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on January 26, 2004
Jean Rollin is a name instantly recognizable to hardcore horror genre fans, but meaningless to nearly everyone else. That is too bad because this French director concocted some of the sleaziest, most unusual films ever made during the 1970s and 1980s, films usually imbued with hypersexuality and bloody violence. I have often tossed Rollin's name around in impolite company with seeming aplomb even though I had never seen even one of the man's films. You read enough plot synopses about someone and you start to feel as though you know every intimate detail about their work. What I did hear from others about this director oftentimes did not bode well. He is apparently well versed in schlock filmmaking--which in and of itself is not a problem with me, a true lover of bad cinema--but several of his films continue to draw raves from a selected minority of genre fans. Well, I finally sat down with a Jean Rollin film, his 1979 effort "Fascination," and was pleasantly surprised with the results. As I viewed the film with a growing sense of intrigue, I began mentally composing a list of other films from this director that I should watch in the near future.
"Fascination," set in rural France sometime in the early twentieth century, is a story about vampires. Initially, this plot did not interest me. Vampire films have been done to death over the years, and I rarely express any interest in this popular mainstream staple. I plunged ahead anyway. A gang of criminals roams the countryside, waylaying and robbing hapless travelers who happen to pass by. Simultaneously, at a nearby castle, a group of women who regularly drink blood in order to stay young plan a very special nocturnal gathering. These two seemingly diverse events converge in the form of Mark (Jean-Marie Lemaire), the leader of the band of robbers who suddenly decides to double cross his companions. In the ensuing chase, Mark barely escapes with his life by seeking refuge in the aforementioned castle. As his partners in crime lurk outside, Mark meets two young, beautiful women named Elisabeth and Eva in the castle (Franca Mai and Brigitte Lahaie respectively). At first, he holds them hostage, but he slowly lets his guard down as he gets to know these two on a personal level. Elisabeth and Eva keep mentioning a mysterious gathering of women about to take place in the castle this very evening, but Mark is too busy fending off his enemies outside to take much note of this talk. When the other women do show up, the criminal takes great joy in playing games with these enigmatic ladies. The conclusion of the film has several interesting twists and turns, but it is sufficient to say that several members of the cast meet their doom by the time the credits roll.
What I liked best about "Fascination" is the style. If I had to choose something to compare with Rollin's film, I would say Paul Morrissey's "Blood for Dracula" and "Flesh for Frankenstein" most closely resemble "Fascination." The set pieces look great in a chintzy way, the costumes look nice as well, and a mood of brooding despondency hangs like a pall over the whole film. Like the characters in Morrissey's two films, the cast of "Fascination" gives off a distinct sensation of seediness. The people in this film exude decadence. Moreover, the behavior exhibited by Mai, Lahaie, and several of the actresses certainly add an element of sleaze to the general proceedings: "Fascination" overflows with gratuitous nudity and soft-core sex. This contrast between lowbrow behavior and plush scenery gives Rollin's movie a distinctive flair. Sure, the whole thing looks like it was shot on a shoestring budget, but at the same time it looks better than its financial limitations.
The DVD version released by Image does offer a few extras, such as a Rollin filmography and a few trailers. All of the dialogue is in French but adequately subtitled. In fact, the language of the film is one of the things that impressed me. I know a bit of French, and I could follow along with most of the dialogue because the actors spoke slowly enough for me to understand what they were saying. I don't know if this was due to the wooden performances of the cast or because I just clicked with the language. Either way, it was kind of neat to listen to a film in French and understand the darn thing. Digressions aside, "Fascination" was, to me, a fascinating film well worth watching again. If nothing else, tune in to see a semi-nude Brigitte Lahaie swinging a cheesy looking scythe on the drawbridge of the castle, a scene that must be seen to be believed.