happened. I made friends with one of them, and one day, he gave me one of his old cameras, a 35mm Maurigraphe (terribly heavy and complicated), so I could work with it over the weekend. Well, we made a film.
We shot it on the beach near Dieppe, charging the cameras on the toilets there [LAUGHS]! It was inspired by the French writer Tristan CorbiŠre. I am very fond of him. He is a sort of outsider. And maybe somebody really modern, ahead of his time, yet also very romantic and bound to the past. Someone betwixt two worlds. I like his personality and attitude towards life very much.

I did my next short film in 1961. It was called Ciel de Cuivre ("Sky of Copper"). It was quite surreal, telling a sentimental story; unfortunately, it wasn't very good. I never finished it because I ran out of money, and also because I realized it wasn't really working out. The footage is now lost. I have no idea where it might be.

One year later, you worked for the first (and also last) time as an assistant director. The film was Jean-Marc Thibault's Un Cheval pour Deux ("A Horse for Two," 1962).
That was not a particularly pleasant experience. I don't think I am a very good assistant [LAUGHS]; I think it was enough to take this job only once. I came back from the army, I was just married, and I needed work to make a living. Some friends of mine were running a theatre at Montmatre, and they were also involved in producing films once in awhile. One day, they asked if I was interested in assisting Thibault and I agreed. I learned a lot of things on the set. Nevertheless, it was an experience which may have influenced my decision to approach cinema in a different way. I am basically a self-taught filmmaker. Sure, I worked as an editor, but everything else I know about making films comes from doing it. Improvising, trying things, making mistakes and trying to make it better next time. It is an instinctive process for me. I have never seen the inside of a film school in my entire life. I think I know how a traditional, classical film should be shot, what technique is required, but when I shot my first films, I tried to forget about that as much as possible. I wanted to work spontaneously, without any regulations in my head. I don't believe there is only one form of cinema, just because it has become the standard approach, and because most films are shot that way. That's an unnecessary limitation.

L'Itineraire Marin (1960) was supposed to become your first feature film. You also had to abandon that project.
We shot one hour of usable film. Then we ran into some problems and needed professional help to shoot the remaining thirty minutes. I was looking for money and the possibility of a small distribution. I saw every professional working in the film business in Paris, but nobody cared. Marguerite Duras worked with me on that film. She was completely unknown at that time. Nowadays, that's certainly different [LAUGHS]! Then there was also Gaston Modot, who appeared in L'Age d'Or, and Ren‚-Jacques Chauffard. The negative is in the lab, so maybe, one day, I will dig it out and do something with it. Perhaps a small video release. Michel Lagrange, one of the actors, has since become a well known writer. He died a few months ago and some people want to resurrect my film because of him.

The Nouvelle Vague became extremely popular at that time. Am I right to suspect that you were never really a follower of that movement? What was your attitude towards these directors and their cinema?
I met most of them at Henri Langlois' Cinemateque Francaise; we talked, and I saw their films, but you're right. It was not exactly my cup of tea. It was a movement similar to German New Wave filmmaking, some sort of rebellion against the old directors--not only their approach and vision, but also their technical style. I was always most attracted to traditional, old French cinema, but there is no doubt that the Nouvelle Vague played an important economic role. They proved it was possible for young people without experience to make successful, acclaimed films on a small budget. They gave me and others the courage to attempt the same feat.

In the early '60s, you also became interested in politics. You did a short documentary about Generalissimo Francisco Franco called Vivre en Espagne ("Life in Spain," 1964). How come you chose a Spaniard as your target?
I was part of the "left wing" at that time, and there was an organization here in France to help the Spanish resistance against Franco. I knew them, and they asked me to make a short documentary, shot in Spain. I was interested, so we packed our camera equipment and went there. The resulting film, about thirty minutes, wasn't very good, but we risked a great deal to get it made. There was another French crew shooting risky stuff in Madrid at that time; Fr‚d‚ric Rossif was making Mourir … Madrid ("Death in Madrid," 1964). I don't know which company blew their cover first, but we suddenly found ourselves hunted by the police and we managed to cross the border back into France just in time. It was close, very close [LAUGHS]!

It is curious, because you never really approached an openly political subject afterwards in your fantastic films, which are normally predestined to contain certain political ideas.
Well, the fantastic cinema is always a good vehicle for discussing certain political ideas in the form of symbols and metaphoras, but you're right, I have never really worked with political themes afterwards. Although now that you mention it, I remember that, when La Nuit des Traques ("Night of the Hunted," 1980) opened here in Paris, a lot of people came to me and said I had made a film about the German prison problem. I am talking about Stammheim and the RAF. Looking back, I think it might be true. I didn't do it consciously, but it was the same period, so it is absolutely possible. You know, those stories about solitary confinement, no light, nobody to talk to, no noises, everything very cold and sterile, and this is exactly what people saw in my film. Perhaps I was influenced to bring that to the screen.
In general, the fantastic cinema is always political, because it is always in the opposition. It is subversive and it is popular, which means it is dangerous. I made films with sex and violence at a time when censorship was very strong, so that was certainly a political statement as well, although again, not a conscious one. I just happen to have an imagination which doesn't correspond with those of certain conservative people [LAUGHS]!

Around the time of your Franco documentary, you also started publishing fiction. In which literary style would you classify your writing?
I don't know. I cannot really mention any specific authors which have influenced my style particularly. Sure, I adore Gaston Leroux and Corbiere, but they did not affect my writing on a stylistic level. I began writing books the way I was writing scripts. I am a very visual person, thus also a very visual writer. In films, I have something to show; in books, I want to convey the same thing, a world seen through my eyes, so I have to express the same vision with words. My books often appear like screenplays and they share the same rhythm and structure as my films.

