Monday, August 22, 2016

Maps to the Stars (2014)

One of David Cronenberg’s biggest strengths as a filmmaker has always been the ability to contort reality by introducing slightly futuristic concepts into what were otherwise fairly real world situations. In early films like Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977), a man made parasite and surgical advances caused an outbreak of sexual mania and a unique form of vampyrism of sorts. With Videodrome (1983), technology really came to the forefront with the “watching is better than living” idea of television causing hallucinations, an idea Cronenberg would expand upon using video games and virtual reality in eXistenZ (1999). While not a “genre” film per-say, the fetishization of metal colliding with flesh in Crash (1996) also has a slight sci-fi bend to it. Psychology has always been of the biggest weapons in Cronenberg’s armory and with films like Dead Ringers (1988), Spider (2002) and A History of Violence (2005), it’s the psychology of the characters that distort the perceptions of what’s real and unreal with the protagonists of said films either living in their own self-created realities or slowing slipping into one. Maps to the Stars is a logical continuation of films like Spider, A History of Violence and Cosmopolis (2012), shining a darkly humorous and at times uncomfortable light into the minds and worlds of the Hollywood elite in what has to be one of Cronenberg’s most demented films and easily his best since Spider.

Fresh off a lengthy stay in a mental asylum, Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), a badly burned schizophrenic arrives in Hollywood. Thanks to an online correspondence with Carrie Fisher, Agatha is able to land a job as a personal assistant to Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an aging starlet desperate to land a role in a biopic playing the part of her dead mother, a former actress who’s ghost constantly haunts Havana. Pop psychotherapist Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), the father of both Agatha and Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), a 13 year old child star and recovering addict, doesn’t take too kindly to the news of his estranged daughters arrival in town as it threatens to let known a dark secret, the consequences of which would spell disaster for all involved.

If Mulholland Drive (2001) was David Lynch’s love letter to Hollywood then Maps to the Stars could be considered Cronenberg’s break up letter. While its true that Cronenberg gleefully gives tinsel town and the big personalities it can create a proper skewering, saying that the film is solely about Hollywood would be selling the film short. By and large, Cronenberg seems more interested in exploring the self-involved, insular worlds these characters have created for themselves. Its not always a pretty picture, with there seemingly being no low any of the characters won’t sink too which is where the film gets its perverse sense of humor from with several moments that are sure to make many question whether to laugh or cringe. As funny as the film is, there is also an element of Greek tragedy to it all with the final moments of the film being equally touching as it is twisted. Cronenberg also has the film take the occasional foray into hallucinatory territory with multiple characters seeing visions of the departed and his use of schizophrenia here is interesting when contrasted to how the condition was portrayed, although never named, in a past film. The performances are all around brilliant with Moore being more than deserving of her best actress award at Cannes by relishing in Havana’s despicable nature, but stealing the show with ease is Evan Bird as the egotistical rotten little bastard child star who’s deadpan delivery of many of the films best, awkwardly hilarious lines is just pitch perfect.

Longtime Cronenberg fans will no doubt spot the films connection to The Brood (1979) by way of Stafford Weiss’ very psychical approach to psychotherapy which echoes the psychoplasmic practices of Dr. Hal Raglan in The Brood. Cronenberg also has a wink to his previous film Cosmopolis by casting Robert Pattinson (which is sure to hilariously irritate the same people that scoffed at his casting in Cosmopolis) in a role as a limo driver as opposed to having him reside in the backseat of one for the majority of the film ala Cosmopolis. Much like Cosmopolis, Maps to the Stars was a hard sell with Cronenberg trying unsuccessfully for several years to get it made. Cronenberg stated “…it's a very difficult film to get made as was Cosmopolis actually. Whether I can get this movie to happen, I tried it five years ago, I couldn't get it made, so I still might not be able to get it made." and Maps To The Stars is very extreme. It's not obviously a very big commercial movie, and even as an independent film it's difficult.” So perhaps it could be considered a miracle that it did get made as its yet another example of Cronenberg’s ability to still make films that are not only as off center and challenging as his classic work but wipe the floor with the dreck that passes for cinema these days.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Night in Nude: Salvation (2010)

