With a few notable exceptions (Stuart Gordon, Larry Cohen), my horror-auteur gods have been letting me down in recent years. Granted, artists like George A. Romero and Dario Argento are working with much bigger budgets, and greater public expectations than Jean Rollin has ever had to deal with, and maybe that, in and of itself, is partly the kiss of death for these comparative big shots.
Why do I consider myself a huge Rollin fan, yet I've never, until now, watched a film of his later than The Living Dead Girl (1982)? Maybe I didn't want to risk having the master of vampire chateaus, beguiling female malefactors, moody beach scenes and the darkly absurd shot down in my estimation. Boy was I wrong. It took the recommendation of WFMU / My Castle of Quiet super-listener Richard Ridden to coax me into taking a chance on Rollin's 2002 feature, Fiancée of Dracula, and I have nothing but good things to report.
First of all, it's amazing to me that the same, crumbling, ruined pier Rollin has been using as a location since the late 1960s has never been fixed up (perhaps that's French infrastructure for you), and in this film, he's used that craggy pier for one of his most compelling seaside visions ever. Secondly, the classic Rollin motif of grandfather clocks as a travel portal for the undead is employed here again, some 30 years after the director's phantasmagorical 1971 feature, Le frisson des vampires.
What other visual and conceptual delights fill out the body of Fiancée of Dracula? What say thee to a convent of mad nuns, who smoke pipes and cigars, don funnels and quote Jarry, and have a mean kick in the bargain? Or a salacious blonde ogress, who feeds on live infants? How about a mind-boggling scene—perhaps the best in the whole film—in which a nun, having been brutally slaughtered, suddenly rises up and carries around her own bleeding heart? All this and more, including a minor, but pivotal role, played by Rollin's long-time star, the lovely Brigitte Lahaie. I fear if I say too much, I will most certainly curb your surprise and pleasure in watching this film. It's enough to say that maestro Rollin has maintained the visual sense, absurdity, and moody, ethereal vibrations that have defined his filmmaking career from the very start.