So do you think of yourself as a director who writes, or as a writer who directs films?
It depends. I am not in the same state of mind when I write and when I make a film. I am, of course, much freer when I write, because I don't have to bother about anything. I just need paper and a typewriter. The creation is not the same, at least not when it comes to my kind of cinema. With a film, you have to consider that there are actors, who often don't want the same things you want; there are technicians, money problems, a producer, and you have to fight with all these elements. On a book, I only have to fight with my imagination. The visual world is much more open to surrealism and metaphysics. Cinema is a wonderful medium to express na‹vet‚ and vagueness. And it is an adventure, where you just delve deeply into it and get carried away by the events and problems. The resulting film is a combination of yourself, your luck, your misfortune, your problems and your subconscious.
What was important for me, however, was to stick to the theatrical concept of improvisation in my books as well. It is the same journey with screenplays, books, or on the set. I write something and suddenly, off the cuff, I can improvise ten or twenty pages with things that just flood my mind.
I don't know to which extent my work as a filmmaker has influenced my writings and vice versa. That's something I might be able to tell you after I make my next film, Les Deux Orphelines Vampires ("The Two Vampire Orphans"), because it will be based on one of my novels. It will also be interesting for me, because I've been extremely busy with my writing in recent years, and haven't directed a feature for quite some time. I think a director who is also a writer pays attention to different details. That can be dangerous, but it can also make for a very strange film--in the positive sense. It is true that writing directors make films which are much more personal and metaphysical, because cinema means that the writer must abandon one dimension. In books, you can talk to the reader, you can write down people's thoughts. Film is more vague; you know what the characters feel, and you try to convey these emotions visually. Curiously, though I like to re-read my old books now and again, I don't like looking back at my old films. I don't know why, really; maybe because the fantasy in them has become fixed, which might have suited my imagination then but not now, so I am disappointed. Cinema means to decide, to decide which actor to use, which set, which camera angle, and to eliminate all other possibilities in your head.

France is renowned for its artistic and literary groups--the Surrealists, the Nouvelle Vague, the Nouveau Roman, and so forth. I get the impression that you formed something like that with people like Ado Kyrou and Eric Losfeld. Many of these people came to the library of Eric Losfeld.
I was one of them. I was very young and came to listen to what all those people were saying during the meetings. I was sitting in one dark corner, quiet, and listening. I remember Ado Kyrou there, and Losfeld and Jacques Sternberg. One day, Losfeld looked at me and ordered me to come over to get into a conversation with them. That was the beginning. I was so proud to be there, to be able to speak with all these people, who were my heroes. Ado Kyrou was a very respected and important critic at that time. I read everything he wrote. We became close friends, and I came every Saturday morning to the library to meet with them. For me, they represented the spirit of everything. They were incredibly cultured, and they shared the same attitude towards life as I did. We were of the same kind. I agreed with everything they said, everything they wrote rang true for me. When I was among them, I felt at home and understood.
Eric Losfeld intended to publish my first novel, LES PAYS LOINS ("The Distant Lands"), which never happened because he died. I had two things going with Losfeld. First, he wanted to publish this novel of mine, then, there was this strange French writer named George Maxwell, who wrote a series of 22 very bizarre books, and Losfeld had the rights, so we wanted to reprint them with an introduction by myself. I was also supposed to do the cover photographies.

In 1965, you made a short film called Les Pays Loins. Did you do it because the book was never published?
No, no. I just used the title. The story got nothing to do with my novel, which was basically written in the form of an essay.

In 1967, you also got involved in comics. I am talking about SAGA OF XAM.
Eric Losfeld had published the first adult comic in France, BARBARELLA by Jean-Claude Forest. It was extremely successful, so he wanted to publish more adult comics. One of my friends was Nicolas Deville, and he was responsible for the decoration of some of my short films. We were very close, and I knew that he was a fabulous painter. I encouraged him to propose something to Losfeld, so I arranged a meeting and it worked out. We did SAGA OF XAM together. It was a little science fiction story about a girl from outer space coming down to earth to experience a lot of strange adventures. I also met Philippe Druillet around the same time. He would later play in Le Viol du Vampire ("Rape of the Vampire," 1967) and created the posters for some of my films.

Maurice Lemethre & Jean Rollin on the set of La Vampire Nue.
Around this time, you wrote a lengthy essay about Gaston Leroux which appeared in the final two issues of the famous magazine MIDI-MINUIT FANTASTIQUE.
I was always an admirer of Leroux. I read his works when I was very young and he certainly influenced me a great deal in my decision to make genre films. I think that, at that time, his approach to literature was very close to my approach to making films. I wrote that essay on Leroux as some sort of exercise. I never expected it to be published. Losfeld looked at it and liked it, so he published the thing. At the end of that essay, there is an excerpt from a screenplay, signed "Michel Gentil," which would later become the pseudonym I used for my hardcore films. That was just a joke. I only wrote those few pages especially for the essay.

After that, you finally made your first feature film: Le Viol du Vampire. Why did you abandon your writing career at this point? Obviously, you had good connections with publishers and other writers?
It was always my intention to make films. That was my first love. I was working in that newsreel company, and during holidays, I took some money which I had saved and began filming. First, I made the aforementioned Les Pays Loins, and right after that, I began Le Viol du Vampire, which was also a short film in the beginning. It was only half an hour long. This is a very weird story. Originally, that film was supposed to be the extension of an American horror film, a PRC film called DEAD MEN WALK (1943), starring George Zucco and Dwight Frye. Jean Lavie, a young distributor and a good friend of mine, told me he had bought this very film and it was supposed to be shown in the Scarlett and Midi-Minuit theaters in Paris, two cinemas specializing in this type of cinema, but they couldn't show it, because it was too short, scarcely an hour long. He proposed to me that I shoot about thirty minutes of film, so they could add it and show the film without problems. I spoke with Sam Selsky and told him that, if he would finance these thirty minutes, we'd have a contract and distributor immediately and that it would be shown in a couple of popular cinemas in Paris. He agreed and we did it.

How did you meet Sam Selsky, the producer of most of your subsequent films?
Selsky is a European American, so to speak; he's lived in France for a long time. He has been to every corner in the world, but eventually ended up in Paris, working as an administrator for UNESCO. He loved the cinema, so one day, he bought a little movie theatre and also got into production. I doubt that he otherwise would have touched the project. I don't know why he chose to work with me. Just a good feeling maybe. He trusted me, and he was the first one to do so. At that time, I was trying to raise money for films, but nobody gave me a chance because I had no real experience. Selsky believed in me. Also, it was just half an hour of film, so it was not too much of a financial risk, and I managed to convince him. And then he said, like a perfect businessman, that if we could make half an hour of film for practically nothing, we could also make a feature-length film for practically nothing-- knowing that it was preferable to have a complete feature in hand rather than a short. There was also the consideration that my friend, the distributor, at that particular moment, was broke and that our 30 minute film might never see the light of day because of that. Thus, we had to add a second part to Le Viol du Vampire, entitled La Reine des Vampires ("Queen of the Vampires"). Selsky, who is quite a materialistic person, said that the film was so strange, so absurd, it was possible that audiences would like it. He understood absolutely nothing of the story, but it was so bizarre he believed it could be successful. And he was right, it made quite some money.
Of course, it was also a terrible scandal. After the film had opened in four Paris cinemas to very extreme audience reactions, I said I would never make another film. I absolutely didn't expect this reaction; it hit me like a bolt from the blue! People were shouting, throwing trash at the screen. The press went crazy and called me a madman, they called the film the work of a group of crazy students! I was really afraid they are going to lynch me. Some members of the cast and crew freaked out, as well. They hated it, and shouted at me as if I had committed a crime. And I didn't realize at all what I had done after shooting. Now, when I see the film again, I realize how crazy it was to do something like that at this moment in time, with all the student riots in the streets of Paris. It is very much a film of its time, although I never wanted it to be like that and I didn't realize it back then. I know now that my environment influences me a great deal, even if I'm not aware of it, which is also the reason why I told you that story of Stammhaim. I really think there could be a connection, just as there is a connection between Le Viol... and its time of creation.
Sam Selsky arranged a special screening for the Moulin brothers, the owners of the Midi-Minuit, the Scarlett and some other cinemas in the same mold. He knew that it was impossible to understand what the hell was going on in the story, so during the screening, he was constantly talking to them, disturbing their concentration. So, whenever they said they couldn't understand why this-or-that happened, Selsky replied that they had missed a very important plot twist because of his talking and that they shouldn't worry because it made perfect sense! [LAUGHS]