The cinematic landscape of Takashi Ishii is filled with several reoccurring motifs whether they be represented visually via his obsession with torrential rainfall and neon drenched lighting which are found in virtually everyone of his films, or thematically, for instance his predilection for sadomasochism in films such as Flower and Snake (2004) and Sweet Whip (2013). One particular idea that Ishii is constantly exploring no matter what genre he may be working in is just how rotten the human race can be to itself and there is a great sadness running throughout all his work. Ishii has never shied away exposing the physical and psychological trauma humans inflict on each other and more often than not its women who are on the receiving end of the abuse. This has led to many westerners dismissing Ishii as a misogynist while in Japan Ishii is applauded by many feminists and its easy to see why, as all of Ishii’s films are incredibly heartfelt and it should be glaringly obvious that Ishii is always on the side of his female protagonists as evidenced by films like Angel Guts: Red Vertigo (1988), Freeze Me (2000) and Sweet Whip. A Night in Nude: Salvation, Ishii’s sequel to A Night in Nude (1993), is one of Ishii’s most potent plunges into the abyss of human cruelty and yet another example of Ishii’s sensitivity while dealing with wounded female psyches.

Jiro (Naoto Takenaka), an odd job man willing to take on any task depending on the payment, is approached by Ren (Hiroko Sato), a young woman asking him to locate a missing Rolex. Although skeptical of her story, that the watch was accidentally dropped out of a helicopter while scattering her late fathers ashes, Jiro accepts and finds the watch. Impressed by Jiro's never asking questions, Ren goes to him again for another job, to locate the whereabouts of a missing girl named Tae whom Ren credits with having saved her life. Jiro once again accepts and the further he gets into his investigation of Tae, the more over his head he finds himself in Ren and her family’s strange and dangerous world of sex and murder.

To the uninitiated, A Night in Nude: Salvation (Nûdo no yoru: Ai wa oshiminaku ubau, ヌードの夜 愛は惜しみなく奪う) will probably seem like a barrage of nihilism and exploitation and there is quite a bit of truth to that idea. The film is one of Ishii’s bleakest projections of his worldview, presenting a vision of Japan where the rain never stops, human bodies are nothing more than a form of currency and the concept of family is perverted and synonymous with nothing but suffering. At the same time, those already familiar with Ishii will recognize an attempt at understanding the behavior of the characters, specifically Ren. Ren is one of the Ishii’s most tormented creations and the more time Ishii spotlights her family, the more her reasoning becomes apparent which makes the involvement of Jiro all the more gripping and ultimately tragic. Ishii’s way of setting up the story is a bit deceptive with the mystery of Tae quickly revealing itself to not be much of a mystery at all. Instead of loosing its momentum, Ishii’s letting the audience know more than the characters beforehand gives the film even more, with the mystery being how will the main players react to certain situations and just what depths will they sink too. The sheer bizarreness of Jiro’s journey down the rabbit hole make the film all the more fascinating and Ishii even finds time for some pitch black humor thanks to the lunatic antics of Ren’s family and their nonchalant attitudes towards some fairly risky activities.

In what instantly became one of the most infamous moments in Ishii’s oeuvre and a make a break factor for many viewers, Ishii has lead actress Hiroko Sato repeatedly flagellate herself for an extended period of time. It’s an exhausting sequence and while many have complained about the length and indulgence of the scene, Ishii brilliantly uses the scene to give a glimpse into Ren’s state of mind and the harrowing voice-overs heard throughout make it a scene of immense self-loathing and emotional purging. The scene is not only a testament to Ishii’s unique way of handling some pretty loaded subject matter but also the phenomenal performance of Hiroko Sato who follows in the footsteps of a long line of fearless actresses like Harumi Inoue (who appears here as one of Ren’s demented sisters), Aya Sugimoto and Mai Kitajima who’ve gone through the psychical and psychological ringer for Ishii with astonishing results. As good as Naoto Takenaka is in his 9th role for Ishii reprising his role as Jiro the handyman from Ishii’s first Night in Nude, as is often the case in an Ishii film, it’s the female who gets center stage and Sato leaves a lasting impression. Despite being a sequel, A Night in Nude: Salvation works perfectly on its own and is further proof of Ishii’s willingness to go to places most contemporary directors don’t have the nerve to go.

