Fiancee of Dracula [2002]

Jean Rollin is a director that elicits very strong opinions on either side of the Love-Hate continuum. I make no secret of my Rollin superfandom–his films have a painterly quality that I think is just gorgeous to watch, and the low budgets and lack of narrative sense don’t bother me in that context. The development of his personal visual vocabulary since 1968’s “Rape of the Vampire” has balanced consistency of vision with a willingness to explore and expand upon themes of tragic love, isolation, sexual fluidity and the supernatural. It’s difficult for me to dub Rollin’s work as “horror cinema,” as the horror elements seem to me to be a conduit for him to explore larger issues within the context of a dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, personal landscape.

So, why select 2002’s “Fiancée of Dracula” as my inaugural Rollin movie review post? Well, there are a couple of reasons–Number The First, I feel the need to prove that I do, in fact, watch movies made after 1972, and Number The Second, I admire the fact that Rollin is still producing fascinating films this late in his career (unlike, say… Dario Argento).

“Fiancée of Dracula” traces the story of a beautiful and mysterious woman who is being held captive (or is she…?) by an order of nuns who are slowly being driven mad by her proximity. Isabelle (played by alternately languid and mad-eyed beauty Cyrille Iste) has a psychic connection to Dracula, and his shadowy minions are conspiring to free her so she can become his bride. Simultaneously, an elderly hypnotist and his brash young assistant are attempting to track down these supernatural creatures, referred to as “Parallels,” and free Isabelle from her fate.

These Parallels include the dwarf Thibault, his lover the Vampire Woman, a creepy old couple, and the Ogress. The character of the Ogress is particularly poignant–by day, she is a madwoman, dancing carelessly at the foot of a crumbling tower. By night, however, she slinks around in a black nightgown and EATS BABIES. That’s right internet–hott Eurobabe baby-eating action. She just might be my ideal woman. *sigh* But yes–onto the poignancy aspect… All of the supernatural creatures in this film appear in a weakened state.

The dwarf is physically disadvantaged, the Ogress relies on others to bring her food as she slowly starves in a cave, and the Vampire Woman is portrayed not as a sentient creature, but as a beautiful sleepwalking corpse, driven by her unnatural thirsts and heedless to the dangers of sunlight.

Rollin veteran and all-around Eurotrash royalty Brigitte Lahaie appears as an elegant She-Wolf, summoned as a Master of Ceremonies for a ritual human sacrifice. I’m telling you, this lady is what Tracy Lords should have been–a former porn starlet who has parlayed a career in off-beat roles where she appears classy, mysterious and sensual. Brigitte, the Tenebrous Empire loves ya.

The madness of the nuns who are holding Isabelle captive is portrayed in an interesting, highly symbolic fashion. There are smoking nuns, a spastic nun with a stick-and-ball toy, and even a gypsy bellydancing nun! It’s noteworthy that these are images are a nod to the artwork of Clovis Trouille , and in fact, two of his paintings appear in the film. “Reve Claustral” is prominently displayed in the townhouse where the nuns live, and this painting (the name of which I’ll track down at some later date when I’m feelin’ Researchey) is given its own close-up.

Rollin’s signature imagery is present throughout, with the grandfather clock appearing on the Dieppe beach during the climactic scene. This type of self-reference might be cringe-worthy in the hands of a less personally-motivated director, but here it feels as if it’s linking this piece to Rollin’s existing body of work.

There are so many unexpected moments of beauty and magic in this movie that I could screen-cap and blather for much, much longer. The overall effect of watching this film is of nostalgia for a supernatural past that never existed but is slowly dissolving. It’s tragic to watch the fading monsters and know that the present day world is just outside of the universe of this film, threatening to erase this strange land.

Get a glimpse of the wonders of “Fiancee of Dracula” in the Flick gallery.

22 thoughts on “Fiancee of Dracula [2002]”

  1. >>The overall effect of watching this film is of nostalgia for a supernatural past that never existed but is slowly dissolving.

