Gothic seduction is an idiosyncratic approach to the sex/death equation. (For a point of comparison, the James Bond franchise has its own version of the equation down pat). As for goth, the most stirring vampire films, for instance, divide sex and death with a very thin (red!) line—sometimes it’s not clear what you’re watching, an orgasmic release into the Big Sleep, or the stunned terror of total—and final—subjugation.
The Iron Rose (La Rose de Fer), director Jean Rollin’s gothic horror from 1973, nails the S/D equation. The fact that 90% of the film is located in a centuries-old graveyard bolsters the vibe. The pacing, performances, sets and direction create a monochrome mosaic of dread.
As well, the couple’s philosophical musings are clever—seemingly benign, but foreshadow a grim conclusion.
Although most scenes occur in daylight, this is cinema of the netherworld, alive but muted and claustrophobic. You can almost smell the earth.
Françoise Pascal is ‘the woman’; Hugues Quester is ‘the man’. No names in this free-floating ether of existentialism. They meet briefly before their cemetery stroll—and that’s it. No meandering back stories, forget deep dives into motivation. They get lost in their surroundings (literally) and things turn very grave indeed.
Horror arrives from the outside (monsters) or inside (mental illness). Sometimes there’s a mix. The most frightening themes, at least the most real, come from a shattered mind.
The Iron Rose has a dream-like quality, nightmarish and untethered, as if the film itself was spawned by half-forgotten ravings of a Renfield. It’s the very lack of explanations that make it truly frightening.
Sometimes bad things just happen to good people.
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