Monday, July 25, 2016

One Missed Call (2003)

Its funny how trends come and go in the horror genre. These days, its hollow patchwork "homage" films and remakes of classics and it would appear that Hollywood has gotten so bored of remaking films that have passed the 30 year range that plans are in motion to remake films from the 90’s. In the late 90’s and mid to early 2000’s however, Asian horror was all the rage. Clearly the most popular country of origin during the Asian horror boom was Japan and in particular Japanese films belonging to that specific faction of J-horror dealing with vengeful poltergeists with the most popular examples being the Ringu (The Ring) and Ju-on (The Grudge) series of films and of course their Americanized remakes that just had to follow. While Takashi Miike is rightfully considered a master of Japanese horror, he interestingly chose to stay away from these types of films for the most part with his horror films from around the time period covering a wide variety of styles from the dramatic Audition (1999), to the over the top zombie/musical/comedy hybrid The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) and the surreal and abstract Gozu (2003). Miike did eventually throw his hat in J-horror ghost story ring in 2003 with One Missed Call, a film that hits all the right notes of the subgenre making it stand out in a crowded sea of similarly themed films.

Yumi, a young psychology student witnesses her friend Yoko receive a missed call notice on her cell phone. Strangely, the call was dated two days in the future and sent from Yoko’s own number and the voice on the message appears to be Yoko’s own, in mid-conversation before letting out a blood-curdling scream. Two days later while walking home and talking to Yumi on her cell, Yoko is suddenly killed by an oncoming train. Not long after, another friend of Yumi’s confesses to getting the same missed call notice and is immediately killed in front of Yumi which is followed yet again by another one of Yumi’s friends receiving the call. Yumi eventually meets Yamashita, who’s sister was one of the first victims of the cursed call and soon enough Yumi too gets the call as the two set out to uncover the origin behind the calls in hopes of saving Yumi from the fate of her friends.

Although relatively straightforward on the surface, One Missed Call (Chakushin ari, 着信アリ) could nevertheless be interpreted in a few ways. Detractors of the film dismiss it as a mere Ringu rip off while others see the film as a parody of the J-horror craze of the time. The later is somewhat understandable given the films almost hilariously familiar trajectory as similar films however the film seems more like a deconstruction of J-horror, as if Miike took all the familiar tropes of the subgenre that were prevalent at the dawn of the new millennium and said “Now this is how its done!” and therefore as a stand alone horror film, One Missed Call knocks it out of the park. Despite being one of Miike’s more commercially minded films when compared to the likes of Ichi the Killer (2001) or Visitor Q (2001), the film isn’t exactly lighthearted even with some well placed humorous commentary on the media and one very over the top death scene. Much like Audition and even Imprint (2006), there is a feeling of great sadness that hovers over the entire film with virtually every character dealing with some kind of past trauma and Miike finds a way to brilliantly fuse Yumi’s tragic past with the exceptionally grim origin of the cursed phone calls which culminates in a scene which turns from horrifying to heartbreaking in a matter of seconds. This overwhelming gloom is further emphasized by the films equally bleak visual design and a general feeling of unease and unusualness.

Yasushi Akimoto's novel, the cover
of which was the basis for the poster
art for the American remake.
Considering its subject matter and the time period in which it was released, its almost as if Miike was begging an American studio to remake the film which is exactly what happened in 2008 which funnily enough was a few years after the J-horror craze in the west began to cool off a bit. Unsurprisingly the remake is considered a failure in pretty much every area and is normally classified as one of the worst American remakes of a Japanese film. In Japan the original film spawned two sequels although Miike didn’t return to direct any of them. What’s also interesting is that while the film is technically based on a novel by Yasushi Akimoto, the script for the film and the book were written side by side with both differing from each other in various ways. According to Miike, he was forced to make some compromises while making the film and that if he had it his way the film would have probably turned out more in the vein of Gozu. Nevertheless the film still retains several of Miike’s signatures and again manages to do something personal even with the tried and true premise. Definitely one of the best films J-horror has to offer and a peculiar film for Miike that, despite its relative lack of eccentricities normally associated with Miike, still fits right in with many of his other horror films.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Crimes of Passion (1984)