    Well said, Empress! This is one of the more pointedly surreal entries in Rollin’s filmography that it’s been my pleasure to witness, and as you so aptly point out, it breaks through its low budget restrictions with periodically stunning compositions and an amazing sense of sad nostalgia and visual poetry that just permeates the whole thing. It may lack the narrative coherence of some of Rollin’s earlier works–and yes, I know what I’m saying there–but it turns up the poetry, which to a Rollinophile such as I’m is just dandy.

    Also–CRAZY NUNS! The Sister Spastic Cup-and-Ball is a real winner, as are the Smoking Nuns. Not only that, but any movie that opens with a jester-capped dwarf getting BIZZAY with a preturnaturally pale, naked, red-headed vampire woman gets a pass from me for just about anything that follows.

    And (again as you rightly point out) Brigette Lahaie really classes up the joint in her brief appearance.

    Not the best place to START with Rollin, but a fascinating late-era entry into his amazing body of work.

  2. My first Rollin was Le Frisson des Vampires, which for some reason was a dub into Castillian Spanish, which upped the surealism (but also increased my understanding of the dialogue, since I studied Spanish in college but can’t speak French other than to ascertain the location of the nearest toilet). It’s really interesting how Rollin constantly cross-references his films. The clock is a clear allusion to the one from which Dominique as Isolde emerges in Les Frissons. And I think the name of the main character, Isabelle, also alludes to the honeymooner who is seduced by Isolde in the earlier film. The use of the Dieppe beach (site of one of the most brutal and futile battles of WWII) also was in a number of Rollin’s other films. Now I’m just trying to place the baby eating monster. I seriously doubt Rollin was influenced by Fat (“You belong in ma’ belly”) Bastard. By the way, is it just me, or does the unnamed Clovis Trouille painting remind you of something by Bosche?

    I’m with the Vicar and you on the appearance by Brigitte Lahaie. I have always had a “Fascination” (sorry) with her, was thrilled to see her in Henry and June, and try to watch practically anything she is in, even Grade Z Eurotrash Porn. She is beautiful, sexy and classy, and the years have been good to her.

    On a personal note, my kids recently asked me about the dumb stick and ball game, since it appeared on an episode of Family Guy. I doubt I’ll be showing them the example in Fiancee of Dracula (unless I want a visit from CPS), but it is funny to note the coincidence.

  3. >>but it turns up the poetry, which to a Rollinophile such as I’m is just dandy

    ‘Zactly, Vicar! So long as you’re shopping for what Rollin is selling, his work is thoroughly enjoyable. He’s a surrealist artist working with film as his medium.

    As to starting with Rollin, you’ve very rightly pointed out in your own writing that “Le Morte Vivante” is where it’s at. Internet friends–you are made of STONE if that movie doesn’t get to you!

    Fred–“Frisson” is so-so-so-so great! I think that might’ve been my first of his films as well. There’s such a rich symbolic world in that movie, and there are moments of unexpected humor there, too. Awesome stuff and probably also a good jumping-off point.

    >>By the way, is it just me, or does the unnamed Clovis Trouille painting remind you of something by Bosche?

    The crowded composition and movement is indeed Boschian! Trouille employs grotesques throughout his work, too, which probably comes from a similar medieval reference point. Good observation, sir.

  4. Ah, you are a (tenebrous) angel for reviewing this Rollin film. As you mention when you place him in the context of Argento’s recent films (which I don’t hate, by the way), he hasn’t lost any of the vision or passion or talent he had when he was younger. This one came on the heels of TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES, which, while beautiful, is actually a little too chaste for my taste. But here, with baby-eating Euro-babes . . . what fun!

  5. Headless–I was inspired to finally get on the ball and write up this movie by your recent comment. Glad you enjoyed this! Besides, your blog is chock full of half-mans-half-monkeys action–you KNOW that makes the Tenebrous Heart sing 🙂

  6. whew – I am so glad Fred mentioned Le Frisson, because up until that I was like “I MUST have seen this movie – but I HAVEN’T seen this movie?”