Would you say that Le Viol du Vampire was the most improvisational of your films?
Yes, that one, but also Les Trottoirs des Bangkok ("Streetwalkers of Bangkok," 1984). Some critics wrote that I made two films in my career that are virtually identical: Le Viol... and Les Trottoirs..., and they might be right. When we did Le Viol..., I was quite serious about it, but when I did Les Trottoirs..., I took a tongue-in-cheek approach. But both films stem from the same love for a certain type of cinema and both are definitely honest films. Even the soundtrack of Le Viol... was improvised! Fran‡ois Tusques was one of the very first French musicians to play free jazz and I adore jazz, so it was clear I wanted that type of music for the film. You can see Fran‡ois together with his group in the theatre sequence. We shot it in the Grand Guignol theater during their final active period. I loved their work and I always wanted to do something connected with them.

Was the vampire motif forced on you by the scenario of DEAD MEN WALK?
No, that was a coincidence. Everybody knew I loved that type of film and that I always wanted to shoot something like that.

You are obviously fascinated by vampires. What makes them so special for you? You never really cared about Frankenstein, werewolves or mummies.
That's difficult to answer. I don't really know. Maybe, because the vampire can be attractive, and certainly also because it gave me the possibility to show some nice girls not wearing very much [LAUGHS]! An erotic werewolf or an erotic mummy... I don't think so. Maybe it's also got something to do with my nature and the nature of my films. A vampire is like an animal, a predator-- wild, emotional, naive, primitive, sensual, not too concerned with logic, driven by emotions, but also very aesthetic and beautiful, and these are terms also often used when my films are being described. At least when they are being described by my admirers [LAUGHS]!

Since Le Viol du Vampire, you have been stereotyped as a director of erotic vampire films. Are you happy with that?
Honestly, I don't care. Some people say I'm a genius, others consider me the greatest moron who ever stepped behind a camera. I have heard so many things said about me and my films, but these are just opinions. I am perfectly happy with what I do, because it has always been my choice.

La Vampire Nue ("The Nude Vampire," 1969) was your first color film. The animal masks in it are very reminiscent of Franju's Judex.
Of course, Judex inspired me a lot, and also the concept of surrealism in general. It's funny, because for my second film, I really wanted to do something a little more temperate than Le Viol du Vampire. I wanted to make a well done, traditional mystery film. Looking back on it now, why, it's not a classical film at all! It is exactly the same kind of film as Le Viol...! [LAUGHS] Not so delirious maybe, but it certainly has the same spirit. Well, it's a Rollin film. You mentioned the colors. I often hear that my use of color bears a certain signature. I never thought of that while I was making these films. I am responsible for the way my films are lighted, but I also had big problems with my director of photography, Jean-Jacques Renon, because he had a vision of his own which he wanted to realize. That became even more evident on Le Frisson des Vampires ("Thrill of the Vampires," 1970), where the colors are even more important and flamboyant.

Les Demoniaques

La Vampire Nue was your first collaboration with the twins Catherine and Marie-Pierre "Pony" Castel, who became regulars in your subsequent works.
Oh yes! They are the only twins to be found in French cinema, and they've done vampire films and porn together [LAUGHS]! They were originally hairdressers. One of my assistants came to me one day and told me that he'd found a pair of twins who might interest me, so I met with them. They wanted to be actresses, a dream they had for quite some time. They had a certain na‹ve quality that I felt would be ideal for my type of cinema. It was very difficult to get the two of them at the same time. Originally, I wanted to have them both in Le Frisson..., but one of them [Marie-Pierre] was pregnant, so we could use only one and had to find that beautiful Asian substitute for the other. After Requiem pour un Vampire ("Requiem for a Vampire," 1971), the other one [Catherine] got pregnant, so once again there was a problem! I don't know whatever became of them. One of them was living not far from here, but I haven't seen her for quite some time now.

You are basically the only director in France making genre films. Whenever French fantasy cinema is mentioned, your name is always dropped as well. Do you think your films can be seen as proper examples of French fantastic culture?
I don't think it can be said that I am a representative of French fantastic culture per se. My films are melting pots of American pulp films and a certain amount of German Expressionism. I was definitely influenced by the Expressionist films of Robert Wiene. Not necessarily THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, but I remember THE HANDS OF ORLAC. All that, and of course the films of the great period of British filmmaking and many other things I cannot name because I don't consciously realize how much they influenced me. Also, there is certainly a heavy dose of my own personality involved. I am French, so there are certainly a lot of French things to be found in them. It is not particularly French culture, it is particularly Rollin [LAUGHS]!
It's very difficult to answer that question, you know, because there isn't really a French tradition of fantastic cinema. I guess what you mean is that certain cultural bond that exists within a country's cinema, such as the reflection of the Weimar Republic and the early shades of Fascism in German Expressionist cinema, or Catholicism in the Italian cinema, right?

Well, as far as France is concerned, I would have to name literature as the basis of our fantastic culture. The French cinema, as a rule, is not fantastic. There are no roots. Also, I don't think French people in general like the fantastic, at least not what I consider to be fantastic. Sure, we have a couple of magazines dedicated to horror films, but they survive because they print gory stills and that's what attracts people. These are two different pairs of shoes for me.