While there have been exceptions, for the better part of the past 20 or so years it seems as if Hollywood and American films in general have stopped caring about taking chances in terms of material, choosing to stay stagnant in a sterile CGI/green screen rut. It might seem strange that there was once a point in time however when a Hollywood film with several million dollars behind it could cause a major stir, draw the ire of the MPAA and be completely subversive. Paul Verhoeven for example had this down to a science with films like RoboCop (1987), Showgirls (1995) and Starship Troopers (1997), films infamous for their content but for their intelligence as well. William Friedkin’s notorious Cruising (1980) also immediately springs to mind. So its not entirely surprising that Ken Russell would be invited to Hollywood to make Altered States (1980), although Russell’s reputation as a result of his clashes with Paddy Chayefsky who adapted to screenplay from his own novel not only led to Chayefsky taking his name off the film, in the process Russell found himself becoming a persona non grata of sorts in Hollywood. Never one to let reputation get in the way, Russell again managed to cause a major fuss with his follow-up to Altered States, 1984’s Crimes of Passion, one of Russell’s most outrageous films and at the same time one of his most heartfelt.

Electronics salesman Bobby Grady (John Laughlin) is hired by a fashion designer to do some nighttime surveillance trailing one of his employees, Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner) whom he believes is stealing from him. While following Joanna, a serious, no nonsense business woman by day, Bobby is shocked to learn that at night Joanna takes to the streets as China Blue, a sharp tongued prostitute willing to fulfill any fantasy. Bobby, who’s marriage to his high school sweetheart Amy is in shambles, pays Joanna, as China Blue, a personal visit and soon finds himself falling for the real Joanna, all the while Joanna is being relentlessly pursued by reverend Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins), a psychotic preacher obsessed with “saving” her.

Crimes of Passion is a blunt as a film can be in the way it presents it ideas yet at the same time can still be a bit difficult to get a read on in that while its subject matter is incredibly heavy, this is also a Ken Russell film filled to the brim with bizarre and flamboyant moments. On a purely surface level, this is a film about sex, however deep down its really a film about fear. Bobby’s fear of admitting his marriage has lost whatever spark it may have had, Amy’s fear of admitting her lack of interest in sex and Joanna’s fear of being herself and letting anyone into her life in an intimate manner outside of her China Blue persona. Its these things which give the film its heart, particularly in the dialogue department. The discussions of sex are frank and at times awkward yet purposely so, for instance in a brilliantly performed scene between Bobby and Amy where the two are finally honest with each other for the first time in what seems like ages. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be the back and fourths between China Blue and Reverend Shayne, which are just fierce but also darkly comic and the film does have a tendency to bounce back and forth between being a serious drama, erotic thriller and absurdist comedy and the later takes over every time Perkins is on screen in one of the most hilariously deranged performance ever captured on film.

Russell would return to similar territory and controversy later in his career with Whore (1991) which in many ways could be seen as somewhat of a sequel to Crimes of Passion with its pull no punches look at the life of a streetwalker mixed with the occasional moment of Russell oddness, although nothing that comes close to the lunacy that is Perkins in Crimes of Passion. Whore also features a typically fearless performance from Theresa Russell just as Crimes of Passion features Kathleen Tuner in one of her most iconic and greatest roles, no hyperbole. Aesthetically however the films are worlds apart with Whore being no frills and shot documentary style whereas Crimes of Passion is smothered in flashy neon lighting and 80’s kitsch even featuring a random moment of classic Russell surrealism represented by a television commercial and the film is equally defined by its gloriously 80’s synth score via Rick Wakeman. Despite the controversy surrounding the film upon its original release, it would appear that the film has been somewhat forgotten about over the years especially when compared to other Russell titles like Women in Love (1969), The Devils (1971) or Tommy (1975) just to name a few. Both perverted and poignant with astounding performances from Turner and Perkins, Crimes of Passion is a quintessentially Russell experience and deserves to hailed as one of his best films and a 80’s highlight.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Door into Silence (1991)

