Color, 1971, 94 mins. 51 secs.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Starring Sandra Julien, Michel Delahaye, Dominique, Jean-Marie Durand, Nicole Nancel, Marie-Pierre Tricot, Kuelan Herce, Jacques Roboilles
Indicator (UHD & Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 4K/HD), Wicked Vision (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Kino Lorber (Blu-Ray & DVD) ( US R0 HD/NTSC), Encore (Holland R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Image / Redemption (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)
Though Jean Rollin directed two experimental vampire films before this one, Shiver of the Vampires (Le frisson des vampires) fully established the visual motifs and overall approach to which he would return for most of his subsequent horror efforts. An unabashed homage to the erotic horror comics and flamboyant serials of which Rollin was so fond, Shiver played more widely than his prior titles in various countries under many alternate versions, paving the way for an entire decade of lyrical pulp fantasies that have only grown in popularity in recent years.
The plot, to use the term loosely, finds a newlywed couple (Julien and Durand) arriving at a castle populated by mysterious lovely women and two hippie hosts where they had expected to find host family members. Their odd but uneventful stay is interrupted when a strange, amazonian vampire (Dominique) steps out of a tall grandfather clock at midnight and exerts her bloodthirsty influence on the other vampiric inhabitants. Like most Rollin films, this winds up on a beach for one of his traditional visually striking, melancholy finales that linger in the mind long after the film is over.
Drenched in bizarre, candy-colored lighting that makes Mario Bava look restrained, Shiver is still one of its creator's most visually intoxicating works. The extremely thin storyline only has the slightest relationship to the actions on screen, which tend to involve various performers falling into sexual and vampiric poses. Long, dialogue-free passages provide some beautifully poetic moments seething with Gothic malaise and decay, a treatment that would reach its zenith in Requiem for a Vampire. Though not his most polished effort by a long shot, Shiver is really where it all started and remains an important contribution to European vampire cinema.
In an attempt to make this film as commercially viable as possible, distributors tended to insert new scenes, thrown in outtakes, and hacked away entire sequences to create a number of wildly different variations. One English-language version, Sex and the Vampire, runs as short as 75 minutes, while a longer English cut, Thrill of the Vampires, contains some additional S&M footage thrown in for extra salacious value. Some European VHS collectors first became acquainted with this film on the gray market thanks to a Spanish-language release, which features some alternate dialogue and sex scene takes as well as a different (and quite good) music score with a funky Pink Floyd flavor. Unfortunately that version has yet to see the light of day anywhere else, but it's worth hunting down. The original French score by the amateur group Acanthus is wild and consistently amusing progressive rock, as garish and outre as the irrational lighting schemes.
The first DVD released from Image Entertainment in 2003 under the Redemption banner contained the original French language version with optional English subtitles. The film was slightly letterboxed, revealing the maximum amount of image available, and easily outclassed its predecessors; extras consist of a director filmography and both the English and French European trailers (identical except for the text cards). A later two-disc edition from Encore is one of their more modest efforts as far as Rollin goes, but it's worth it for completists thanks to some of the aforementioned alternate scenes and a 16-minute selected scene commentary with Rollin. The subsequent Blu-ray edition in 2012 from Kino under the revamped Redemption banner was a welcome improvement as well at the time, finally capturing those wild red-drenched sequences in all their fiery glory compared to the more muted tones of the standard def releases. Some element damage is visible on and off throughout, but it isn't a major distraction. Extras include a brief two-minute video intro by Rollin (presumably excerpted from another longer piece), a lengthy 41-minute video chat with the director from 2004, the English and French trailers, and trailers for the four additional Kino/Rollin Blu-rays in the initial batch, along with a booklet containing the usual excellent liner notes by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas.
2017 saw a German limited edition dual-format mediabook from Wicked Vision, which features two major selling points: a fresh 2K scan of the original negative and the first home video release of its alternate German version, Sexual-Terror der Enfesselten Vampire (82m44s), which features a ton of alternate and added scenes including considerable graphic softcore sex scenes with a bunch of random German actors. Basically it's like that extensively reworked TV version of Hammer's Kiss of the Vampire but with a lot more pubic hair. Both versions offer English subtitles, with the standard theatrical cut in French and the other one obviously in German. The alternate scenes can also be played separately if you don't feel like wading through the whole thing. As with some of the label's other Rollin titles, there's a lot less orange visible here in the transfer with many other color timing variations as well along with more detail and organic-looking film grain. Frame grabs in the body of this review are from the German release; comparison ones are seen below. Other extras include a 24-page booklet by Pelle Felsch, a video intro (4m53s) and partial audio commentary by Rollin, audio commentary by Christian Kessler and Pelle Felsch, a Liberta short film (25m50s) by Jean-Noël Delamarre, a "Rouge Vif – Thrill of the Vampires" featurette (20m35s), French, U.S. and reconstructed German trailers, artwork and lobby card galleries, promotional photos, and a commentary on the German version by Pelle Felsch, Daniel Perée and Ludger Holmenkammm.
In 2023, Indicator gave the film its inevitable upgrade to 4K UHD (along with a separate Blu-ray edition) in both the U.S. and U.K., limited to 2,000 units in each territory packaged with an 80-page book featuring an essay by David Hinds, a intro by Jean Rollin, an interview with Rollin by Peter Blumenstock, an interview with regular actor Marie-Pierre Castel, Andy Votel on Acanthus and their soundtrack, and sample reviews. The UHD is not yet available for appraisal, but the Blu-ray looks spectacular with the new restoration bringing out an intensity in the colors (especially reds) that will make you feel like you're hallucinating. The contrast is also improved with bright areas now displaying more detail and subtle gradations than ever before, particularly with all the flickering candles and torches that don't simply look blinding white anymore. Both the French and English tracks sound excellent in their LPCM 1.0 mono presentations here, with improved English-translated and English SDH subtitle options. The previous 2006 Rollin commentary is included here with English subtitles, and a new commentary has been commissioned by Jeremy Richey who does an adept job of dissecting the film's surrealist influences, its production origins (including Rollin's initial resistance to using the word "vampire" in yet another title), the casting choices, and the visual elements that would be embellished in his later work. Ported over from the earlier releases are the Rollin video intro (4m3s), a revised and updated 17m17s edit of the "Rouge Vif" featurette, and the French, English, and German trailers. The various insert scenes made for the overseas releases (all the S&M material, graphic lesbian scenes, etc.) are included here, playable in their 24m17s entirety or as seven different options, with image quality varying from pristine to VHS. Note that this doesn't incorporate those crazy German insert sequences, so hang on to the Wicked Vision disc if you have it. "Jean Rollin: Fear and Desire" (40m49s) is a 2004 interview with the director by Patricia MacCormack in Paris, covering his affinity for vampires, his approach to directing actors, and the poetic aspects of his technique. Then in "Macabre Psychedelia" (8m), Virginie Sélavy offers an appreciation of the film as part of the lesbian vampire tradition from Le Fanu through Hammer and beyond, as well as a descendant of classic French filmmakers like Georges Franju
and the counterculture movement of the late '60s. Separate galleries are also included for original promotional material and behind the scenes photos.
WICKED VISION (Blu-ray)
KINO LORBER (Blu-ray)
Updated review on April 6, 2023