Monday, April 4, 2011

Jean Rollin's Fascination (1979)

Some find the experience of tasting blood to be exciting, sexually arousing, and empowering. A condition known as “clinical vampirism” is an obsession for consuming blood due to a belief in its ability to grant life enhancing vitality. Given the awareness of this vampiric tendency in some, it’s not surprising that history is filled with unsolved murders of victims who appear to have been killed under conditions strongly suggestive of vampirism. Jean Rollin’s 1979 opus FASCINATION is an interesting and bewitching take on the idea of craving blood that is coupled with the director’s superior visual style and erotic nature.
Jean Rollin’s FASCINATION is an intriguing tale set in 1905 that begins with mesmerizing visuals that captivate and draw the viewer in, before the story unfolds. At the start, we are treated to the lovely sight of an antique phonograph set on a bridged pathway over a body of water where two women in white (Brigitte Lahaie and Franca Mai) are enjoying a ballroom style dance. Elsewhere on a different day in a bloody butcher house, high society women in fancy dress stand around and participate in the “latest fashion” of drinking ox blood as a therapy for anemia, which I felt to be an interesting take on vampirism, and it also feels like a mockery of sorts for wine tasting clubs. The beautiful but grim sight of these ladies drinking blood from a wine glass standing in a pool of blood is a darkly poetic visual done in a way only Rollin could and is an image that will stick with you forever. 


Take care to not get blood on those expensive looking dresses

The unfortunate protagonist of the story, Marc (Jean-Marie Lemaire), is a well-dressed swindler fleeing from a group of bandits after double crossing them and making off with a bounty of gold. The pursuit leads him to take cover in the same chateau where the lovely maidens from before were enjoying a dance on the water bridge.

 
Here is where the bulk of the film takes place, a beautiful chateau amidst a picturesque setting of fog, water, and winter trees, with a long water bridge that serves as the only way in and the only way out. The doom themed music reverberating during Marc’s flight, as he draws ever closer to the mansion, definitely suggests that he is headed to a far more deadly destination. The situation Marc ultimately finds himself in at the chateau is a lot of fun and very interesting, and it also proves that the film is not just excellent eye candy but a great story as well.

 
After searching around the chateau’s very nicely decorated Gothic interior, he comes across two women in white, Eva and Elisabeth (Lahaie and Mai), who claim to be cleaning and preparing the chateau before the owners return from Paris. Being the man with the gun, he immediately takes over and locks the two ladies up so he can count his gold and think of a plan for losing his enemies outside. It should be obvious that there is a lot more to Eva and Elisabeth than meets the eye, because they somehow manage to have fun with their current situation.


Outside the chateau the bandits bide their time, choosing not to enter, waiting until nightfall. It may seem odd that they don’t go in after him, but it’s best to go with the fact that they are just awaiting the right moment to strike. 
After Marc locks Eva and Elisabeth up in one of the Chateau’s rooms, Elisabeth grabs a key hidden under a decorative fabric and shows it to Eva, and they laugh as if this is just a silly game. Without any worry or regard for their current situation, they begin to kiss and caress each other before the pistol wielding swindler walks in and witnesses the endearing sight and smiles while proclaiming “I see that I don’t frighten you anymore”. They admirably respond to him in a sarcastic manner as he annoyingly slams the door. Apparently these ladies aren’t going to let this guy ruin their fun, and the previous thought is continued as they embrace each other in a wonderful dim lighted love scene, made quite relaxing with a lovely piano theme.

 
After being distracted a bit, the story is back under way as Marc enjoying the sight and feel of his gold is startled to get a kiss on the neck from behind by Eva, whom he believed to be locked up. “I just wanted to kiss you she says”, as it’s becoming apparent that these two captive maidens are starting to play some serious mind games with their captor. They ultimately take control of the situation with their cleverness and charm and shower the man with generosity by seducing him and allowing him the pleasure of having intercourse with Eva, who even marches outside afterwards and disposes of his enemies. This is by first fooling the bandits by offering them the gold bounty before offing them in style with a scythe while dressed as death. Why are these two being so generous to him? Is it to get the gold, or is it something far more sinister?


The film has been great so far, but the best is yet to come. 
It turns out there is a reason they are keeping him there. Apparently the staff won’t be coming back for another two days and another mysterious company is expected at nightfall. After recalling the women in the slaughter house at the beginning of the film, I can’t help think that Marc may not be so lucky after all. 
When night falls, a colorful set of visitors in visually appealing Gothic attire arrive, which is suspiciously suggestive of vampire mythology. Are they really vampires or just a strange cult of blood drinkers who may want to try something a little different than ox blood? The film never makes it clear, but I figure that was the intention.