It was obvious from your early films that you weren't at all concerned with popular trends and did pretty much your own thing. That's also the case when you made more "commercial" horror films such as Les Raisins de la Mort ("The Grapes of Death," 1978) or La Morte Vivante ("The Living Dead Girl," 1982). Did you always intend to remain a maverick, an outsider to the French film industry, or did you have hopes of breaking into more commercial areas of the film business?
I don't think it could have worked, and I realized that. I knew I had to remain in my parallel world, because anything else would have resulted in a disaster. The films I make are impossible with a normal production. They have to be marginal. I certainly was tempted to try to make a big film with big stories and big stars, but I'm not sure I could make a good film like that. You know, Bunuel was a bit like that. When he had to shoot a little film with no money and no professional actors, somewhere in the desert, like NAZARIN, he managed to create a masterpiece. When he had a reasonable budget, the result was not exactly the same. Maybe we share the same kind of imagination. My imagination is too strong to completely abandon what is important to me. Also, I don't think I am a universal director. I don't think I could direct comedies, for example. I simply cannot escape from myself. I have to fight with the money, that's better for me, that's the type of cinema I grew up with. The difficulties I encounter during production oblige me to invent, to become really creative. I think it's in these moments that my cinematic universe becomes a reality. Anything else would be dishonest and a waste of time and energy.

Le Frisson des Vampires was heavily influenced by the trappings of the Hippie movement.
To a certain extent, yes. I thought it would be nice to work that in. I liked the music of the group Acanthus very much. Jean-Phillipe Delamarre, the brother of my assistant Jean-Noelle, had a little music publishing company. One day, he told me that there were these young schoolboys who had formed a group and liked the fantastic cinema, and that they wanted to work with me. That's how we got together. They separated right after and never did anything else again. They disappeared.

What about the film's leading actress, Sandra Julien? She was incredibly beautiful...
... and not too clever, I must tell you [LAUGHS]! She was a model and, you're right, very beautiful. She also appeared in a couple of other French films at that time. We were looking for a girl to play the leading part, which was not exactly easy. It was a vampire film with erotic scenes, and that didn't sound particularly enticing to a lot of actresses. I worked with Sandra's husband, Pierre Julien, who was a technician on Le Frisson... and Jeunes Filles Impudiques ("Young Girls Without Shame," 1973), a sex film I did few years later. He suggested Sandra, we made a screen test and she was perfect.

Cathy & Pony Castel

The last day of shooting turned into a big mess. We were a little drunk, I have to admit, and we were shooting that scene where the vampire is killed at the beginning of the film. I had the brilliant idea that the castle would start bleeding after the death of the vampire. We made a mixture of red wine, paint and other ingredients and threw it against the walls. The problem was, it stayed there and we couldn't get it off again! I guess it's still there [LAUGHS]! The owner of the castle was not exactly happy, as you can imagine. We even called the fire department and they tried their best with a powerful water jet, but it was useless...

What about the additional scenes which can be found in an American version of the film?
When I first heard of them, I was sure somebody else had shot and inserted them afterwards. I saw that version recently and it is strange, but these scenes are familiar to me. I think the producer shot some additional footage for foreign territories--South America in particular, I think. I only directed a little sequence inside the cemetery at Clichy, the love scene on the graves. Just a very small scene. I remember I did that, but all the other scenes were done by somebody else. I was only there as a spectator. They would have never allowed us to shoot such an explicit sex scene inside a cemetery, so we lied to the caretakers about what we were going to do in there. Because it was late at night, there was only one cemetery guard around, and Natalie Perrey went to him with a couple of liquor bottles and kept him "entertained" and distracted.

Something very funny happened during the shooting of that scene. The motorway passes that cemetery up on a hill and we checked to see if motorists might see what was going on down there. There was some sort of fence, so we figured they couldn't see, so we started filming. What we didn't take into account was the elevation of trucks. The truck drivers could see everything! During the shooting, we looked up by accident and there was this incredible traffic jam, with countless trucks backed up on the motorway to enjoy the show!

I wonder why these extra scenes were not used for other world markets. It's obviously more commercial--more sex, more violence.
Yes, but the censorship in France was very strict at that time. And honestly, the film didn't need them. What we had was enough and I didn't want that stuff to be put in. I don't like it. I don't know what became of this material. Maybe it is in the lab, but I doubt it. I guess it is destroyed. Not much of a loss if you ask me. Monique Natan, the producer of the film, wanted to produce another vampire film with Sandra Julien immediately afterwards, called Docteur Vampire ("Dr. Vampire"). That title was her idea and she announced it, so nobody else could use it. I was supposed to write a script but unfortunately, she died before the project could become a reality.

Tell me something about the history of Requiem pour un Vampire, one of your most successful films.
During the shooing of Le Frisson..., I met Lionel Wallmann. He was an American in charge of selling the film to foreign countries. We became friends, and he asked me, "Why don't we try to raise the money for a film together?" I wrote a screenplay, he found money and arranged something with Sam Selsky. The result was Requiem..., a little film made with almost no money. I like it very much, because I tried something different. I think there is no dialogue in the film for the first 40 minutes; I wanted to create the ultimate na‹ve film, to simplify story, direction, cinematography, everything. Like a shadow, an idea of a plot. Later, I made an even more extreme film in that mode, called La Rose de Fer ("The Iron Rose," 1972). I wanted to make a film that was like a fairy tale told by someone at a campfire, invented as it was being told. I wrote the script without a plan, without construction, and that's also the way I shot it.

What about your use of symbols? Clowns, for example, appear quite often in your films--in La Rose de Fer, Requiem... and Les Demoniaques--yet I don't think you have a special affection for the circus.
No, not in particular. These are just ideas, images which represent an emotion. I also put them into my films to add an element of the strange and absurd. It's like a mask. For Requiem..., I had some ideas and put them in the screenplay for no special reason. First the clowns, then the motorcycle, and the idea of the girls playing piano in the cemetery. The first vision I had was two clowns playing piano in a cemetery. I have never seen that in a film before and I wanted to see it, so I just wrote it in. Afterwards, I reused the image of the clowns in other films as some sort of quotation. I like that; I often make references to my earlier films. It connects dreams and stories like a construction system and the audience can make their own thing out of it.

You are talking about very ambitious things, yet your films were hardly treated seriously, either by audiences or by critics. Weren't you incredibly frustrated at times? Didn't you feel misunderstood? Just look at the retitlings of some of your films in certain countries!
Do you mean CAGED VIRGINS for Requiem pour un Vampire in the United States, or "Sexual Terror of the Unleashed Vampires" for Le Frisson... in Germany? [LAUGHS] I never really understood what audiences thought about my films. Requiem... was fairly successful here in France. During one screening, I sat in the audience to listen to what the people said about it. Some just came because of the nudity, some came because it was a vampire film, and others came because they wanted to see something unusual and bizarre. There is no typical audience for my films, and this leaves me in a kind of vacuum. Do you know what I mean? I often had the impression that I did what I was doing solely for myself.
As far as retitlings are concerned, certainly it is quite embarrassing, but there is nothing I can do about it. I mean, I was happy that one of my films was going to be shown in another country at all--a sold CAGED VIRGINS is better than an unsold Requiem pour un Vampire!

