The Iron Rose – original title: La Rose de Fer – is a 1973 French horror drama 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.
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…
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After several sexy, 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 daytime a run down, atmospheric pace 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, HORRORPEDIA
“The Iron Rose keeps the horror just out of viewers peripheral and lets the actors convey through their actions, words and facial expressions their terror. One of the film strong assets is Françoise Pascal who beauty and nativity pull us in for this dark sinister journey in which two people let their fears separate them from the one common goal they once shared.” Michael Den Boer, 10K Bullets
” …The Iron Rose isn’t particularly violent, and aside from a dream sequence set on a beach, doesn’t feature nudity or sex. And yet, despite all this, I found the movie absolutely spellbinding. At night, the Amiens cemetery (which is huge) takes on an almost otherworldly quality, and with gothic headstones stretching as far as the eye can see, it’s a damn creepy place.” Dave Becker, 2,500 Movies Challenge
“It’s not a very long movie, but it starts to drag a bit here, as the suspense regarding their “escape” from the cemetery is completely deflated, with The Boy not even in the picture at this point and her just having a grand old time. So like a few of his others, going in expecting a horror movie is a bit of a disservice; it’s closer to a tragic romance than horror, really.” Brian W. Collins, Horror Movie a Day
“Jean Rollin makes do with only two characters, yet they go through so much in its brief eighty minute run time, that the film never feels anything less than compelling. The claustrophobia of the cemetery is a beautiful device to explore the natures of these two characters, and The Iron Rose is an excellent example of what can be done with very little in the way of resources. Highly recommended.” Charlie Hobbs, Screen Anarchy
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Amiens, Somme, France