 
The arrival of these classy bizarre guests as they cross the Chateau’s water bridge is the turning point of the film and things begin to get real interesting since Marc is the only male amongst this female gathering. Now that it’s one man and seven flirtatious young ladies apparently looking to have a good time, he decides to have fun and make the best of his current situation. I mean how often does this sort of thing happen? And even though he is suspicious of the strange scenario, he’s not fully convinced that he’s in any real danger at all. How events unfold from here I’ll leave for you to check out.

 
FASCINATION is a great film from Jean Rollin who’s never disappointed me as far as the horror films are concerned. I found this film to be a goldmine for great screen grabs, and I personally believe that numerous frames in FASCINATION are great cinematographic works of art that should be displayed in some art museum. While it may not be groundbreaking, the story of Marc’s strange escapades in a human mouse trap (figuratively speaking) is very entertaining. Sexy, funny, beautiful, atmospheric, brimming with mystery, and sort of creepy, Rollin’s FASCINATION really has it all, and I honestly can’t think of much reason to dislike it. RIP and thank you Mr. Rollin.

"At midnight, You'll see what seven women can do to a lone man!"--Elisabeth/Franca Mai

4 comments:

  1. I'm as great an admirer as the late M. Rollin ever had, and this is his absolute best film (and by a substantial margin). It's one of the few on which he had a decent budget and adequate prep time, and shows what he could have accomplished had he ever been given access to greater resources. Unfortunately, it bombed on its initial release in France, as an internal political battle among distributors resulted in most of its bookings being canceled. It was left to die.

    I like your idea of displaying frames from it in a museum. Rollin's staging is superb--it's one incredible image after another. You picked an image of the girls hunkered together as if in fear. Even more extraordinary is the one in which they're brandishing a blade, and telling their "captor" they're not to be toyed with.

    When Brigitte Lahaie, one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen, dons the riding cloak and takes up the scythe, she becomes the focus of the most memorable images in a whole movie full of memorable images. The concluding shot of the sequence, with her standing on the bridge over her final victim, is just breathtaking. She twists, raises the blade to a "present arms," and walks back to the chateau, like a figurine of death making its rounds in an old clock that has just struck midnight.

    Rollin is a master of lurid cinematic poetry, and its shameful that, in spite of repeated requests, I've never written anything substantial about him. If possible, I'm going to have to remedy this soon.

    Great write up. Ever seen LIPS OF BLOOD? Probably his second-best movie, but there are few clunkers in his non-porn output.

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  2. Hi, thanks for reading and I’m glad you liked it, and thanks for your comment, it’s a great deal of additional depth to this blog write up of Rollin’s wonderful film, and I appreciate it. I agree with you that Fascination is Rollin’s best and it’s practically my favorite from him. I’ve seen Lips of Blood, which for me was an interesting portrayal of obsession and pursuit of childhood nostalgia, and I loved it.
    Judging from what you’ve written here I think a write up on Rollin by you is sorely needed and would likely be most fascinating.

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  3. I really need to see more of Jean Rollin's work. I've only seen "Two Orphan Vampires" which I really enjoyed (though quite a lot of people seem to think it's one of Rollin's worst) and that terrible zombie footage in "A Virgin Among the Living Dead".

    From what I gather, Rollin's style has remained relatively consistent over the years. I would hardly have noticed that this was made in 1979 and Orphan was made in 1995. Argento's films on the other hand, seem to look cheaper and cheaper as the decades go by (judging by the Dracula 3D trailers, I'm scared to see any of his future input).

    Fascination looks, well, fascinating! *ba-dum tss* That cover with the reaper is an attention grabber and the story sounds very interesting.

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    1. I'm not as hard of a critic on Two Orphan Vampires as most, but I wouldn't recommend it as being a good place to start exploring Rollin's work. Fascination, on the other hand, is one of the better places to look as well as The Shiver of the Vampires. Aesthetically, Rollin's work is extremely consistent; I imagine you've noticed this consistent use of the attached two girls, inseparable like sisters, especially in Two Orphan Vampires. It's used a lot and, I could be wrong, is something I've rarely seen elsewhere, save maybe Don't Deliver us from Evil. While sometimes the attached pair are lesbians, like in Fascination; I feel it is more of a fascination (ha ha there we go again) with the sisterly bond. In The Living Dead Girl the pair were childhood friends who even after death were inseparable (with beautifully tragic results), and in The Demoniacs the couple were so inseparable that powerful forces from beyond aided in keeping them together and delivering their retribution. Even being drawn over to the dark vampire side couldn't split the couple in Requiem for a Vampire. I hope you get around to exploring most of Rollin's work, especially the horror output, I honestly think you'll be impressed.

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