Is it true that Lionel Wallmann was responsible for your attempts at straight sex fare with Jeunes Filles Impudiques?
That's right. Lionel obliged me to put some sex scenes in Requiem... during the dungeon sequence. I told him that I wasn't too fond of that kind of thing, and he answered: "But you do that kind of thing very well. If we made an entire film like that, I bet it would be successful. You may not like it, but you know how to do it."
I said, "Okay, I'll do it, but I won't invest any of my own money into it." Well, he raised the money, we made the film, and he was right. The two sex films I made, this one and Tout le Monde il en a Deux (1974) were very successful.

Tout le Monde... was later reissued under the title Bacchanales Sexuelles with hardcore inserts. Did you direct these scenes?
I have never seen this version, so I don't know what scenes were in it. I never shot any hardcore scenes for that film, but we went to the very limit of softcore because Lionel wanted to have something really spectacular and porno wasn't legal at that time. We did two different versions of the film. For one, which was eventually released as Tout le Monde..., I cut out certain scenes which I considered too long, or a bit too explicit. Thus, I don't know if this reissue is simply the original cut, or a version spiced-up with real hardcore inserts filmed by someone else. Should the latter be the case, I don't have anything to do with it.

It is said that had a lot of problems on Les Demoniaques because it was a Belgian coproduction.
We had to change everything because of that. We had to get Belgian actors and technicians. It was our first co-production and my largest budget up to that time. Even with the Belgian money involved, we were close to leaving it unfinished. There was one week of shooting ahead of us, and we had absolutely no money left. We were in despair and really didn't know how to go on. So, we all went into a little bar where the director of photography got drunk every night. They were selling lottery tickets there, and that night, they had only one ticket left. Lionel bought it, just for fun, and he won about 100,000 Francs! We were saved!
But that's only one story. I had terrible problems, because during the first week of shooting, Lionel, who was producing for his company Nordia Film, stayed in Paris to check the rushes, which we sent him from the little island where we were shooting. We booked a little castle on the island, which belonged to Louis Renault of the automobile company. There were numerous free rooms and an old keeper and we stayed there for the whole time. After Lionel saw the rushes, he rushed to the island immediately and said that everything we had done so far was absolutely dreadful and unusable, and that we would have to shoot everything again! I was very disappointed and I didn't understand what was going on. So there I was, sitting on this island, feeling the pressure of having turned the efforts of an entire week into unusable crap. When I finally saw the rushes myself, I was quite surprised, because everything was fine and perfectly usable. It was exactly what I wanted! Lionel didn't understand the difference between rushes and finished film, and so he learned the importance of adding sound and music.
I also had a lot of problems with two actresses who were supposed to play the leading parts. We found two very attractive, young girls who worked in an office near mine, and I offered them the parts. Everything was fine until somebody told them that, if they made a film with me, I would make them walk the streets as prostitutes to raise money for the film's financing! And they believed it! I never found out who did it. As you can see, I had a very bad reputation at that time, and my films were also infamous, which certainly did not help.

We shot the film on this little island, and once every year, there is a big equinox and in this period, about one week, no boat can leave or reach the island. Of course, it happened exactly when we were there [LAUGHS]! All of a sudden, we found ourself prisoners of the island. No restaurant, no hotel, nothing! We had to cook for ourselves. The only thing we had were those crabs. We had bought dozens because we needed them for the film. So when we were done with them, Lionel (who is an excellent cook) prepared them for us and we all ate crabs for one week! As you can imagine, after that, none of us was interested in looking at crabs for a very long time! So there you have another great story which helped my reputation! Rollin is the only director who eats his actors after filming them [LAUGHS]!


Actor Willy Braque had a very peculiar reputation.
He was completely crazy during this period. He also tried directing several times, but never managed to finish his films. He prepared everything, the screenplays were quite good, but as soon as the camera began rolling, he freaked out and couldn't go on. What can I say? He went mad, first him, and then his poor producers [LAUGHS]!

Jose Benazeraf is said to have seen Les Demoniaques and liked it so much that he introduced you to Mylene D'Antes, who starred in your film Phantasmes ("Ghosts," 1975).
Yes, she had worked with him before. I met Benazeraf a couple of times. He is not really a friend, but I like him. He is really a weird person. I know that Brigitte Lahaie is not so fond of him; he is said to behave strangely with women on the set, but I cannot comment on that, as I have never seen him directing a film.

When Les Demoniaques opened in France, porno was legalized. Since you already mentioned your dislike of sex scenes for Requiem..., I guess you were not one of those directors who thought porno might be a new "genre" where one could explore new possibilities?
Actually, I did think so at that time. I was sure that, with this type of film, one could come up with something new and of interest. I tried with Phantasmes but failed miserably. The reason for the death of French "hardcore culture," if you want to use that term, is that the audience just doesn't care. They don't want cinema, they want people screwing and that's it. That's why after Phantasmes, I made my porn films in a rather uninspired way. I was very disappointed with the failure of that film. I really tried to make something out of it and nobody gave a damn. It was a porno with a real story, with real direction and real actors. The Castel Twins were in it again, for example. Knowing what I know now, I would say it is impossible to turn pornography into something of interest. There is simply no market. I don't like the other porn films I did, that's true, but I enjoyed shooting them. I made the acquaintance of a lot of very interesting people and I have respect for them. Today, the actors only do it for money, but back then, it was something different. Some of them did it because they wanted to explore their desires, some because they wanted to enter the film business, but they all had something in common. They were proud of what they did, like a little group of outsiders, because they did something which most people didn't dare to do. It was some sort of rebellion, a statement, and it was honest.

