The Iron Rose is perhaps Jean Rollin’s least-known movie. At first glance it’s easy to see why – although it was made in 1973 and thus comes in the middle of his vampire cycle there are no vampires, and the erotic element is very subdued for a Rollin film (although it does have a clown, another Rollin trademark). In fact, though, this is a very typical Rollin film with all his usual themes and imagery and the visual poetry that is the main reason for seeing his movies. A young couple wander through a graveyard. They decide it would be fun, and romantic, to make love in an open crypt. Time gets away from them, darkness falls, and when they emerge they cannot find the path that will lead them out of the cemetery. They are in a city of the dead, they are lost, and the call of the dead is strong. It isn’t easy to distinguish life from death, or dream from reality, or love from hate, and one’s reason can easily give way to madness. But is this a story about someone going mad, or is it simply a dream of madness? And if it’s a dream, who is doing the dreaming?
As you expect in a movie by Jean Rollin, dialogue is sparse. You could eliminate the dialogue and it would make little difference – not because there is a lack of content, but because Rollin’s images are so strong they simply do not require dialogue to support them. The images are also ravishing! It’s a movie that is both decadent and romantic. Is it a horror movie? Perhaps, but this is subtle horror, and is more akin to a movie like Polanski’s Repulsion than it is to the average horror film. I’ve seen five Rollin movies, and I’ve liked them all, but this one is now my favourite. This is movie-making at its most poetic, disturbing and beautiful. I can’t recommend The Iron Rose too highly.