Unable to get financing for a project called The Return of Dracula in the mid-1990s, French horror director Jean Rollin embarked on a five-book series detailing the adventures of his two blind protagonists who encounter a motley crew of beasts and potential victims. The film came later, partially as a device to promote the books, and it wound up marking his first excursion back into traditional vampirism since 1975's Lips of Blood. This is easily the most "innocent" of his vampire cycle, eschewing any overt gore and containing only a fleeting bit of distinctly non-exploitative nudity. Here Rollin seems far more concerned with trying out new visual devices to suit his trademark obsessions, such as having the vampire girls only see in the colors of blue and black (which is why much of the film is filtered so heavily to look that way). He also reunited with the mesmerizing Brigitte Lahaie, an adult actress he brought to semi-legitimacy in The Grapes of Death, in a brief role as one of the girls' victims, while fiery '70s European star Tina Aumont (Torso, L'urlo) turns up here in an unexpected role as a mournful ghoul. However, most of the burden rests on the shoulders of the two young leads, both fresh from acting school and delivering the necessary mixture of dreamy curiosity and low-key bloodlust necessary for the roles.
Rollin's comeback horror film first appeared on DVD in 2002 from Media Blasters in a bitterly disappointing edition. Improperly transferred from a PAL master, it features heavy streaking and blurring whenever movement occurs on screen. The prior VHS versions were terrible, too, and this one didn't offer much of an upgrade at all. The cropping of the 1.66:1 original (this was shot on 16mm) didn't help matters either, but at least that disc has of interviews with the two female leads (17m37s and 10m37s, both with heavy tans!), the alternate (horrendous) English dub track, the trailer, a 41m59s Rollin interview, and the entire soundtrack by regular Rollin composer Philippe D'Aram. (The audio CD of the score was released as a bonus disc with the excellent Rollin book, Virgins and Vampires.)
Pretty much anything would have to be an improvement after that, but fortunately the Kino Lorber release on Blu-ray and DVD in 2012 under the banner of regular Rollin home Redemption Films goes a few steps better. This film has always looked dreary and processed on video due to its origins, but here at least it feels much more like a traditional film thanks to the Blu-ray's bump in resolution. There's natural film grain here now, and you can make out details that were simply a dull layer of slush on prior versions like trees and dress textures during the night scenes. Bear in mind that this is still a very cheap 16mm movie so it won't ever look particularly pristine (there's no significant clean up here, either), but it's so much more watchable than the old DVD. The restoration of the original framing helps matters quite a bit, too, as does the fact that it doesn't have any PAL conversion issues. The score, which also sounded cheap and tinny before, benefits quite a bit from a far more flattering two-channel PCM mix; it sounds a lot more like Richard Band than D'Aram most of the time, but the improvement makes it much easier on the ears. That English dub is also included here, if you're so inclined. As with its release date companion The Living Dead Girl, trailers for both films are included along with The Rape of the Vampire, The Nude Vampire, Shiver of the Vampires, Requiem for a Vampire, The Iron Rose, The Demoniacs, Lips of Blood, and Fascination, while Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas supplies liner notes filled with trivia about both films along with some tantalizing parallels drawn between them.
The Kino Lorber edition also contains two substantial extras, beginning with "Memories of a Blue World" (42m30s). Teboul, critic Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, D'Aram, and other cast and crew members are on hand to talk about the making of the film from its literary genesis to Rollin's happiness with its warm international reception after the French press gave it hostile reviews. Teboul has some great stories including a mention of the three shots of whiskey she and Pic took before their (tame) nude scene, while other topics covered include a traumatic account of broken ribs due to heavy bat wings and Aumont's distress at arriving for filming only to learn to her horror that she'd learned the wrong role. The other major bonus is a 20-minute interview from 2008 with Rollin filmed in Paris; it's more of a general career overview with subjects beyond his films including politics, Georges Bataille, and collecting art. It's a fitting tribute to a filmmaker whose fantastic cinematic world has only grown more inviting since his passing.
In 2023, Indicator made the surprising choice to make this one of the initial Rollin films (at the same time as Shiver) to get the deluxe limited 4K UHD treatment (6,000 units) along with a separate 4,000-unit Blu-ray reissue in the U.S. and U.K. This is still a gritty, very low budget film, and while the UHD wasn't available yet for comparison, the new Blu-ray benefits from a careful compression job that brings out even more natural texture in the grain. In terms of color timing it's very close to the earlier HD presentation, albeit a little brighter in some shots. The LPCM French and English 1.0 tracks both sound fine given the limited nature of the original mix, and improved English-translated or English SDH subtitles are included. A new commentary by David Flint and Adrian J. Smith analyzes this as part of the twilight Rollin phase, returning him to the world of vampires with a far less erotic bent than before as he dealt with his own mortality through the lens of fairy tales. "Memories of a Blue World" is ported over from the earlier Blu-ray, and here you get revised, more professionally edited versions of the older interviews with Rollin in "Infinite Dreams" (35m4s), Pic in "Bonded by Blood" (13m30s), and Teboul in "Eyesight to the Blind" (11m1s). In the archival "The Smoking Vampires" (4m), Pic and Teboul revisit the Père Lachaise Cemetery filming location in 2002 and have quite a few hearty laughs wandering through some familiar stone markers. In the cleverly named "Livres de sang" (7m26s), Rollin shows off his living room where he has a big stash of books he's authored, his awards (including a FantaFestival plaque), and other sundry tidbits from his collection. Also included are the trailer and two galleries (production and publicity, then New York location photography), while the packaging comes with an 80-page book featuring an essay by Patricia MacCormack, an intro by Rollin, an archival production report by Peter Blumenstock (whose Lucertola Media handled the original soundtrack release), an archival interview with Brigitte Lahaie, and a sample from Rollin’s source novel.
KINO LORBER (Blu-ray)
MEDIA BLASTERS (DVD)