Popular consensus seems to dictate that the 90’s were a down time for horror following the massive boom of the 70’s and 80’s. Italian horror found itself in a particularly interesting place at the dawn of the 90’s with many fans feeling that as the 80’s drew to a close, the Italian horror industry began to decline, despite the emergence of new blood like Michele Soavi and films like Stage Fright (1987) and The Church (1989) and Gianfranco Giagni’s The Spider Labyrinth (1988). While Dario Argento remained on top in terms of popularity and box office draw, other Italian masters like Sergio Martino began to move away from horror and concentrate on TV work while others like Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi continued to make horror films going into the 90’s only to basically retire from features by the mid-90’s. Despite numerous health setbacks, Lucio Fulci stayed the course throughout the 80’s and going into the 90’s. Even though his post-New York Ripper (1982) films are often looked down upon, several of Fulci’s films from this period are nonetheless interesting and some rather personal, A Cat In the Brain (1990) immediately springs to mind. Although it wasn’t intended to be, 1991’s Door into Silence would eerily and prophetically wind up being Fulci’s final film and its an effective, low key little chiller that essentially see’s Fulci looking the inevitable right in the eyes.

After a pit stop to visit his fathers grave, real estate agent Melvin Devereux (John Savage) sets out on his return home to his wife following a business trip in New Orleans. With the main highway closed, Melvin is forced to take the back roads and along the way encounters a hearse which no matter how hard he tries is unable to pass. Melvin’s trip home soon take a turn for the unusual as he discovers a mysterious woman following him who claims to be “waiting” for him and begins to find himself in one strange situation after another. The more Melvin confronts the hearse on the road, the more obsessed he becomes with the contents of the casket inside, gradually turning his journey into a waking nightmare.

Door into Silence is often negatively compared to a feature length Twilight Zone episode and although those comparisons are dismissive of the film they're somewhat accurate in terms of the films trajectory. Much like a Twilight Zone episode, the film beings with a typical, everyday situation and gradually takes a turn for the freighting and its precisely what makes the film work as well as it does, Fulci’s turning of the mundane into something surreal. Stylistically, the film is an exercise in minimalism. There are long stretches of time in the film where seemingly nothing happens except Melvin driving, however Fulci uses these moments to really let the increasingly bizarre nature of Melvin’s day sink in. A common criticism of the film is its lack of mystery and its true that its fairly obvious where the film is headed but in a way Fulci makes it glairing apparent from the first few frames of the film. In the end, this is a film where the answer of where its heading is far less important than the way the question is asked, and Fulci poses the question in a variety of interesting ways. To his credit, Fulci also does pepper the film with instances which may make some question the films ultimate destination so its not entirely out in the open. The film was shot on location on the back roads and small towns of southern Louisiana, a place with a mystique unique unto itself making the eerie mood of the film very naturalistic.

The film was produced by Joe D’Amato’s Filmirage company who, amongst other things, also produced the infamous Troll 2 (1990) and if some of the music in the film sounds familiar its because certain pieces were lifted from Troll 2 although they’re quite effective here and surprisingly don’t clash with the phenomenal jazz music that makes up the rest of the score. Interestingly, D’Amato muse, Black Emmanuelle herself, Laura Gemser, is credited as the costume designer for the film just as she was for Troll 2. While D’Amato went on record saying the film was the best he produced, the film was barley released and where it was it was tinkered with by distributors who changed the music much to Fulci’s disappointment. The opening credits also read “Directed by H. Simon Kittay” as according to Fulci, one of the films distributors felt that Fulci wasn’t an in demand name at the time therefore nobody would want to see the film. Another fun fact, star John Savage and actress Sandi Schultz who plays the mystery women in the film were married in 1993. While Door into Silence may seem worlds apart from Fulci’s more famous horror titles, its nonetheless an interesting watch not simply because it was Fulci’s final film but also in the way it sees Fulci exploring a heavy subject that was clearly on his mind quite a bit at the time.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Demonia (1990)

