Jean Rollin – like Jesus Franco, Paul Naschy, Jose Mojica Marins and even H.G. Lewis – enjoyed a career afterlife. His oeuvre had seemed to run its course well before his films got any sustained attention from cultists. When rediscovery came he was still around to scrape together financing to pastiche himself, though the flurry of activity of the ‘60s and ‘70s was not reproduced: this 2002 effort came a full five years after his comeback, Les Deux Orphelines Vampires, and he wouldn’t make another film until La Nuit des Horloges in 2007. In essence, it’s no more baffling, thinly-plotted, random and deadpan silly than the Rollin films which are the foundation of his reputation, and at least he hasn’t resorted to shooting on horrible video or working with silicone-stuffed American scream queens like Franco, but it’s still a tough watch for the converted and unlikely to bring anyone new to the cause.
The plot: a bearded old vampire-hunter (Jacques Régis) and his apprentice Eric (Denis Tallaron), who are vaguely reminiscent of Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Slayers, are out to prevent the wedding of Isabelle (Cyrille Iste) to Count Dracula (Thomas Desfossé) – who inhabits a limbo inside a thin grandfather clock (evoking the queen vamp of Rollin’s Le Frisson des Vampires). Isabelle is a foundling who has been raised by an order of crazy nuns, who are against her destined match. The wedding requires the presence of several ‘parralels’, magical creatures like a pale thin vampire woman (Sandrine Thoquet), an ogresse (Magalie Madison), a she-wolf (Brigitte Lahaie) and a circus dwarf (Thomas Smith). Everyone rants at each other, and there are self-consciously surreal elements like nuns named Sister Cigar and Sister Pipe who puff away on (yes) a cigar and a pipe. It has much skulking around a picturesque old castle ruin, but doesn’t start delivering Rollinesque imagery until the last half-hour when it gets to his favourite location, a desolate beach, for the ritual climax – Isabelle is tied to a stake to be drowned by the incoming tide, the parallels and the nuns mutilate and kill each other and the wedding goes ahead (sort of). Rollin has a knack for finding interesting things on the beach, like driftwood: rotted old ships, those broken palings which are useful for sacrifices (in English, they’re called groynes – which ought to be worth a bad pun), stretches of bleak countryside suitable for funereal wedding parades, etc.
Desfossé is a bland, uninteresting Dracula: a handsome guy with a haircut and a flouncy white shirt. The American DVD packaging even realises this and tries to imply that the gaunter, more imposing Tallaron – who is mostly a comic character in the film – is playing Dracula. This is the Count’s first appearance by name in a Rollin vampire film, and he seems to have strayed in from someone else’s filmography – Franco tended to employ famous monsters for his gothic charades, whereas Rollin made up his own mythology, and just using the name Dracula in a title smacks of a kind of bad faith. Iste’s blank Isabelle is a more Rollinesque figure, and comes off best in the cast because she doesn’t have to deliver the long, maniacal soliloquies which make several other characters – the most expressive nun, for instance – come over as really irritating. Cathy Castel, one of the Castel twins who were such a feature of the director’s earlier works, has a bit-part as a nun; it’s almost haunting that she isn’t accompanied by her sister Marie-Pierre (aka Pony). There are moments of the old magic here, but the trouble is that they tend to be recreations of images from Rollin’s fertile period rather than developments. During the longeurs, the mind has time to ponder odd questions like how Thoquet’s all-over talcum make-up job can survive when she’s slobbering false blood on herself and why the useless vampire slayers are even in the film.