For the uninitiated, the films of Jean Rollin can be hard to explain (and sometimes, even harder to defend). The Iron Rose was the 3rd in a series of borderline horror/erotica films the director made in the 70's. For those looking for cheap thrills, this probably isn't the Rollin film you want. Unlike the "lesbian vampire" sub-genre Rollin help to perpetuate with films like Shiver of the Vampires [Blu-ray] and Lips of Blood [Blu-ray], The Iron Rose is actually fairly restrained.
It's a fairly simple story of a young couple who get locked in a cemetary at night, and the rapid disintegration of their relationship and sanity. The girl (neither character is given a name in the film) is affected the most, as she begins to embrace the death and decay surrounding them, to the point of even talking to corpses beneath their feet. In the wrong hands, such scenes might have decended into camp, but Rollin gets a bravura performance out of Francoise Pascal. She takes the girl from kittenish flirt to screaming lunatic in a matter of minutes.
As with most any foreign "art" film, one can look for something beneath the surface if one enjoys that type of celluloid psychoanalysis. The girl, for example, may be taking on her shocking new hobby out of disappointment in her would-be lover (who unfortunately resembles the French love child of Rob Lowe and Eric McCormack). If that sounds far-fetched, consider this exchange early in the film: As the pair settle in for a picnic beside a tombstone, the boy accidentally knocks over an iron cross marker. As he's replacing it, the girl comments "Is doesn't seem very hard." "Hang on, I'll stick it back in," he replies. Hello...paging Dr. Freud!
Even putting aside the search for meaning in a 40 year-old French exploitation film, it's not hard to appreciate the gorgeous cinematography. This was my first time viewing the film, so I can't compare the transfer to any prior release, but the colors are quite vivid. Even the numerous nighttime scenes--often a place where HD transfers falter--are clear enough without seeming articially lit. Shots are composed for maximum beauty, such as the famous beach scene, where the girl imagines covorting nude with the titular iron rose in-hand. Like other auteurs such as Hitchcock or Argento, Jean Rollin seems to believe in the power of what Hitch called "pure cinema." The plot and actors are never as important as what the camera's eye actually sees at any given moment.
As for the Blu-ray, the extras include interviews with Rollin himself, Pascal, and a frequent collaborator of the director. There are great, unedited trailers for this and four additional Rollin films. As mentioned above, the transfer is rich in color and detail. While it's not quite up to today's HD standards, it's perfectly fine for a film of this vintage. There's a handy little booklet written by Tim Lucas which covers all of Jean Rollin's films (for those who have bought other Rollin titles from Redemption, this is the same book that comes with those).
If you've heard about Rollin and wanted to give him a try. . .I'd actually suggest you start with Shiver of the Vampires or his most popular film Fascination. But if you like atmosphere and suggestive horror, The Iron Rose is a good choice as well.