Color, 1973, 86m.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Starring Françoise Pascal, Hugues Quester, Nathalie Perrey
Kino Lorber (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Redemption (US R1 NTSC), X-Rated Kult (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
A fascinating transition film in the career of director Jean Rollin, La rose de fer (entitled The Iron Rose for its American video debut) arrived after a quartet of colorful, surreal, and highly unrealistic vampire films. Instead of sexualized, comic-inspired tableaux, Rollin switched gears to generate a methodical, eerie film poem about a romance among the damned, a conceit which continued to haunt all of his films to come. The plot is simplicity itself; a young woman (Pascal) and man (Quester) meet at a very strange party, where he catches her eye by reciting a morbid poem. The next day they decide to go bicycling together and wind up at a creepy, desolate cemetery, where he encourages her to break in so they can make out in one of the tombs. Unfortunately as night approaches, they find themselves unable to escape...
Though it eschews any obvious monsters, The Iron Rose is still usually classified as a horror film due to its overwhelming gothic atmosphere and the morbid nature of its imagery. Imagine the trapped-in-a-cemetery scene from Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet spun out as an entire film with a little more eroticism, and you'll get the idea. The film's greatest assets are its lilting score by Pierre Raph and the presence of two surprisingly mainstream performers in the leads; Pascal became a reputable TV and international cinema actress, while Quester went on to diverse roles in high-profile art films including Three Colors: Blue and, most unforgettably, as Joe Dallesandro's deranged boyfriend in Serge Gainsbourg's Je t'aime moi non plus. Frequent Rollin actress Mireille Dargent also pops up as yet another of Rollin's beloved female clowns.
Rollin's first major financial failure upon its initial release, The Iron Rose became nearly impossible to see for decades. When Phil Hardy's influential horror encyclopedia jump-started worldwide interest in Rollin's films, the tantalizing description of this elusive title encouraged eager cultists to seek it out, mostly in vain. Eventually an English-subtitled release turned up in Germany from X-Rated Kult, in a colorful but problematic anamorphic transfer with artificial sharpness, a distracting sackcloth-style texture over the entire image, and woeful motion blurring throughout. Though taken from what appear to be the same pristine film elements (with identical framing), Redemption's release fixes these problems and is much more attractive throughout. (It's still interlaced, though, so set your player accordingly.) The optional English subtitles appear to be a different, more streamlined translation than the PAL release as well. While the German disc only contained a trailer, the Redemption releases piles on some additional extras, most importantly Rollin's 1965 short film, "Les Pays Loins" (also available on the three-disc French DVD release of Les Demoniaques). It's an appropriate companion piece as it follows a young couple during an odd night out on the town, drifting through various nocturnal haunts (most memorably a jazz club). The short is presented in 1.78:1 anamoprhic widescreen; the framing looks a bit tight, but it's workable. Unfortunately the video freezes for the last two minutes, so you'll have to piece it all together through the audio and subtitles (or just watch the import if you can afford it!). Also included is a stills gallery for both the main and short features, additional Redemption trailers, and a promo for the Redemption-related book, Blood & Dishonour. Incidentally, this release marks Redemption's opening salvo as an independent into the American DVD market, which explains the peculiar flag-waving imagery of the cover art and opening company logo.
A subsequent Redemption revisit came in 2012 with their distribution deal with Kino, resulting in a surprising Blu-Ray release featuring a stellar progressive HD transfer that easily surpasses the standard def counterparts. It's richer, more colorful, and cleaner, with far more accurate black levels. This one features the French track (with the superior English subtitles) as well as an English dub; the short film is dropped and replaced with a different set of extras, namely a short Rollin video intro (presumably recorded shortly before his death), a 22-minute interview with the lovely Pascal, a shorter 8-minute interview with Natalie Perrey, an alternate English main titles sequence, and trailers for the first five Rollin Blu-Ray titles in the series (including this one).