A young woman (Françoise Pascal) stands on a windswept beach, gazing out to sea when she catches sight of an artefact being washed up on the shore. Picking it up, she sees it is an ornamental rose made of iron, and after turning it over in her hands for a while she throws it back out into the water, then makes her way back to the wedding celebration she is supposed to be attending. While there, she listens to a young man (Hugues Quester) recite a poem for the bride and groom, and is immediately taken with him. But it will be a fateful meeting...
The Iron Rose, or La Rose de fer if you were French, was Jean Rollin's attempt at being arty (or artier), eschewing his more customary vampire and horror practices for something more self-consciously poetic. No wonder then, that it was inspired by a poem from short-lived nineteenth century scribe Tristan Corbière, but really this is prime Rollin material even if there is no bloodletting or even much nudity. Which is odd, because one of the themes is how getting amorous can stave off the inevitability of death, for a while at least.
What happens after that wedding sequence is that the boy and girl, who are not named (although he calls her "Karine" late on in the proceedings), agree to meet up for a bicycle ride, and at first it all goes well with their frolicing in a steam locomotive yard. But their big mistake is to decide to take their picnic in a large cemetery; once inside they find it very difficult to get back out again. It starts innocuously enough, although the girl has her reservations at spending time in these crumbling, tombstone filled surroundings, but as night falls their stay takes on the cast of a nightmare.
They don't meet any ghosts, there are no vampires or other kinds of monsters, not even a stray maniac on the loose, it's simply their circumstances which work against them. The sex aspect is pretty coy, and the two leads, who are pretty much the only actors we see for long periods of the film, only canoodle twice, but this is intended to mark them out as vital and representative of life to contrast with this place of death. British viewers may well recognise Pascal from her role in sitcom Mind Your Language, and here you get the chance to see her in the buff, but only for about a minute in a dream sequence.
For the rest, be prepared for a lot of wandering about, which makes The Iron Rose something more akin to a precursor of The Blair Witch Project, for the more the couple try to leave the cemetery the more they find they are trapped. The gates remain elusive, as do the railings around the perimeter for that matter, and the longer they are caught in this gothic snare the more the girl acts strangely, as if intoxicated with the idea of death all around. She goes through a hysterical phase to end up embracing the whole idea of dying there, and the boy would be wise to let her get on with it. In truth, a lot of the film looks to have been made up as they went along and even at under ninety minutes it seems padded out with unnecessary bits of business, but while it never grows hypnotic, it does have a fatalistic air which may appeal to the doomed romantic in you. Music by Pierre Raph.
A lifelong film fan, French director Jean Rollin worked consistently since the 1950s, but it was his horror films that would bring him most attention, starting with Le viol du vampire in 1968, a work that caused a minor riot on its initial showings. This showed Rollin the way to further dreamlike entertainments, often with a strong sexual element. Other films included Le vampire nue, Le frisson de vampires, Les Raisins de la mort, Fascination (often regarded as his masterpiece), The Living Dead Girl, Zombie Lake and a number of hardcore porn features. He was working up until his death, with his latest Le Masque de la Meduse released the year of his demise.