Jean Rollin’s career had its ups and downs during the 80s and 90s, a period that saw him moving away from the vampire movies that established him as one of the most interesting of eurohorror directors in the late 60s and the 70s. The film industry had changed, horror had changed, and Rollin was struggling to find a niche for himself. In 1997 he found a solution to his creative problem. He would simply ignore everything that had happened in the cinematic world since the 1970s, and go back to making the movies he wanted to make. He would take up his cycle of surrealist erotic horror vampire films where he had left off in 1979 with the brilliant Fascination. The result was Two Orphan Vampires (Les Deux orphelines vampires), which was a classic 1970s Rollin movie, and a very good one. La Fiancée de Dracula, released in 2002, continues his vampire cycle. This time he has even gone to his beloved beach at Dieppe, a beach that features in practically all of his early films. If anything, La Fiancée de Dracula has even more of a 70s Rollin feel than Two Orphan Vampires.
Two men, one young and one old and looking rather like a kindly professor, are on the track of the parallels. These parallels are etities from another plane of existence, vampires and similar creatures of the night, and may in fact exist only in dreams. But the dreams may be real, and there may be ways to each their world, or for them to reach ours, These two men believe that a mad girl may hold the key. This mad girl, together with a dwarf jester (clowns are another classic Rollin motif that surface one again in this movie) and a vampire woman whom he loves lead our investigators to a convent, run by the Order of the White Virgin. The nuns are caring for a young woman left at the convent as a foundling, but she is slowly infecting them with madness.
This young woman, Isabelle, is to play a crucial role in a ceremony that may create a bridge the fantasy world of the parallels and our world, although it is of course possible that it’s actually our world which is the fantasy world. The ceremony will release Dracula, and she will be his bride. The parallel world may by accessed by means of clocks, clocks being another familiar Rollin obsession. Isabelle must enter the clock, where her betrothed may be waiting for her, but if he is not waiting she will find only death.
This is full-blown Rollin surrealism, and it’s a magic that still works for Rollin. There are memorable images, including a great library scene. The library scene includes a painting by surrealist Clovis Trouille, Rollin’s favourite artist (and one of my favourites as well, since I discovered his work through Rollin). There are insane nuns and evil nuns, although it’s possible they are not evil at all. It’s all a matter of perspective, and whatever powers control our world (or worlds) they certainly work in mysterious ways. Dracula may be the villain of the story, or the hero. It may be a love story, if it really is love rather than death that Isabelle is to find, although perhaps she will find both and they will turn out to be the same. It may be simply a fairy tale, or a dream.
Jean Rollin at his best effortlessly combines the surreal, the erotic and horror. There’s a moderate amount of gore in this movie, but it’s not a movie that is going to appeal to fans of mainstream horror. It’s as much an art film as a horror film. The acting is better overall than in most of his early movies, although Rollin admits he is more interested in the image an actor creates than in their acting ability. Rollin regular Brigitte Lahaie contributes a cameo as the she-wolf. Although Rollin has always had trouble getting finance for his very individual and very personal movies and he often has to work on a shoestring budget this particular movie looks quite polished. Rollin’s vision has not deserted him and he remains a fascinating and provocative film-maker.