AKA Liza

The mid to late 80’s going into the 90’s weren’t the easiest of times for Lucio Fulci. From 1971 to 1982 Fulci was on a serious role, with seemingly one classic after another ranging from giallos like A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), the brilliant spaghetti western Four of the Apocalypse (1975), and of course his string of horror masterpieces Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House By the Cemetery (1981) and The New York Ripper (1982). During the mid’80’s, Fulci became seriously ill and numerous heath problems would plague him for the rest of his life and there is a prevailing opinion that just like Fulci’s health, his films from this period also began to decline. Fulci would again fall ill during the filming of Zombi 3 (1988), his intended sequel to Zombie forcing exploitation stalwart Bruno Mattei to complete the film, its disastrous reputation now legendary. 1990’s Demonia was envisioned by Fulci as a comeback film of sorts, a supernatural horror film in the vein of his early 80’s classics featuring elements of the nunsploitation subgenre. Unfortunately the film failed to connect with viewers and is often cited as being one of Fulci’s worst films. A hyperbolic statement for sure as Demonia is a much more interesting film than its critics are willing to give it credit for.      

While in Sicily researching the ancient Greeks, Liza, a member of a team of archeologists finds herself drawn to an old monastery and while exploring discovers the remains of five crucified corpses. Already unwelcome by the superstitious locals, Liza faces even more hostility when inquiring about the monastery and is warned by the leader of her team to stay away. After being approached by a strange woman, Liza soon learns that the monastery was once home to five nuns who made a pact with Satan and were executed for their heresy by being crucified and burned at the stake, and Liza’s entering of the crypt has awakened their spirits who begin enacting their revenge on the current residents of the village.

If there’s one thing that’s bound to hold Demonia back in the eyes of many its that Fulci was clearly going for the same vibe found in films like City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, however the overwhelming sense of apocalypse that defined those films just isn’t present in Demonia. That’s not to say that the film is without mood. On the contrary, the film is defined by a feeling of oddness from very early on and the quintessential Fulci irrationality is ever present. Interestingly, the history of the nuns and the cursed monastery is detailed at great length yet Fulci still leaves enough room for some left over mystery. Another thing that is often mentioned as a negative is the films slow pacing with most of the “action” so to speak, involving the vengeful nuns reserved for the very end however this too works in the films favor in the sense that it plays out like a hazy, unusual sleepwalking session. The utter randomness of some of the scenarios also gives the film a feeling of surreality including a very memorable death scene involving a man being split in two halves by two trees. The films photography is also a main complaint for many, even Fulci himself claimed the film was ruined by it although the locations are stunning, particular the monastery and the interiors of the nuns crypt and Fulci adds some neat post production filtering during some dream sequences featuring Liza wandering near the monastery to hypnotizing effect.

Considering the circumstances, it’s a miracle the film was even completed at all. According to actor Grady Thomas Clarkson in an interview with horror writer Alan Jones for Eyeball, the production was bound to be a mess long before shooting began. Clarkson recounts that miscommunication was common due to none of the American actors being able to understand Fulci’s broken English and in a hilarious anecdote, Clarkson gives an example of just how low the films budget was due to the fact that the alcohol seen in the film was really ice tea and nobody was allowed to swallow it in order to avoid having to spend more money buying more tea, forcing Clarkson to ask “What sort of film are you making where you have to be fake drinking fake booze?!” In the piece Clarkson also recalls almost being killed for real during his death scene and just hammering the point home that Murphy’s law was in full effect during the shooting of the film. Still, despite all that went wrong, Demonia is far from Fulci’s worst film. Fulci fans who’ve put off seeing the film based on bad press should go in with an open mind. Let films like City of the Living Dead and The Beyond be what they are and let Demonia be what it is, which is a fun supernatural horror film with a welcome spoonful of nunsploitaion.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Fiancée of Dracula (2002)

