Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Mask of Medusa

The Mask of MedusaOriginal Title: Le masque de la Méduse
Directed by: Jean Rollin
2010 (09), France
Fantasy/Horror, 75 min
Distributed by:
Alas, the time has come to finally cast my eyes upon the concluding Jean Rollin movie, the short, shot on HD-video, piece Le masque de la Méduse.

With a name like that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the movie is going to be a take on the Gorgon, a character from Greek mythology that anyone who knows the slightest thing about horror will be familiar with. The Gorgon, or Medusa if you like with her snake hair and “turn-to-stone-gaze” have been portrayed in everything from kids cartoons and cheesy TV sci-fi shows, to the classic Ray Harryhausen stop motion flicks and Hammer horror classics. Supposedly Terrence Fisher’s 1964 Hammer Horror, The Gorgon serves as the main inspiration for this final movie which bookends Jean Rollin’s spellbinding career.

A while back I went off on a rant about how Perdues dans New York (Lost in New York) 1989 should have been the final Jean Rollin movie as it brought themes, emotions and traits to a full circle. It was as if Rollin finally came to peace with the defining traits and found what he was looking for - A return to childhood. Because that’s how I read a lot of Jean Rollin movies, as a metaphorical return to safety, a sense of belonging, a comforting return to sanctuary after a long and wide journey – a tabula rasa, setting things back to their right. Which is very much what Le masque de la Méduse is about too.

Le masque de la Méduse opens with Méduse [Simone Rollin] walking through an aquarium. A young woman [Gabrielle Rollin] plays the cello amidst huge constrictors and buzzards. Méduse gazes at the young woman who then turns to stone. Méduse takes to the streets of Paris and walks straight to the Grand Guignol where she enters the stage and holds a lengthy monologue regarding her former victims. The Janitor [Jean-Pierre Bouyoux] listens on and sympathises with her remorse.

Méduse moves again and comes upon two younger gorgons – her sisters. Steno [Marlène Delcambre] and Euryale [Sabine Lenoël] perform a ritual where pulverised human skulls are mixed with blood and devoured by Steno. In a scene which atmospherically feels very typical Jean Rollin, Méduse’s hair turns into snakes and she blinds Euryale before Steno struts out a little dance, not to unlike those previously seen performed in his movies. Returning to the Grand Gugniol Euryale confronts Méduse and pays the ultimate price, you won’t get away with threatening Méduse twice and in a rather shocking moment Méduse does away with her sister. Finally she comes to face the Collector [Bernard Charnacé], a man who in his possession has the statues of her earlier victims. Méduse’s guilt – yes our old friend guilt - drives her right back to the stage of the Grand Guignol where the Janitor is awaiting to willingly aid her decision to end her being. The first act comes to a violent climax and a customary cameo from Jean Rollin who buries the head of the Medusa in the sand…

Act two starts where the head of Medusa is dug up and we are taken to that familiar Rollin location, the Peré-Lachaise cemetery. Steno, now guardian of her sisters’ head lives in an underground crypt with the statue of Euryale. Steno lures Cornelius [Delphine Montoban] into her lair where she draws blood from Cornelius buttock… preparing the ritual we saw in the first act. Steno proclaims herself and Cornelius the vampires of Peré-Lachaise and they dance together as Philippe d’Aram’s La Valse Fascinante from Fascination 1979 plays on the soundtrack. Steno tells the tragic tale of her sisters’ fates and together they leave the crypt. With someone to tell the story of the three sisters to the world, Steno disappears.

My French really blows and I’m a long way from fully comprehending the language much of the above is my interpretation of what’s going on., and I’m quite content with that interpretation as it still feels very much what I’d expect from a Jean Rollin films. Also within the movie I can see several themes that I’ve come to recognise in his work. The theme of the search can be found in Méduse’s guilt, she is searching for redemption, and when she comes to the insight that she can’t avoid turning victims to stone – and a sinister collector who has her previous victims as trophies, hence wanting to keep her alive – she decides to take her own life, even if it’s with the assistance of the Janitor. This moment of insight and execution takes place on the Grand Guignol stage and is sliced into a splendid juxtaposition by editor Janette Kronegger. The Janitor later wanders the passages of Peré-Lachaise wondering if his actions had any effect on Steno. The guilt is passed on.

Then there’s the ultimate trait of Jean Rollin, which is the philosophical line of thought. It’s one magnificent trait that differs Rollin from other EuroGoth or EuroTrash directors. It’s almost like the judicious mindfucks of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Think about it, almost all Jean Rollin movies have leading characters who , at least for a genre movie, have some really profound thoughts about their being, their actions, the situations that they are in. That’s why you frequently find those poetic, lengthy pieces of monologue posing questions and philosophising within the Rollin universe.