What were your feelings about shooting hardcore? I can imagine it must have been a rather awkward experience.
It is not so difficult, because the people playing in porno films are usually not trained actors and they liked what they were doing, especially back then. It was a very nice atmosphere and everybody behaved very naturally. All we had to do was to film the action. It's strange, but it was much more embarrassing for me to shoot my first softcore film, Tout le Monde...; I walked off the set one day, because I just couldn't direct phony lovemaking. When it became real, I had no problem at all. I really don't know why. Maybe because in softcore films, the only person revealing his obsessions is the director, because he has to call the shots while the actors simply do as they are told. In porno, both the actors and director are in the same position. One reveals his obsessions, and the actors live them out, so there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Without a doubt, La Rose de Fer is your least commercial film and a very risky experiment as well. I think it is one of your best films, but I can also imagine the difficulties of making a film about two people walking around who are locked inside a closed cemetery.
I knew it would be a commercial disaster. I knew it from the very beginning, but I didn't care. At that moment, it was very important for me to make a very serious, profound film, far away from the softcore stuff I'd done previously. The story of that film was based on a short story I wrote, about six or seven pages long, which I published in a little magazine.
I had a lot of problems with the leading actor, Hugues Quester. He didn't like me, which was quite a problem, because there are only two persons in the film, so we had to work together all the time. This eventually led to him taking his name off the film, so now, Hugues Quester is credited as "Pierre Dupont."
I financed the picture completely with my own personal money, knowing that I would never get it back, but I had a safety net in mind. I knew I would lose everything, but Impex Film had offered me a deal to direct six or seven hardcore films in the next couple of years. Therefore I knew, even though I wouldn't have a penny left after making this film, I would have plenty of work and get it back because of this porno assignment. So I made La Rose de Fer without any hesitation. It love this film very much. It is definitely one of my most personal efforts.

This has also been said about Levres de Sang ("Lips of Blood," 1974).
The original script certainly, but the resulting film.... well, it's like my other films. I had a really complex story in mind, with a lot of structure. I had a lot of problems because I lost one week of shooting. I was given four weeks, and on the very first day on the set, one of the producers backed out, so one entire week had to be cancelled. We had to rearrange and shorten things drastically from one day to the next, so I tried to keep all the sequences which were important to me, while getting rid of many others which were important to the film's structure and rhythm, so it certainly suffered in the end.

Les Raisins de la Mort is one of the very few French gore films. Was it your idea?
No, the idea came from Jean-Marc Ghanassia, a young producer who was also involved in Levres de Sang. He lost everything on that one, so he wanted me to make a film that would yield some profit for him. It was the time of the disaster films, and he wanted something similar, something present in our every day lives which suddenly turns dangerous and lethal. I proposed wine and tobacco. He chose the former, so we made Les Raisins de la Mort. It was the first non-erotic film I made with Brigitte Lahaie. I directed her previously in a porn film, Vibrations Sensuelles ("Sensual Vibrations," 1976), and I found her to be a distinctly different personality. I thought it would be interesting to take her outside the boundaries of porn and put her in a Rollin film. She was different, very different, and she has an incredible charisma. Her presence is absolutely striking. Also, I think she is very talented and a very nice person.
We shot in a deserted mountain region here in France, called Les Saivennes, and it was so incredibly cold that we had to build a special shelter for the camera because otherwise it wouldn't turn at 24 frames per second. I remember the scene in which Brigitte had to undress herself. There she was, naked, and supposed to deliver her lines, but when she opened her mouth, she literally couldn't speak because it was so cold. I was very, very hard on everybody. No coffee, no place to get warm, and Brigitte kept her temper remarkably well. There is one scene with Brigitte and the dogs which was my hommage to Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY. She reminded me a lot of Barbara Steele; her face is also very enigmatic. One might think that directing a porn actress would be difficult, but she was very disciplined and professional. It was a pleasure to direct her. She was interested in breaking into the normal film business and she actually managed to create a second career. She is very popular here in France, writing books, appearing on TV and also acting in live theater sometimes.

After the extreme gore of Les Raisins de la Mort, you returned to a more familiar style with Fascination (1979), an erotic vampire film of sorts. It's one of your best-known and best-liked films; what can you tell about its origin?
The title and general flair of the film is an hommage to a French magazine of the same name, dedicated to all kinds of eroticism in art, which was edited by my friend Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, who also worked with me on Les Raisins de la Mort and La Morte Vivante.
It was shot inside an old, very elegant and luxurious chateau, with a discrete entrance through the woods, which was renowned as a haven for rich people who wanted to spend some intimate time with their spouses or lovers. My co-producer wanted me to make a very explicit sex film--straight exploitation fare without too much emphasis on the fantastical elements--so we had a constant battle during the shooting (which I won eventually, much to the disappointment of my "enemy") [LAUGHS]! I got the idea for the film from a French short story, Jean Lorrain's "Un Verre de Sang" ("A Glass of Blood"), where I learned for the first time about wealthy French people at the turn of the century drinking the blood of bulls as a curative for anemia.
I like Fascination very much. It is very close to what I envisioned, very romantic and savage at the same time. It has a truly enigmatic, predatory atmosphere and some great images, such as Brigitte Lahaie wielding the scythe, or the opening scene in the slaughterhouse. It's quite arty, and although it is a vampire film, it pretty much avoids the pulp ideas which I usually work into my scripts.

Let's talk about a very special film which is not exactly a highlight in your curriculum vitae: Le Lac des Mortes Vivants ("Zombie Lake," 1980). Jess Franco was supposed to direct this Eurocin‚ project, so how come you ended up becoming the scapegoat?
[LAUGHS] Well, Jess Franco just didn't show up. That's all. It was the day before shooting and nobody knew where he was. No trace of him, nothing. I was about to go on holiday when the phone rang. It was the production company, Eurocin‚, who asked if I was interested in shooting a film for them. I said: "Why not? When do you need me?" and they replied "You start tomorrow." I didn't read the script, I knew nothing about the film except that it was about zombies, and the producer explained to me each morning what I was supposed to shoot. I never took this project seriously. Howard Vernon was in that one. He knew what type of film he was appearing in, and I knew what type of film I was directing, so we had a lot of fun. Eurocin‚ is really a weird company. I am not really 100% sure, but I think they really believe in what they are doing. I mean, I believe they think films like ZOMBIE LAKE are good horror films! They live on another planet! It is so weird, it's good. I also did some other things for them--some more zombie footage which, from what I have heard, was used to spice-up another Jess Franco film. [Rollin's footage was added to Franco's A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1970)--Ed.] And then there was CHASING BARBARA, a short which I shot in Madrid in the frontgarden of my hotel [LAUGHS]! Of course, this was supposed to represent a jungle! "See those flowerpots? Let's shoot a jungle epic in there" [LAUGHS]

What do you think about Jess Franco? Your visual style is sometimes compared to his.
I met him once in the office of Eurocine. I don't think it is appropriate to compare his films with mine. We have completely different views of cinema, I think, and also our working styles are very different. It's not the same spirit. I haven't seen many of his films. I've liked some of them, but I cannot see a connection between the two of us.

