Tag Archives: Kier-La Janisse

Vive la Difference

Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin

by Hope Madden

Who is Jean Rollin? He was an underappreciated French genre filmmaker of the 70s, 80s and 90s – kind of the Jess Franco of France.

Who is Jess Franco? A horror filmmaker known primarily for lurid, colorful B-pictures, often featuring hot, naked lesbian vampires. He’s the Jean Rollin of Spain.

You’ll be better able to tell them apart if you watch Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin. Documentarians Dima Ballin and Kat Ellinger want to make sure the world remembers and recognizes Rollin’s contribution to film. Changing the smarmy discourse among those of us who do know his work is a second-tier goal.

That’s not to say that the filmmakers shy away from Rollin’s poor critical reception or comparisons to Franco. Indeed, Rollin stepped in to complete two films Franco started, including Zombie Lake, a film so terrible it nearly ended Rollin’s career.

Talking with several of Rollin’s colleagues, a couple of the actresses best known for his films, and writers who’ve championed his work, Orchestrator of Storms tells the tale of an artist who loved what he did and struggled to make a career out of filmmaking regardless of the challenges. He even directed a load of hard-core porn titles to keep the lights on.

Fascinatingly, one of the challenges was France itself, which, in the 70s and 80s, was hardly a hot spot for genre filmmaking. Being a contemporary of New Wave artists, Rollin faced backlash for his fanciful, decidedly unpolitical output.

A lot of the struggle could also have been that many of Rollin’s films are just plain terrible, a possibility mostly unexplored in the doc. But what’s most intriguing is the image you get of Rollin as a person, mainly from actors Brigitte Lahaie and Francoise Pascal, as well as former film festival programmer Kier-La Janisse, who also produces.

They build a picture of a humble, kind man driven to exercise his imagination. And, as the film rightly points out, there are times when that imagination delivered amazing product. Fascination, The Iron Rose and Living Dead Girl are more than macabre dances among the nubile nude, although they certainly are that as well. With these films, Rollin’s evocative imagery details gruesome stories unlike anything else.

Orchestrator of Storms would have benefitted from more of Rollin’s work. Though Vallin and Ellinger do a fine job of enlivening talking head footage, no one’s movies looked like Rollin’s. Talking about his aesthetic doesn’t do them justice. You need to look at them.

That aside, this is a film that deeply appreciates a filmmaker who rarely received such love. The conversations are candid and often moving. The film leans a little too close to mash note, but there is something undeniable in the work of Jean Rollin that probably deserves this kind of love.

Into the Woods

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

by Hope Madden

Every so often you come across a movie and think it must have been made specifically for you. In my case, that film is Kier-La Janisse’s 3-hour documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror.

Yes, that does seem like a very big time commitment to folk horror, but Janisse’s film repays your undertaking with not only an incredibly informative documentary but an engaging, creepy and beautifully made film.

Dividing her topic into chapters, Janisse portions out information theme by theme. And while this essay-style documentation is driven by expert commentary, the filmmaker surrounds the scholarly material with beguiling imagery.

Every chapter has its own look and feel, each one opening with an appropriately bewitching bit of rhyme. Then it leads you through a clearly articulated and fairly comprehensive examination of certain moments in folk horror. Janisse opens on the big three, The Unholy Trinity–Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man—as a way to ease us into the conversation by pinning major themes on well-known films.

She goes on to explore TV and written tales tangentially, though her focus is always primarily on film, taking us from The Wicker Man through Midsommar. In between, she introduces dozens of underseen films and traces not only the history of folk horror but the societal anxieties that these films represent.

And while many may think mainly of British films of the 1960s and 70s for this category, Janisse presents an intriguing global history that unveils universal primal preoccupations from England to Argentina, the US to Lapland and beyond.

Dry as that may sound, between the snippets of the movies themselves and the fluid, often creepy presentation, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched becomes as transfixing a film as those it dissects. And it digs deep, into obscure titles new and old. Border! White Reindeer! Onibaba! Viy! Prevenge!

Bonus: You can find a gorgeous array of folk horror streaming on Shudder this month, including The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw and Witchfinder General.

There are so many, you can’t blame even a 3-hour film for leaving some out. Here are a few masterpieces glimpsed but not discussed and well worth your time:

And even then, there are some favorites not discussed at all that you might want to check out:

How can three hours of folk horror discussion not be enough? It’s a question that points to what may be the greatest strength of Janisse’s film. Like any truly strong documentary, her film not only covers its topic comprehensively, it inspires you to dig deeper on your own time.