IRON ROSE, THE (Rose de fer, La)

(director/writer: Jean Rollin; screenwriters: from the poem by Tristan Corbière/Maurice Lemaître; cinematographer: Jean-Jacques Renon; editor: Michel Patient; music: Pierre Raph; cast: Francoise Pascal ( The beautiful girl), Hugues Quester (The Boy); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Selsky; Redemption Films; 1973-France-in French with English subtitles)

“Lyrical hallucinatory tale set at night in a cemetery.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Cult French director Jean Rollin (“Two Orphan Vampires”/”Killing Car”/”The Night of the Hunted”) at his most unusual and at his haunting best, helms this lyrical hallucinatory tale set at night in a cemetery. It’s taken from the poem by Tristan Corbière and co-written by Rollin and Maurice Lemaître. The atmospheric psychological thriller is plotless and has some scenes that border on the nonsensical. But for an exploitation B-film–it makes sure that the pretty actress is seen in the nude–it nevertheless gets over with its strangeness, originality and creepiness, It may even remind some of Carnival of Souls.

Two young lovers (Francoise Pascal, Hugues Quester) meet at a provincial feast and spend the day frolicking around the town. She’s a ballet dancer, he’s a poet. They end up riding their bikes to a gothic cemetery, where they explore ancient crypts and horse around amongst the many crucifixes and graves. They enter an underground crypt bolted with a metal door and make love, and when they attempt to leave at night find themselves lost and locked in the cemetery. Their romantic adventure now turns into a dark surreal nightmare, with the girl seemingly becoming possessed and wanting to remain with the dead forever.

The peculiar setting gained favor with an audience that made it a cult favorite, who were not let down that the film had no hidden meanings but was merely made as a filmmaker’s exercise on bringing a poem visually to fruition that catches the fear and erotica of the moment. Rollin also inserted some surreal sequences that just seemed out of the blue and made no sense, but were very watchable.

There’s hardly any dialogue, and the film differs from most horror films in attitude and in the way it makes its scares through religious symbols and aesthetics. It’s a pretentiously arty film, but to a certain viewer willing to overlook its twisted sense of alchemy it comes up smelling like a rose. Being lost in a dream is one of the more common ways of expressing primal terror that we all might have at one time or another, and this film hones in on that as well as any film that I can recall.

La rose de fer (1973)

REVIEWED ON 12/26/2007 GRADE: B-