Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Two Orphan Vampires (1997)

Henriette and Louise are blind orphan girls, living a sheltered existence in a convent. The nuns are eagerly looking for a home for these girls, so they may know the joys of life, and eventually they find a benefactor in Dr. Dennary. Not all is what it seems though, and with the advent of night these girls gain the ability to see, and a thirst for blood...

Two Orphan Vampires is the first film in French auteur Jean Rollin's last phase of movies. He began with his vampire cycle in the 60s and 70s, before his 'new wave' in the 80s, which stretched into the 90s just a touch with revenge flick Killing Car. His modern phase is the most interesting to me, and was a fascinating mix of horror and fairytales.

Two Orphan Vampires has a simple story, one that has a heavy focus on its characters. Who and what they are is ambiguous, as is the film's supernatural elements. Good girls during the day, Henriette and Louise become vampires in the night, gaining a semblance of memory of their past lives. Destined to be forever reincarnated, they satisfy their thirst for as long as they can, until they are inevitably hunted and killed.

Despite their awareness, the girls have no understanding of what they are or where they came from, and feel as if everything is all a dream. They come up with stories about being grand Aztec goddesses, demanding sacrifices to keep them satisfied, all while their new guardian is none the wiser.

We never get any concrete answers about the girls, and they are unreliable sources. Equally so are the various people of the night they meet, from a ravenous she wolf, to a mature vampire. Could these be real supernatural creatures, forced to adapt to an unkind modern/urban existence? Or are they just escaped mental patients, going along with other people's fantasies?

There are many questions raised in Two Orphan Vampires, but never to the film's detriment. Not knowing makes it all the more intriguing. And since the story is never about these mysteries, but the characters themselves, it's not a problem that they're never answered.

There is a sense of melancholy here. The film isn't just one thing. It has elements of horror, fantasy, and drama. While the title characters may do bad things, they are never outright villains, and you do feel bad for them in a sense.

The solemn and thoughtful atmosphere of Two Orphan Vampires is occasionally broken up with a smattering of humour, and it works great. One example is when Henriette and Louise are on the run, and decide they should kill themselves, and make a halfhearted attempt. It's handled so bizarrely and humorously. The movie's funniest scene is when they're about to kill the virtuous convent girl, and her reaction is so hilarious it actually spares her life!

The film runs at nearly two hours, and while it could have easily been trimmed down, it always breezes by. The only exception are some of the walking scenes. They dragged on, to the point that I totally zoned out, and when I refocused I was like 'Wait, is this still going on?'. On the opposite end of the scale, I was a little disappointed that the girls' trip to the city cemetery was so brief. They make out like it's going to be such a big event for them, but they don't do anything different from the other graveyard, and it's over before you know it.

Henriette and Louise are likeable and fun to watch. They range from sweet, to cheeky, and enigmatic. I enjoyed watching their adventures, and wished there were more.

Their guardian is a nice enough guy, and reasonably perceptive, but not enough to fully realise what's going on. This can be seen when he catches the girls reading. They lay it on thick, pretending their sight is miraculously returning, and isn't it wonderful, papa? And like a dope he completely buys into it. Although he probably wouldn't be fooled for much longer, hence why the girls want to kill him. But this action ultimately causes their downfall, as they are woefully unequipped to deal with the outside world.

Another amusing moment is when he thinks there's a prowler, and not only gets a gun out quickly, but fires it even quicker! It coulda been your daughters in the bushes, man!

The supporting cast comprises of the various Parisian(?) bystanders. One of the funnier moments was when two gravediggers spot the girls running around clearly able to see now, and get angry at the two fakes. They give chase, and a random couple making out/necking in the cemetery witness, leading the girl to conclude the men are perverts, and instructs her boyfriend to sort them out. Unfortunately for her this results in her becoming lunch. I guess gratitude is dead. If you can't trust vampire orphans, who can you trust?

The people of the night are an interesting bunch, and help break up the other encounters well. I liked the scene with the mature vampire (The Lady of Midnight), although I seriously question her dress sense! She's supposed to be this mysterious figure in a film with a solemn and classical atmosphere, yet she's dressed in bright purple spandex!

A warning for animal lovers, there is a scene where a canine character dies, but don't worry too much about it. The scene is so unintentionally adorable! When the two actresses lean down to 'bite' his neck, it looks like they're giving him kisses. It's sweet! There is a more gruesome shot later, but this is tempered by the dog clearly still breathing. A goof for sure, but one we can be grateful for.

The performances here are all good. Cheesy sometimes, but nothing to complain about. The two leads, Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul, are fantastic! Newcomers to acting, they were cast for the role when Rollin answered an ad in a newspaper. They were looking for a fun adventure, and they certainly got it! In small roles are Brigitte Lahaie and Sandrine Thoquet. The former's performance feels small, like an afterthought, while he latter is brief yet funny. Crewmember Veronique Djaouti is interesting as the Lady of Midnight, even creating her costume for the part.

The music in Two Orphan Vampires is spectacular. Made up of atmospheric tracks, and intriguing melodies almost like a fantasy, or something spiritual. There are low-key and melancholic tracks, and some that feel like a prelude to Fiancee of Dracula. Composer Philippe d'Aram outdoes himself here.

As with most Rollin productions, Two Orphan Vampires is clearly low budget, but this never poses a problem for the most part. You don't need a lot of flashy money to tell a good story. The budget is apparent in some ways, like the wounds that are obviously just fake blood smeared on the actors. But making up for this are scenes like the leads walking past a decrepit gateway. Once the entrance to a grand estate, it's now a door to nowhere. It's a great visual, and one that complements the film, and Rollin's style as a whole.

Two Orphan Vampires is an interesting horror film to come out during the 90s, and is a highlight of Jean Rollin's career...

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