Both Jean Rollin and Jess Franco are often mentioned in the same breath by both fans and critics of Euro cult cinema and the connection is understandable. While there are numerous differences in the way both approached filmmaking, there are some striking similarities which make the two kindred spirits. Rollin finishing the notorious Zombie Lake (1981) after Franco had abandoned the project not withstanding. A journey through the filmographies of both Rollin and Franco sees the gradual formation of personal cinematic worlds in which both relished retreating into with both returning time and time again to similar ideas, both thematically and visually, locations, obsessions and in several cases casting the same actors. In Rollin’s case, some of the usual suspects would be the constant use of two females as protagonists, cemeteries, the Dieppe beach, childhood nostalgia and of course, vampires. Despite Rollin’s and Franco’s constant returning to similar material never did it seem redundant. No matter how familiar the subject matter seemed both always approached it from a different angle and by the time the new millennium had arrived both men’s biggest influence had essentially become themselves with each film becoming more and more self-referential. Rollin followed up his return to the vampire subgenre, Two Orphan Vampires (1997) with Fiancée of Dracula, one of Rollin’s most surreal works and a film that once again finds Rollin drawing on his past is fresh ways.

While staking out a cemetery, a vampire expert professor and his assistant Thibault witness a dwarf calling upon his vampire lover and soon after accost the dwarf and begin interrogating him about his leader. Both the dwarf and his vampire woman are “parallel” creatures, supernatural beings living in the real world under the control of Count Dracula. Isabelle, a mysterious woman being held prisoner in a convent has been promised to Dracula, a union which the professor and Thibault are attempting to stop, however they’re plan is interrupted when Isabelle escapes the convent with the help of the parallel’s. Things become more complicated when Thibault begins falling for Isabelle as he and the professor face off against more parallel creatures in their desperate attempt to stop Isabelle’s marriage to Dracula and prevent her crossing over into Dracula’s parallel realm.

As is the case with most Rollin films, narrative cohesiveness takes a backseat to the visual poetry on display, however Fiancée of Dracula (La fiancée de Dracula, The Bride of Dracula) is nonetheless one of Rollin’s busiest films in terms of plot. There are several different things going on at once and each direction taken by the story only serves to make the film all the more bewildering and nonsensical with Rollin’s random stream of consciousness storytelling ultimately having the film cast the same beguiling spell Dracula has put Isabelle under on its audience. Again, the film see’s Rollin calling upon his past films for inspiration yet never once does the film seem pastiche as all the visual references take on a different context. The most recognizable visual motif would be the use of the vampire appearing from inside a grandfather clock ala The Shiver of the Vampires (1971), however in this film Dracula uses the clock as a portal of sorts transporting himself to several different areas via the clock and its use during the films finale on Rollin’s favorite beach recalls the climax of The Nude Vampire (1970). The film also sees Rollin expanding upon what he began with Two Orphan Vampires by adding other otherworldly creatures in the mix such as witches, an ogress and Brigitte Lahaie in the role a she-wolf. Rollin also incorporates a group of mad nuns who’s antics inject a healthy dose of absurd comedy into the film which only adds to its already off-center tone.

Along with all the visual cues, Rollin also harkens back to his debut feature film The Rape of the Vampire (1968) via the one of the lines of dialogue that ended that film when Isabelle recites “I am the small boy who went to look for your scarf by the sea… Dear, dear oh dear Cordelia!” This also doubles as a reference to Gaston Leroux and Phantom of the Opera. Leroux was clearly a major influence on the film. One particular line of dialogue repeated throughout the film and in some ways could be considered the films mantra, “The presbytery has lost none of its charms nor the garden its colors” is a line from Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room and Leroux’s Queen of the Sabbath is seen when Isabelle is introduced. Exactly what it all means is left open to interpretation but the way in which Rollin incorporates these literary influences within the engagement of Dracula and Isabelle give way to another Rollin trademark, the idea of doomed romanticism. Rollin would only make two more films before his passing, the deeply personal and even more self-referential La nuit des horloges (2007) and Le masque de la Méduse (2010). Despite all the health issues that may have held him back, a film like Fiancée of Dracula is proof positive that Rollin was still more than capable of delivering a surrealist masterpiece.