Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Cinema of Jean Rollin: Killing Car (1993)

While the title might recall Christine, Jean Rollin’s Killing Car has thematically much more in common with Francois Truffaut’s 1968 revenge thriller The Bride Wore Black, rather than John Carpenter’s terrific Stephen King adaptation. Originally designed as a soft-core vehicle to be directed under the Michel Gentil pseudonym, Killing Car (originally titled La Femme Dangereuse) turned out to be one of the most personal and self-referential of all of Rollin’s productions. Acting as a bit of a coda to the career summarizing Lost in New York from a few years earlier, Killing Car is one of Rollin’s most interesting, if often overlooked, works.

Starring the lovely Tiki Tsang, in her only film role, as a woman bent on revenge who leaves a toy car at the scene of each of her killings, Killing Car is typically thought of as one of Rollin’s weaker productions. When one takes into consideration the fact that it was shot in less than a week for under $100,000, Killing Car becomes quite a remarkable little film in the Rollin Canon. Nearly entirely improvised with each section containing a nod to a past work, Killing Car is a captivating film that is a much more rewarding experience than most have given it credit for.

Of course, the key to enjoying Killing Car is having seen the majority of Jean Rollin’s other films first. This is just about the last Rollin work you would want to present to a newbie, as it will prove a head-scratching and frustrating experience at best. The joys, and there are plenty of them, to be found in Killing Car are all centered on its place as a bit of a greatest hits film in Rollin's filmography.

Rollin described Killing Car, in his introduction to the film in Virgins and Vampires, as “an assignment, therefore a challenge.” His goal was ultimately to take “a run-of-the-mill detective film” and treat it like a “fantastic film.” Rollin goes on to admit that the final product is flawed and “merited more time”, but he values the film and states that it is “in the same vein as The Sidewalks of Bangkok and The Rape of the Vampire.” Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs agree with Rollin’s mostly positive reaction to the film in their Immoral Tales when they call it “Self-referential-certainly; but sterile-never.”

Tohill and Tombs also put their finger on the most mind-blowing aspect of Killing Car, which is the idea that Rollin could manage to take material that originally wasn’t his own and put his undeniable stamp on it in just over a week’s time. They write, “The source of the images he presents lies deep inside him. They emerge through an unconscious process of selection.” Rollin, once he connects with the material, simply can’t make anything other than a “Jean Rollin Film”, a fact that makes him one of the only true auteurs we have left.

Like the majority of Rollin’s other late period films, Killing Car is a fairly easy target for folks who can’t develop a taste for his work. Nonsensical, sluggish and a bit daft at times, Killing Car isn’t one of Rollin’s more perfect films by a longshot. Rollin himself would tell Peter Blumenstock in Virgins and Vampires and in the pages of Video Watchdog that he knew, “it was no masterpiece, but that (it was) quite good considering the budget.” He’s right on the money with that thought, Killing Car is very much a film that has to be taken on its own terms and judged by the fact that it achieves what it set out to do.

Despite its easy to spot faults and the fact it was shot on 16mm with only a video release in mind, Killing Car is surprisingly a pretty handsome production, thanks to the cinematographer Max Monteillet. Max had shot the unforgettable Lost in New York as well, and some outtakes from that earlier collaboration can be seen in a couple of sections of Killing Car. Also worth noting is the lovely and quite haunting score from Philippe Brejean, a composer who had most memorably worked with Rollin previously on Night of the Hunted. Cast-wise a few familiar Rollin faces show up, including both Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and Jean-Lou Philippe, and Jean himself makes another one of his noteworthy cameos, this time as Tiki Tsang’s bandaged up lover she has been avenging. Rollin even gets to share a brief kiss with Tsang towards the end of the film in a moment that will be more than a little moving for long-time fans.

The shoot for Killing Car was rough and exhausting. Rollin admitted in Virgins and Vampires that his crew was “hostile and ill-humored” and that he was “morally empty” and finally hospitalized by the end of the shooting. While the film’s haunting final shot, surely one of the most devastating moments in all of Rollin’s canon, seemed to signal an end to his career he would persevere on and within just a few years would have a real return to form in the can, with the splendid Two Orphan Vampires. Killing Car is an unjustly neglected and often-ignored work though and it’s a pivotal one. It is currently available on Region 1 DVD from Redemption with no film specific extras, but the disc does come with an excellent half-hour tribute to Rollin from British television.


dfordoom said...

I'm finally starting to catch up with some of Rollin's more obscure films. I was pleasantly surprised by Sidewalks of Bangkok - now I'll definitely have to check out Killing Car.

Soukesian said...

Jeremy - many thanks for this - I've always found the archetypal direct-to-video title of this one off-putting, but you've convinced me to give it a shot!

VJESCI said...

.i thought of which i only know of because of the role of anton lavey as technical advisor.

"frankly your red pullover"

Nine-Fingered Menace said...

Definately an interesting movie. It's odd, but I've taken to approaching Rollin films as I would dreams; they only make sense if you approach them on their terms. From that approach, I had fun with it.

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Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks so much everyone for your comments on the film. I think it's an underrated title and I enjoyed reading all your thoughts...