Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin

Even a lot of horror buffs aren’t familiar with the work of Jean Rollin. He was a cult director among cult directors. The French filmmaker was fairly prolific, yet never had that one breakout hit that put his name on the front lines of genre cinema. Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin, a documentary by Dima Ballin and Kat Ellinger, seeks to familiarize more people with him. Perhaps the best compliment one could give this movie is to say that it makes you want to immediately check out something he made after viewing it.

The first half hour, which goes into his childhood and earliest influences, is a little dry, although essential in understanding him. Rollin took inspiration from offbeat art and literature with a macabre style. Many of his films were about vampires, females in particular. The Rape of the Vampire and The Nude Vampire are two of the most notable. They were not your typical gore-fests, however. Some of that was there, but he used his stories to deal with themes related to love and death. They were known for stunning images, nudity, and thick atmosphere, which sometimes had a melancholic tone. Occasionally, Rollin broke away from vampires, as when he made The Iron Rose in 1973. The macabre tale follows two people lost in a cemetery.

Like many independent filmmakers around the world, financing was a constant challenge, and Rollin occasionally had to temper his vision to fit his budget. This also drove him temporarily into the world of hardcore pornography, where he could earn a fast buck to later fund more personal projects. A home video boom in the ‘80s gave him a new lease on work, but the rise of the American horror market in that decade also caused the European horror market to crash. There never seemed to be a shortage of challenges to surmount.

Colleagues, cast members, and journalists appear in on-camera interviews to analyze Rollin’s work and expound on why he never hit it big. What most comes across is that his stories were too idiosyncratic to connect with mainstream crowds. Despite having vampires, cemeteries, and the like, the majority of movies he directed dealt with personal themes. They contained exploitation elements, yet were profoundly artistic – a combination that may have left many viewers confused.

Orchestrator of Storms peppers the biography of Jean Rollin with liberal use of clips from his films. They’re stunning, filled with evocative imagery. You can plainly see how much of himself he put into them, and how he stood apart from his contemporaries. What the documentary does especially well is to give insight into how difficult it is for an iconoclast to get the recognition they deserve. Innovators can hit it big, but it takes a confluence of events to make the time right for their unconventional approaches. Rollin never quite had the stars align that way. He did leave behind an indelible body of work, though.

This movie pays the man some overdue respect. Its approach is on the scholarly side, which means it will play best for viewers who have a deep interest in horror filmmaking as an artform. Fall into that category and Orchestrator of Storms will open up a whole new avenue for you to explore.

Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World Of Jean Rollin is available exclusively on ARROW.

out of four

Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin is unrated, but contains images of nudity, sex, and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.