In 1983, you directed La Morte Vivante. Theresa Ann Savoy was originally supposed to play the title role. Why did she drop out?
I went to Rome to see Theresa. The very first time we saw each other in her agent's office, she said she would never work with me under any circumstances. I don't know why. I think she was slightly out of her mind [LAUGHS]. I was very disappointed, because it was a dream of mine to make a film with her. I saw her in a couple of films and liked her very much. We eventually cast Francoise Blanchard for that role.

La Morte Vivante

The shooting was terribly hard for Francoise. She collapsed during the final scene; the one where she has to kill her girlfriend and is covered with blood. The stench of the fake blood was awful, she was tired, and the shoot was quite complicated; I sensed that something terrible would happen sooner or later. When she had to freak out in front of the camera for the final shot, everybody was silent after I said "cut" because nobody was sure whether she was just acting or collapsing for real. Everybody stared at her until she looked at us in surprise and said: "Well, are we finished now or what?" Unfortunately we were not finished yet, and later, she collapsed for real on the entrance stairs of the castle, from sheer exhaustion. We called a doctor, so there she was, naked and covered with fake blood, and the doctor--an innocent guy from the countryside--was on the verge of calling the police, because he suspected we were a bunch of psychopaths holding nasty orgies in that castle. We told him that the blood wasn't real, but he only believed us when Francoise assured him "I'm not a human sacrifice, I'm just dead on my ass!" [LAUGHS]

Marina Pierrot was also in that film, who played in Walerian Borowczyk's Dr. Jekyll et les Femmes. I enjoyed working with her, although I have to say she was very vain and was more preoccupied with her appearance than anything else. I had a lot of discussions with her, because she thought I wasn't presenting her properly on the screen.

Are you pleased the way the film turned out?
Mmmh, yes... I think there are some very good things in it. Of course, we had to make certain commercial concessions. The whole idea of the chemical waste was not very good, it was just thrown in for better or worse. It would have been better if this girl had come back from the dead because her girlfriend hadn't kept her end of their suicide pact. However, commercially, it was the most successful film I ever made. I even won the Special Audience Prize for it at the Fantafestival in Rome. I like very much the part in which the living dead girl returns to the castle and finds all these toys and telephones her friend. It was interesting to do that. Maybe we should have enlarged this part. An American writer was there to translate the dialogue into English, and eventually he shot a few of the English spoken scenes with the American actors. Mike Marshall is in it, the son of French actress Michele Morgan and Bill Marshall.

You previously mentioned Les Trottoirs de Bangkok. Was this your long overdue homage to the serials you loved so much as a child?
Correct. It's a very small film, but I like it a great deal. It was really difficult to find a suitable actress for the leading role. I was seeing actresses for weeks, but I just couldn't find the type of heroine I was looking for. It really became a problem, so Lionel told me that he knew an Asian girl who would be perfect. Then the first day of shooting came; I still had no leading actress, and we all were waiting for Lionel to come and bring the girl along. We were shooting at a harbor, and then, Lionel's car appeared in the distance. Everybody was happy, but when he got closer, I saw that he was alone. "That's it," I thought. "We're finished." The car stopped and suddenly the front passenger door opened and there she was: Yoko. She was so small that she remained invisible inside the car. And she was just perfect. I knew from the first moment I saw her that she was exactly what I had envisioned.

There is some confusion about a film called Ne Prends pas les Poulets pour des Pigeons (1985). Sometimes, it is said that you only wrote the screenplay and that the leading actor, Jean-Claude Benhamou, directed. Then again, you are named onscreen as director.
No, I really did it. Benhamou was the producer, writer and lead actor, so now, he sometimes seems to confuse things and claims to have directed, as well. That said, it was completely his story. It was only a technical direction. I only did what he wanted me to do, because I didn't really care.

You also finished Emanuelle 6 (1987), reportedly because director Bruno Zincone ran into some problems?
He couldn't cope with shooting in South America. When Zincone came back after six weeks of filming in Venezuela, he had only 45 minutes of usable film. To make things worse, he couldn't go back and finish it because he had another job to do right afterwards. Sam Selsky, the producer, needed the film to be finished as soon as possible because of the availability and cost of the actors, and also because of fixed agreements with the distributor. I was asked to finish it, so I rewrote the script, came up with the idea of Emanuelle having lost her memory, and tried to make some sense of the whole thing, which was quite a hopeless attempt.

Perdues dans New York ("Lost in New York," 1989) was made for TV.
A friend of mine, Jacques Nahum, a TV producer, needed some stock shots of New York. He asked me if I could take care of that, so he gave me lots and lots of 16mm negative material and some money, and I went over there and shot what he needed. While I was in New York, I came up with the idea to use this occasion and make a little film for myself.
When I showed the results to Jacques, he liked it and said we could try to make something out of it. He allowed me to keep the material and gave me some more money, so I constructed an hour-long story around the material. It's the story of two girls who find the statuette of an African goddess, which allows them to travel through time and space, and also the worlds of film and literature. We tried to sell it to a TV channel, but nobody wanted to have it.
It is a very beautiful film and I think it is a little gem that deserves to be seen. I made it at a time when I seriously considered abandoning the cinema because of the dreadful production circumstances. In a way, Perdues dans New York was supposed to be my good-bye to everybody who stuck with me over the years and loved my work. It is a "Best of Jean Rollin," full of quotations and homages. And although it was made in a very chaotic way, I think the result is one of my finest films.

La Griffe d'Horus (1990) was another TV project that remains in limbo.
One day, a guy named Gerard Dole called me up and asked for a meeting. He said he was a specialist on famous pulp-detective Harry Dickson and that he had also written a collection of related stories called THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HARRY DICKSON. He thought I was the only person in the world capable of bringing Harry Dickson to the screen. Of course, I was very proud of that, so I said "Okay, let's give it a try."
We approached Channel 1, and they were interested, but they said they would have to buy the rights to the character first. The problem was, the original stories were written by Jean Ray, and the film rights are absolutely impossible to get; the more recent ones were written by anonymous writers, which makes the matter equally difficult. We found a small publisher called C'ur Neuf who had the rights to some of the stories not written by Ray himself. Dole and I met with them to make a deal, and the very first thing out of their mouths was: "Jean Rollin will never touch Harry Dickson as long as we live!" They hated me--really [LAUGHS]! Dole was furious, of course, but he said he would write an original Harry Dickson story and we could film it on video, so he wrote the story of Griffe d'Horus. I wrote a 26-minute TV script and we tried to make an arrangement, maybe presenting the character under a different name because of this legal problem, but it didn't work out. We only shot about two minutes of it, just a screen test to see whether we managed to create the right atmosphere.
There was this guy, Jean-Michel Nicollet, and he was obsessed with Harry Dickson. He did the cover photography of some of the book-reprints and he photographed himself in the adequate outfit, so we decided to use him for Griffe d'Horus. We shot it in one afternoon and everybody involved was so pleased with the result that D“le said he was willing to make an entire feature film that way. However, the project is dead, unless we should decide to do it just for fun, an amateur film shot on video with some friends.

