The Iron Rose is a 1973 French horror fantasy film directed by Jean Rollin (Shiver of the Vampires; Fascination; The Grapes of Death; et al) from a screenplay co-written with Maurice Lemaître, based on a 19th-century poem by Tristan Corbière.
The movie stars Françoise Pascal (Burke & Hare; Incense for the Damned), Hugues Quester, Nathalie Perrey, Mireille Dargent and Michel Dalessalle.
A young woman and man encounter each other at a wedding reception and arrange a date. They meet at a railway station and go for a picnic and bike ride. They arrive at the entrance of a lonely cemetery and go inside…
After several erotic and surreal vampire films, this was a more personal movie for Jean Rollin – a bizarre, essentially plotless study of madness and the love of death that oozes with atmosphere and striking visuals.
The film follows two thinly drawn characters – a young woman (Françoise Pascal) and a young man (Hugues Quester) as they meet at a wedding and set up a date the next day.
This eventually takes them to a huge, ancient cemetery, where he convinces her to make out in a tomb. But when they emerge, it’s night time, and they cannot find their way out. As they wander around looking for the exit, the girl becomes more and more fixated – possibly possessed – by the spirits of the dead, and the boy becomes increasingly aggressive and desperate.
While Rollin drops hints of sinister things to come early on – the cemetery seems to have a resident vampire, who we see briefly, and its fair share of sinister looking visitors, including the director himself – the film quickly evolves from being another entry in his erotic vampire series into something very unique – closer to the works of Alain Resnais or Luis Buñuel (after all, his The Exterminating Angel also features people inexplicably trapped in a location).
The cemetery, in the daytime a run down, atmospheric place of the dead, at night becomes a maze and possibly an alternative universe – and it is the atmosphere more than any supernatural aspect that I suspect possesses the girl. Apart from a quick fantasy trip to Rollin’s favourite beach location (a chance to have Pascal frolic naked in a film otherwise devoid of blatant nudity and eroticism), the film never leaves this increasingly claustrophobic location, and neither do its two leads.
Pascal – almost painfully sexy – gives a remarkable performance. Rollin’s films are not generally known for their acting, but he undoubtedly had the ability to draw a melancholic sense of necromanticism from his better actresses (he would do a similar thing, albeit less effectively, in The Living Dead Girl years later). Pascal seems possessed by her character – her transition from terror to acceptance to a strange joy being remarkable, as she moves from peril to pleasure in a way that is intense and unnerving. Her smile at the film’s finale is chilling.
If you need to convince people that Rollin deserves to be seen in the same light as other European arthouse filmmakers of the Sixties and Seventies, then this is probably the film to begin with. As a horror film, it’s really a non-starter, but as a work of art, it’s amongst the best you’ll see.
Visually stunning, atmospheric and unforgettable, this is a highlight of Rollin’s filmography and of French cinema in general. Even if his vampire films don’t appeal, I suggest you give this a try – you won’t regret it.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA