Fascination (1979)

A runaway criminal breaks into an eerie chateau, taking its two frightened chambermaids hostage. As night falls, a group of mysterious aristocratic women arrive and the criminal begins to realize the women are hiding a sinister secret.

FASCINATION is often described as a vampire film yet, like few other horror films, it is actually about blood fetishism. Set in 1905, the story concerns a group of aristocratic women who acquire more epicurean tastes after drinking ox’s blood as a cure for anemia.

Some erotic component was usually imposed on Rollin by meddling producers, forcing him to add ill-fitting sex scenes into his productions, but here – more so than anywhere else in his filmography – the erotic scenes feel truly organic to the story. Due in large part to the sensuality and chemistry of Brigitte Lahaie (a popular Euro porn star in her second legitimate role for Rollin) and Franca Mai (subsequently a singer, producer-director of short films, web mogul and novelist), they are also classically lovely and legitimately erotic.

Playful, elegantly crafted and brimming with some of the most unforgettable images in his filmography, FASCINATION embodies Jean Rollin at his very best – venturing outside his usual comfort zones and extending the definition of his filmic universe in the process
Fascination is a film about many things. There is the turn of the century French countryside setting that reflects Rollin’s adoration for all things extinct. There are the roguish characters with whom Rollin relates through his own refusal to completely bow to pressure from producers. There are the beautiful and bountiful women, in this case a bevy of them, including an actual adult film star. There is blood letting to spare, but not in the way that we are used to seeing it. Of course, there is also the most important characteristic of any Rollin film, there is atmosphere, and Fascination has it as much as any of the previous features.

This is no vampire film, though there is blood-drinking, the film is more about obsession than violence. Rollin here indulges his love of the antique by setting the whole film in the past, rather than sending his characters into antiquarian surroundings. The lead character, Marc, is our surrogate in the film, leading us through this strange scenario which at once baffles and amuses him, without him ever truly understanding his circumstances. He is seduced not only by the actual female characters in the film, but by the mystery they represent, and his seduction is our own. Every time things get a bit dull, either for Marc or the viewer, one of the leading ladies knows how regain our attention, and it works for both of us.

Fascination is the most erotically charged of this batch of Rollin’s work. The previous films certainly didn’t shy away from nudity or eroticism, but Fascination is much more blunt. Perhaps it was the fact that by this phase in his career, Rollin had developed a style that lent itself to soft core films more and more as he sought the production funds to complete his projects. The sex became a game of tit-for-tat, the more tits he shoehorned in, the more of his own ideas he could leave in the film. In Fascination, the sex doesn’t feel as forced as it could, but it is a bit out of place on occasion.

Upon my first viewing of this film, I found myself struggling a little bit to remain engaged at first, however, around the halfway point, the film picks up significantly and the third act is a thing of beauty. For all of the artifice that Rollin utilizes in the first half, the balances it out with a good deal of pulp over the back end, and it works wonders. In the end I felt the film to be riveting and possibly the most concise presentation of Rollin’s obsessions among the set. Obviously, I definitely recommend this one.