One of Jean Rollin’s final films, Dracula’s Fiancée,doesn’t get bandied around as much as his other vampire movies, nor has it been as widely available, but if this is one of his weaker efforts than his earlier output must be something to behold.
Rollin has been a director I’ve been wanting to explore for a while and also been nervous to explore, since it seems no matter how much HBO I watch I still get timid whenever a director’s known for nudity (only to inevitably wonder what I was so anxious about).
Dracula’s Fiancée is the first of Rollin’s films that I’ve watched (which I’ve come to understand isn’t the usual gateway film). Like a lot of directors, there’s the golden period he’s known for (the 70’s) and then there are the films that came after, and for whatever reason those films are less regarded, if regarded at all. In her commentary track, Samm Deighan (who edited the essay collection, Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin) makes an excellent case for why this is hogwash and, sadly, common, getting in the way of people seeking these films out. Thankfully Redemption and Kino Lorber aren’t fazed by that way of thinking and have included Rollin’s Lost in New York on this release, as well.
As you may have already deduced from the title, Dracula’s Fiancée introduces Dracula’s bride-to-be, Isabelle (Cyrille Gaudin), who’s being held captive by nuns for her protection, but these aren’t the severe, black robed nuns that usually crop up in movies. One jumps rope inside the house. Another plays with a ball and cup (an effervescent Céline Mauge). Sister Cigar (Mira Petri) and Sister Pipe (Marianna Palmieri) smoke their respective namesakes. Happy and white robed, these are characters you want to get to know better without expecting an explanation (and Rollin’s plot doesn’t account for everything) but considering Rollin didn’t need to provide one, his reason for their behavior’s terrific. It’s also nice to see nuns portrayed in a positive light, where it’s not for being saintly (they don’t make the soundest decisions) but being silly.
From one extreme to another, the deaths in this movie are impossible to ignore – heartbreaking and ghastly, they sit with you, as everyone is fair game and the make-up team pull no punches. The costumes by Natalie Perrey (who pulls double duty as the sorceress) are a boon as well, adding texture and personality to unlikely pairings like the Professor (Jacques Orth) and his assistant (Denis Tallaron), dressed in corduroy and leather, respectfully.
Despite being the pawn at the center of it all, Isabelle isn’t a zombie and her ability to break through the thrall of telepathy and hypnosis (the latter of which gets depicted using sound, instead of special effects) gives her some agency to react to what’s happening.
“Why Dracula?” is a question Deighan explores in her commentary track, along with the fellowship between Rollin’s female monsters. Where you might expect them to be catty or competitive, they repeatedly come to each other’s aid.
While running less than an hour long, Lost in New York sometimes feels like being left on call waiting. The back of the DVD box describes it as a “modern-day Alice in Wonderland” but Wonderland is New York, and other than the means by which they got there, there’s nothing (abnormally) unusual about the place. What Marie and Michèle* don’t count on is being separated and the film is them trying to find each other again. While you’re aware that time is passing, because their outfits change, Rollin never shows them breaking from their search. As far as the film is concerned, they don’t need to sleep or work or do anything that isn’t looking for each other.
It’s cool to see female friendship get the romantic comedy treatment, and the visuals are beautiful. The film just starts to feel bloated with shots of the city. As a bonus feature, it’s a welcome addition to an already stellar disk, which is available now from Kino Lorber and Redemption.
* The actors aren’t credited with their roles in the credits but I believe Marie and Michèle are played by Catherine Herengt and Catherine Lesret as young adults, and Adeline Abitbol and Funny Abitbol as children.*