Just like his debut feature La Viol de vampire (The Rape of the Vampire) 1968, La masque de la Méduse is a movie shot in two parts and then combined to make a longer feature. Screened at the Cinemateque de Tolouse in late 2009, Rollin was still uncertain if this would be the complete version of the movie. The version shown there was a 60-minute cut, and Rollin is known to have said [in interviews posted on PsychoVision.net] that he’d like to make a full feature length film out of the project. It was also said that he had another movie planned to shoot, La Fiancée du crocodile (The Bride of the Crocodile), a movie which now never will come to be, at least not as a Jean Rollin movie.

Location wise Rollin makes the most of what he has – just like he always did - apart from the simplistic stage representing the Grand Guignol, and what is left of the original location, the Palace of Golden Gate Aquariums is beautiful and really sets a great tone to the opening of the movie, and then there’s the final return to Peré-Lachaise which as always is pure magic.

Looking at the cast, it’s almost something of a family movie, Jean’s wife Marie-Simone holds the part of Méduse and their grandchild Gabrielle has a small part as the young musician seen in the opening attack at the aquarium. Actors who held small parts in previous works pop up, like Bernard Charnacé who you may recognise as Dr. Dennary from Les deux orphelines vampires (Two Orphan Vampires) 1997, Sabine Lenoël (Sister Martha), and Tomas Smith (Thibault) from La fiancée de Dracula (The Fiancee of Dracula) 2002. But I do miss some of the iconic Rollin actors and actresses, because even small walk on parts or cameos by Nathalie Perrey, Brigitte Lahaie, Françoise Blanchard, or Françoise Pascal or even one of the Castel twins would have had an impact, especially in that last act in Peré-Lachaise where they easily could have walked by or simply been cemetery inhabitants.

Still though, familiar names like long time friend and frequent collaborator Jean-Pierre Bouyoux, composer Philippe d’Aram and editor Janette Kronegger - who edited the majority of Rollin’s movies from La morte vivante (The Living Dead Girl) 1982 and forth - are all part of the film which helps tie it all in to the bookend which it in more than one way becomes.
Compared to something like Jess Franco’s Paula–Paula 2010, this is a more fitting final movie - although I sincerely hope Paula-Paula doesn’t become Franco’s last flick – La masque de la Méduse is a much better final film. This one has a story and it has a forward movement, it opens a door to possible new ways, it suggests new characters to the universe of Jean Rollin. Despite being shot on HD-video, it looks fantastic. I'm have a huge fetish for celluloid grain, but there's something here that I like, and the flat crisp digital look passes me by for a change. Lighting is very much Jean Rollin and in spite of the low budget of something like €150.000 there’s really nowhere that the movie feels cheap and rushed. There are no filler belly dances in front of a silver tarp here matey - this is all for real.

La masque de la Méduse is a beautiful looking movie and surprisingly one where special effects come to the most effective and elaborate use. Sure there’s been effects and gore in Rollin movies before, but this is hard stuff in the realm of Rollin, there’s a decapitation, decomposed corpses hung from nooses, the degeneration of Medusa makeup, snake hair, and an incredibly impressive throat slit that is really grim lingering on the sharp cut and pouring blood.

The recurrent meta referents at previous work can be found in La masque de la Méduse; an iron rose is used in an attempt to poke out an eye, there’s a nod at Two Orphan Vampires when parts of dialogue are recited, certain images of Steno definitely ring of Blanchard in The Living Dead Girl, Bouyoux recites passages of poems read in La nuit des horloges (Night of the Hourglas) 2007, Rollin’s almost obligatory cameo where he once again more or less taunts the camera with his mischievous face, certain parts of the soundtrack are d’Aram tracks from older movies, the remorseful monologues of Méduse certainly remind me of Nathalie Perry’s reoccurring character, mourning her losses, and you really can’t look at images of Père-Lachaise without thinking of movies like La rose de fer (Iron Rose) 1973, Two Orphan Vampires and Rape of the Vampire. In my book Pére-Lachaise is more Jean Rollin than anything else.
Hopefully there will be an official wider release of this last Jean Rollin movie as La masque de le Méduse is an beautiful, intriguing, powerful and poetic movie, an important movie that shows where if allowed Rollin might have ventured to with projects to come and perhaps where he would have gone earlier if he’d been able too.

16x9 Colour

Stereo 2.0. French Dialogue, no subtitles.

A five minute Making of feature, although the main extra is the movie itself as it isn’t available anywhere outside of a limited edition of Ècrits COmpletes -1. Complete Writings Vol1 compiles six of Jean Rollin’s fantasy horror stories and a second volume is planned. This first edition though was available in a limited edition of 150 pieces (signed and numbered by Rollin) and included the movie, which would become his final piece, La masque de la Méduse.


Alex B. said...

the screenshots look very promising!

CiNEZiLLA said...

It's got some really cool moments and a very Rollin-ish aura. This doesn't feel like a rushed tossed together piece, but a the kind of mediataive Rollin moie one would expect.


Valor said...


Thanks for this great review but could you please replace the poster I made for Psychovision by the official one which has been made in the meantime?


Thanks and keep up the good work!

CiNEZiLLA said...

Thanks for the comment, and thanks for letting me know about the official poster.



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