DIRECTED BY: Jean Rollin
FEATURING: Jean-Marie Lemaire, Franca Maï, Brigitte Lahaie, Fanny Magier
PLOT: A highwayman burns his fellow brigands and holes up in a chateau, where he meets two
seductive women who are expecting mysterious guests at midnight.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s one of Rollin’s most polished and conventional horror movies; the surrealistic dalliances are kept to a minimum, and the rough edges of his earlier lesbian vampire films (like the crazy Nude Vampire) have been smoothed out. That makes it a good choice for fans atmospheric horror of with lots of sex—who will find it a fairly odd period terror–but lacks true fascination for the weird film fan.
COMMENTS: Fascination starts out fascinatingly enough, with a woman opening a tome on witchcraft and caressing the pages sensually with her lace-sleeved hands, followed by a credits sequence with two women waltzing on a stone bridge. After this prologue comes an eye-widening first scene where two women—one dressed in bridal white and the other in funereal black—stand in a slaughterhouse and drink ox’s blood as a doctor helpfully informs them, “today, in April 1905, we find it’s the best way to cure anemia.” Unfortunately for lovers of the bizarre, however, the ride smooths out after that opening and we get a familiar-feeling story about a desperate man who seeks refuge in a house inhabited by fairy tale femme fatales. This is a well made film: as per usual with Rollin, the cinematography, sexual choreography, locations (featuring another memorable château, this time isolated on an island with a stone bridge being the only approach) and music (ranging from medieval inspired chants to waltzes to heavy horror cues) are all top notch. But lovers of the bizarre will find this love triangle in a misty universe of sex and death only mildly titillating; devotees of erotic Eurohorror will get far more satisfaction from the ample female flesh on display (the stage blood, on the other hand, is both thin and rare for this type of production). Fascination does show remnants of Rollin’s slightly illogical, dreamlike signature style, with impassioned romances compressed into hours and a clueless protagonist who remains irrationally cocky even as evidence mounts that things are not as they seem. Characters say things like “beware, death sometimes takes the form of seduction” and “the love of blood may be more than that of the body in which it flows” and “it’s all very melodramatic…” Brigitte Lahaie supplies Fascination‘s highlight when she transforms into a buxom grim reaper; armed with a scythe, she goes on a killing spree wrapped only in a thin black cloak that reveals her bosom when the slightest breeze blows. The fatalistic (if predictable) final scene, set in what seems to be some sort of bizarre, cavernous aviary, is also a keeper. For the most part, however, Fascination is a polished product, containing little that the mainstream horror fan would find alienatingly weird. Predictably, this leads some to proclaim it Rollin’s best film. But the absence of surreal gambles doesn’t make it his best; it merely prevents it from being his worst.
Although she’s not the featured star, curvaceous and sensual Brigitte Lahaie steals the show, ruling the screen whenever she’s on it. Lahaie began her career in hardcore porn, in the era when adult films had scripts and the players actually acted in between sex scenes. Rollin, who also directed adult films to pay the bills, gave her her first role in a horror film in 1978’s The Raisins of Death, then gave her a larger part in Fascination. Although France’s top adult actress at the time, Lahaie always seemed too beautiful, elegant and talented for porn, and she indeed retired from hardcore in 1980. She appeared mainly in horror and softcore films afterwards, but landed a bit part in the NC-17 arthouse hit Henry and June (1990) and a small but memorable role in the very weird Calvaire (2004). She currently hosts a French radio talk show about sexuality. Fascination may well mark the high point of her acting career.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The sex scenes are more intense and explicit than Rollin’s previous horror outings but remain suffused with a heady surrealism that makes the encounters play like animated works of art… this DVD is a sight for sore eyes and should serve as a nice aid for introducing new viewers to Rollin’s strange, wonderful cinematic world.”–Mondo Digital (DVD)