    Clearly I need to have a whole big Rollin marathon and let them all bleed dreamily together…


  7. Flightless–I smell a Movie Marathon theme…! Maybe you can wear down G’s resistance by lobbying for a Giant Animals Theme again, and then suggest Rollin as a classier alternative. It’s a PLAN!

  8. Le Morte Vivante lost me during the opening scene. If you can recommend a Rollin flick where the FX are much better I would give him another shot.

  9. Sadly, no–the FX work is pretty iffy throughout the Rollin canon. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea! I’m surprised Karswell hasn’t joined in to express his dissenting opnion yet, just to name one person I know of.

    I still think you’re the bee’s knees, Jack. We’ll just call a truce on Jean Rollin and “Carnival of Souls” and our friendship shall continue to blossom 😀

  10. Heh, I’m glad Rollin exists since his work brings your great joy, but I know his oeuvre just isn’t for me.

    I will admit, though, that his work is chock full of Eurobabery.

  11. If you stop watching LDG because of the effects…


    I have this mad quirk, I can’t equate “I’m holding a squirting piece of latex to my head” with “dreamlike” or “surreal.”

    This cognitive affliction of mine has hampered my enjoyment of many a piece of trash cinema, I assure you.

  12. Hey now, don’t make me build a Geek Octagon and make you two wrestle for opinion supremacy!

    We can all play nice. This is, after all, the LOVE TRAIN for the Tenebrous Empire, and you guys are both title-holders here. And don’t start pulling rank on each other–that’s just gauche. [And also rife with IYKWIM potential]

  13. >>I can’t equate “I’m holding a squirting piece of latex to my head” with “dreamlike” or “surreal.”

    Well, to be fair, the squirting latex is not the dreamlike surreal part. FX are just so Not What Rollin’s About. But since a Tenebrous Truce has been called, I’ll leave things lie. You really don’t know what you’re missing, though.

    Still, as I know perhaps better than most, there’s no accounting for taste. 🙂

  14. “…his film’s have a painterly quality” Right on the mark, Kate. The guy is a real visual artist. I get why the seemingly random nature of some of his work throws some people off but If you just approach it from the visual angle you can not help but be impressed. His work always falls into my handy “dream-logic” file which is impervious to explanation.

  15. >>His work always falls into my handy “dream-logic” file which is impervious to explanation

    Well-phrased, Kindertrauma! His movies capture a beautiful-horrible dream quality and can be a little like peeking into an artist’s brain. Very cool stuff.

  16. Beautifully written account of this film. I’ve been a Rollin fan for many years, since I caught Requiem For A Vampire on VHS. Like Franco, his work does seem to split opinion amongst genre fans but I find his poetic imagery utterly compelling.

  17. Good point about Franco and Rollin. I think they have a great deal in common (surrealist influences, nonlinear narratives, hard porn in some of their films, eurobabes). I also think that as true artists, they both are on the edge, attempting to push the boundaries of their genre, which leads to some true masterpieces (Vampyros Lesbos, Miss Muerte and Necronomicon for Franco, Les Frissons and Fascination for Rollin) and also some films that are beautiful failures. Also, by not playing it safe, they can arouse strong opinions, which makes sense considering their influences (Dali, Bunuel, du Champ, Bosche, Man Ray, etc).

  18. I had been talking with several friends recently about Jean Rollin. Now it’s great that you posted this. I’m a big fan of his. I think he has continued to make films that are of interest to me. He’s not lost his mojo like some other directors have. Not the best movie he ever made, but an entertaining one nonetheless.

  19. Steve–totally agreed with regards to Franco similarities. It took me a number of years and a LOT of Franco movies before the appeal started clicking in my brain.

    Fred–I think this is an excellent point:

    >>Also, by not playing it safe, they can arouse strong opinions

    I admire artists who risk the glorious failure. Hell, I often love the failure itself more than I love “better” films 🙂

    King–I’m glad this Rollin love-in was timely! I know I’m inspired to re-watch his films now. Watch this space for future Rollin-worship.

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