In late 1967, a French theater owner enlisted the young, would-be filmmaker Jean Rollin to direct a low-budget short film that could be screened before an imported American B-movie as light, introductory entertainment. The result, a feature-length erotic vampire tragedy indebted equally to first-wave Surrealism and Hollywood horror, earned a brief theatrical run that was met mostly with outrage or indifference. Rollin, never one to care much for the audience’s perspective on his efforts, proceeded to spend the following decade directing a series of dreamlike and distinctively macabre variations on the format, five of which have now been revived, remastered, and released on DVD and Blu-ray by Kino International. The films’ titles (e.g. Lips of Blood, The Nude Vampire) suggest something of their gratuitous sleaziness, but there is also a bizarre and sincere creative ambition at work here. Each generally involves a hapless couple or hero stumbling into a mansion tacitly inhabited by vampires, a straightforward plot structure that leaves plenty of room for Rollin’s outsized visual imagination. Fans of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s midnight movie head trips (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) will find plenty to appreciate in Rollin’s universe, where vampires jump out of grandfather clocks and chase women in paper-mache animal masks. I was especially won over by his third film, The Shiver of the Vampires, released in 1971. A just-married couple on their honeymoon visit a pair of cousins who, we soon learn, have recently died. The bride is quickly seduced by a mysterious vampire dominatrix, who in turn is seduced by the two cousins, recently risen from the dead, etc. (the sexual politics of the thing get pretty complicated, obviously). At its best, the film has a kind of manic, punk energy, where stylized sloppiness allows for an infinite range of absurd possibilities; this is one of those rare movies that can credibly be called completely unpredictable. Drenched in garish primary colors and soundtracked by French psych-rock group Acanthus, it’s an ambivalent product of the late 1960s counterculture, veering from laughable to disturbing at a dizzying, haphazard rate. In an influential 1978 essay, the film critic Robin Wood wrote that horror movies show the “return of the repressed,” but ultimately work to secure a restoration of the natural order. Rollin’s vampire cycle, with its arbitrary violence backed by esoteric mysticism, never allows us that final satisfaction. If there’s a lesson in these films, it’s that the vampires will always win.