Sorry, this is not the first time I've discussed this online, and it is going to get long.
The first exposure to Jean Rollin that I can remember was the 1983 book FOR ONE WEEK ONLY. It had a two-page write-up on "Caged Virgins." I mentally filed away the name and moved on.
In 1986, I saw a listing for a movie playing in downtown Los Angeles: "Curse of the Living Dead." Thinking perhaps it would be an Italian zombie movie, but not really knowing for sure what to expect, I drove up to a very seedy neighborhood, parked, and crossed my fingers that my car would still be there when I got back. The theater was "The Cameo," which itself made a "cameo" in Ken Russell's film WHORE. While buying my ticket, a pregnant woman offered to sell me a bite of the hot dog she was eating for 25 cents. I demured.
The Cameo would play four movies at a time. Well, not at EXACTLY the same time; they would show them one at a time, then start over. I entered the theater during the tail end of co-feature REMO WILLIAMS. It was dark, but I only saw a few audience members' heads, so I figured seating would be no problem. When the house lights came up, I realized that the many gaps between patrons were taken up by transients lying across four seats each. The Cameo was open 24 hours a day. Admission was $1.75. It was, it turned out, a crash-pad for transients. Hooray.
The movie started up. Over closeup shots of various characters who looked like pirates, a narrator (dubbed in English) began telling us about our cast. The music swelled and the foursome began to run down a beach. Abruptly, a title card reading "Curse of the Living Dead" appeared, crudely spliced into the print. As the credits concluded, I saw the director's name: Jean Rollin. Ah, THAT guy.
The pirates discovered a storage chest and broke into it. By now this film was already so far from what I expected, I remember thinking "Anything could be in that chest and I would not be surprised." I looked over at another young audience member and we exchanged a WTF? shrug.
I remember it was 1986 because it was around the same time that I saw ALIENS in the theater. An enjoyable film to be sure, but this Rollin thing really hit me where I live. It was utterly baffling and fascinating.
My car and I made it out alive. The film, I learned, was LES DEMONIAQUES. Pre-internet, I began to put together a Rollin filmography using reference books at the local library. Actually viewing these things was not going to be so easy. Somehow or another I obtained two Rollin flms on VHS tape. One was LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES, dubbed into Spanish. Later I would find out that it was an interesting variant version, with some alternate music thrown in. Even through the language barrier and sixth-genereation dupe haze, I could see this was a beautiful and ridiculous movie. My next acquisition was the "Caged Virgins" version of REQUIEM POUR UN VAMPIRE. Even shorn of 20 minutes, there was no mistaking the film's intent.
Very slowly, I was able to build a collection of VHS bootlegs. I recall that one day I received untranslated tapes of both LES RAISINS DE LA MORT and FASCINATION. Craig Ledbetter was frequently my source for these obscurities, and I would "review" the films in his fanzines HI-TECH TERROR and EUROPEAN TRASH CINEMA, despite often not being able to follow the plots all that well.
At long last, I obtained a French-language tape of DEMONIAQUES. In the years since I'd first seen it (and been unable to see it again) it had built up quite a legendary status in my mind. It was very interesting to compare the actual article to my memories and impressions. The first week I had the tape, I watched it eight times.
Since then, both Rollin's reputation and the availability of his films increased. I recall paying way too much for Video Search of Miami's subtitled tapes. A laser disc of LA MORTE VIVANTE emerged, and was the first decent presentation of one of his movies. Improbably, Redemption released quite a few Rollin films on DVD during the format's infancy. But I was more than happy to upgrade when Encore's amazing special editions came out, and again when Redemption revisited Rollin's catalog on Blu-ray. It's been a very long journey, and it has frequently been difficult being patient (still waiting for a decent presentation of PHANTASMES, for instance) but I never dreamed Rollin's films would one day be so widely-available and enjoyed by so many.