From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
This film validates the maxim that sometimes less is more. Much to Rollin’s credit, who directed and wrote the script for Fascination, the film uses minimalist tactics on several different fronts.
The story begins in a turn-of-the-century slaughterhouse. A small group of upper-class characters have been escorted there by a doctor who claims that drinking bull’s blood offers an efficient cure for anemia. One of the main characters, Elisabeth (Franka Mai) can be seen standing in front of a row of suspended beef carcasses. She is wearing a white dress that provides a stark contrast to large swath of viscera covering the floor beneath her feet. The essence of purity in the white dress dangling inches above the blood and raw bits of beef on the floor establish the symbolism of the film’s overall theme.
The narrative quickly jumps to a band of thieves who have just heisted someone’s stash of gold. The central figure of the scene is Mark (Jean-Marie Lemaire) who tells the crew that they should meet in a month to divvy up their loot. They read the suggestion as a double cross and he takes one of the bandit’s wives as hostage to make his hasty escape. Costume plays a part in this character as well, namely in his deep scarlet vest and jacket. Again, the symbol of blood enters into the theme. However, the symbolized element in Mark's red clothing only becomes apparent in the end of the film.
After Mark escapes, he stumbles onto a secluded chateau where he finds two comely young ladies who claim to be servants of the house. As the plot progresses, it becomes clear that they are more sinister than they appear. Rollin’s use of subdued wordiness and sexual overtones seems to lull the viewer into a false sense of understanding who is in control. Mark is the armed bandit, alpha male who believes he can leave the chateau anytime he pleases claiming that, “I’m just waiting until it gets dark.”
The two young women, Eva (Brigitte Lahaie) and Elisabeth, seem to be intimated by Mark at first however their confidence slowly surfaces and shows their timidity to be somewhat of an act. By the end of the film, it appears that the women have been in control of Mark the whole time. Tragically, he finds this out this out after it’s too late.
In addition to blood, Rollin’s also employs the theme of death into several notable scenes. While in the chateau, Elisabeth makes several mentions of guests who will be visiting the chateau that evening at midnight; each mention contradicts her intention from warning him to leave to encouraging him to stay. Mark finally asks, “Woman, I must know. Who will be coming tonight? Elisabeth appears to look directly at the camera and says, “Death.”
In the next scene, Rollin depicts Eva who has gone out to encourage the bandits (Mark’s acquaintances from the film’s opening) to leave. They force her into a nearby stable and she is summarily assaulted. She overcomes her attacker with a knife and then dons a black cloak and scythe to do away with the rest of the cohort. Rollins films her procession in well-framed extended shots emphasizing a “Grim Reaper” motif (one of the more striking images from the film). The effect is obvious enough that upon her reentry to the chateau, Mark asks Elisabeth, “Are you two having a joke?”
The remainder of the film unwinds as Eva’s and Elisabeth’s guests begin to arrive with the domineering Helene as the leader of the group. In the end, Mark understands the reality of everything he’s been told. Fortunately, Rollin chooses not to fully resolve the conflict of these strange women. He leaves the film open to interpretation and after its completion the protagonist of the film is never clearly identified.
Rollin applies an effective minimalist approach in both his direction and writing of this film. The film is predominantly absent of dialog. When characters do speak, their language is terse and direct. Major forms of communication for these characters include nonverbal queues such as facial expression, laughter, and posturing. In addition, most of the dialog is separated by long pauses although they do not seem awkward.
Directors are often hard pressed to fill the void of reduced dialog with more action. However, in Fascination, Rollin seems perfectly at ease letting each scene “breathe.” Not only does he allow his characters to be silent, but he also prevents each character from fidgeting. With the nature of Rollin’s previous films, it would seem that he was somehow restrained from filling every interlude with overt sexual activity. However, this is how he intended it.
In a May 1995 interview Peter Blumenstock, Rollin said, “My co-producer wanted me to make a very explicit sex film—straight exploitation fare without too much emphasis on the fantastical elements—so we had a constant battle during the shooting.” Rollin added that he liked Fascination very much. “It has a truly enigmatic, predatory atmosphere and some great images.” Rollin provides an artful approach throughout this film, and he does this without falling into an extreme.
Rollin credited French author Jean Lorrain’s short story “Un Verre de Sang” (“A Glass of Blood”), as the inspiration for Fascination. “That’s where I learned for the first time about wealthy French people at the turn of the century drinking the blood of bulls as a curative for anemia.”
With the incursion of so much silence throughout this film, Rollin employs some amazing alternatives to “dead air.” As with many art films, extreme amounts of silence can make for discomforting viewing. While Rollin admits that Fascination is "an arty" film, he does not move to far away from standard elements he is known for. In Fascination, he hones in on the effective use of ambient sound and shot perspectives to give the viewer more choices than just focusing on what’s being said. Throughout the film, Rollins juxtaposes wide, well-framed shots with extreme close ups of various physical features of each character although this technique is visible and should be viewed rather than described.
In addition to Rollins masterful direction, Fascination benefits from surprisingly decent portrayals from several of the films main actors. Namely, Lahaie, who up until Fascination, was primarily known for her roles in a number of hardcore porn films. Two years prior, she had worked with Jean Rollin in Vibrations Sexuelles (1977) and the previous year in The Grapes of Death (1978). She would continue to her hardcore career after Fascination, but had decidedly started to take on more main stream roles. Even in the late 1980s, Lahaie would appear in several Jess Franco productions including Faceless (1987) and Dark Mission (1988). However, Fascination remains as one of her standout roles.
Both Jean-Marie Lemaire (Mark) and Fanny Magier (Helene) had played parts in the Jess Franco’s co-directed (as A.M. Frank with Pierre Chevalier) SS Nazi Convoy (1978). Despite that film’s reviews, both Lamaire and Magier deliver believable performances in Fascination.
It is cliche to say, “If you’ve never seen a Jean Rollin film, start with Fascination.” However, cliches are born of truth. Fascination definitely has much to offer enthusiasts of erotic horror. While this film doesn’t fall short on eroticism, its subdued nature seems to make it all the more appealing.
Reviewed by Texploited