You were really on the verge of abandoning the cinema during this period?
I was very depressed and frustrated. I really wanted to abandon directing altogether. It was impossible to raise money for films, nobody cared, I seemed to be on a TV blacklist because I couldn't get work at any of the channels. That's when I decided to focus more on writing and I turned a lot of my screenplays, which I couldn't produce as films, into novels. It helped me a lot, because I was finally able to do what I wanted once again, without any financial limitations at all. I had a screenplay called Bestialite, which, at one point, was supposed to be made as a co-production with Russia, but once again, it turned out to be just another waste of time. It was a story I wrote for Brigitte Lahaie and Yoko. It involved an old Ambassador who returns from India and brings with him a strange animal, some sort of wolf. His daughter, played by Brigitte, develops a very special relationship with the beast until, one night, the beast transforms into a beautiful exotic woman and they become more than friends. There is also some sort of initiation where Brigitte turns into a wolf. At the end, both are killed by the Ambassador.
Then there was a project called Enfer Prive‚ ("Private Hell"), again written for Brigitte and Yoko. This time, she was supposed to play an aristocratic woman discovering a young woman living like a wild animal at a beach. She takes her home, but only to arrange a hunting like in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. Rene Chateau wanted to produce it--he was living with Brigitte at that time--but he wanted to include porn-inserts shot by another director, with different actors, afterwards. I declined and eventually turned it into a novel.

You eventually returned to directing with La Femme dangereuse ("The Dangerous Woman," 1993), also known as KILLING CAR, which took two years to complete.
After we finished shooting, I became seriously ill, and everything stopped for a couple of months. I did the editing when I recovered. We did that on video, so no usable print or negative of KILLING CAR exists. It was made for TV and video, but I like it. It's quite different from my other films. It's a thriller, a revenge story of a woman hunting down numerous people who did something awful in her past. I know that it's no masterpiece, but I think it is quite good considering the budget we had. I mean, we made it in 10 days. It cost only $ 100,000 and was shot in 16mm, so it really is a small film. I wrote it for the leading actress, Txiki Chan, because I liked her so much. I wanted to do something with her.

In 1994, you wrote the screenplay for another porn film: Le Parfum de Mathilde ("The Scent of Mathilde").
When Michele Ricaud, the most popular French porn director of recent years, died, every other porn director tried to take his place. A producer named Marc Dorcel called me up and asked whether I might be interested. I can tell you that I also co-directed this film, though only Dorcel is credited. As you can imagine, that's something I am not too sad about. Dorcel said he wanted me because he wanted someone who had a different approach. He wanted to come up with something unique after Ricaud's death--a porn film with a story, with meaning, and he thought the fantastic might be a good possibility. During that project, I realized how much that business had changed in all those years. The resulting film is just a typical porno, not a good film at all.

How would you explain the sudden increase of interest in your films? Only two years ago, as you say, hardly anybody gave a damn.
Honestly, I am completely surprised about all that. My films will be re-released on video in France and Belgium very soon, I have sold six of them to Redemption in England, and Video Search of Miami has bought some rights for the States. I don't know what happened to bring this about, but I am certainly very happy about it. Maybe it's because of the return of the classical film monsters. Maybe it's because people are starting to get tired of the new American genre films. I don't go to the cinema very often anymore. I saw MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN by Kenneth Branagh; I didn't like it very much. I certainly saw BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA by Coppola--not a good film at all; it just doesn't work for one second. There is no real imagination. It's the work of a cinematographer and a set designer. Where is the creator in this film? Of course, it is very polished, but it cost $50,000,000 so that's the least one can expect!

Those of us who have a special interest in the fantastic cinema want films which have character, which are different. Films which managed to preserve some culture. I think this may be the reason for my second spring. A lot of people have been telling me about a new Italian film by Michele Soavi, called DellaMorte DellAmore. They are all crazy about it, praising it beyond belief, so I am very curious to see that one. But I feel that the genre is about to die, as is cinema in general. The films being made today have nothing to do with my understanding of cinema.

Les Deux Orphelines Vampires

As we speak, you will soon begin your first horror film in many years, Les Deux Orphelines Vampires (1995). The title makes an ironic reference to the classic French novel LES DEUX ORPHELINES by Adolphe D'Ennery, which was filmed by Riccardo Freda in 1966. A lot of people are eagerly anticipating your return to vampire cinema.
My recent increase in popularity has put me in a very favorable position. I am the producer, which means I have complete creative control, and I will have quite a good budget--about 3,000,000 Francs. The money is coming from a company which needs to invest because of tax reasons, and my novel (on which the film is based) also helped a lot, because they know that there will be an English edition sooner or later. We start filming in June, four days in New York and three weeks here in Paris. I added some very visual sequences in the screenplay and I am sure it will turn out to be a very nice film. I have the chance to work with an exceptionally good director of photography, Norbert Marfaing-Sintes, who lit the last two films by Duccio Tessari here in France, as well as many other feature films and commercials.
When we were shooting Perdues dans New York, we were lacking some scenes and Monteillet was not available. Norbert did about nine short films with Natalie Perrey, who played one of the leading parts in Perdues..., so she just called him and he came to help us out. That's when we first met, so it is my way of saying "Thank you for this favor."
The story of Les Deux Orphelines Vampires involves two little blind orphans. They can only see at night because they are vampires and the film tells of their adventures. They meet strange creatures, a winged vampire lady, a wolf. There will be no nudity, but--rest assured--there will be some beautiful graveyard scenes, and it is very poetic and full of beautiful dialogue. Brigitte Lahaie will star in it, as will Tina Aumont, who plays "The Ghoul." The two orphans will be played by Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul, two young actresses who have never worked in films before. I found them through a newspaper ad and they are absolutely gorgeous, as you will see.
I am quite happy at the moment. Things couldn't be going better for me and my two little vampire orphans. And who knows? Maybe someday I can go back to the other books I wrote, which started out as screenplays, and turn them into the films I originally intended...