Saturday, February 27, 2016

#2,021. Fascination (1979)

Directed By: Jean Rollin

Starring: Franca Maï, Brigitte Lahaie, Jean-Marie Lemaire

Trivia: Several years before appearing in this movie, actress Brigitte Lahaie worked in France's adult film indutry

Trivia: In Greece, the movie was released as DEVILISH CHARM

Like many of director Jean Rollin’s films, Fascination features surreal imagery, nudity and sex, and lots of blood, all working in unison to relate a tale of the macabre that grows more mysterious with each passing scene.

The year is 1905. Marc (Jean-Marie Lemaire), a petty thief, has just swindled his partners out of their share of some gold coins. Looking for a place to hide, Marc stumbles upon a remote mansion that, at first glance, seems to be abandoned. Once inside, however, he finds two chambermaids, Elizabeth (Franka Mai) and Eva (the amazing Brigitte Lahaie), who are watching the place for their master, who won't be back for days. Knowing full well his angry cohorts are still lurking outside, Marc makes himself at home, yet can’t shake the feeling that there’s something peculiar about his two pretty companions, who, instead of fearing for their lives, are welcoming him with open arms. In fact, when Marc talks of sneaking away when the sun goes down, Eva seduces him in an effort to keep him there longer. What’s more, she tells Marc that others will be arriving for a party later in the evening, and he’s to be the guest of honor! Marc, whose curiosity has gotten the better of him, decides to stick around, ignoring the pleas of Elisabeth, who, claiming she has fallen in love with him, warns him that, if he doesn’t leave soon, he’ll be in the greatest of danger once night falls.

As with most of Rollin’s movies, Fascination is a low-budget horror film shot entirely on-location, and has moments that are simultaneously artistic and strange. During the opening credits, Eva and Elizabeth, both in white dresses, dance with each other on a bridge as a nearby phonograph (sitting on the ground) plays classical music; and in the very next scene, several high society women visit a slaughterhouse to drink ox’s blood, which, as we discover, is all the rage among those suffering from anemia. But once Marc makes his way to the mansion, Fascination goes into full exploitation mode, with a few sex scenes (including a lesbian encounter) and one particularly gruesome sequence in which Eva, wearing nothing but a black cape, brandishes a scythe and goes after Marc’s enemies (while not necessarily gory, this scene is definitely violent). In addition, Fascination weaves an intriguing mystery (with a pay-off that’s equal to the buildup), and, for a low-budget affair, is fairly well-acted.

Not all of Jean Rollin’s films work as well as Fascination; some of his vampire movies, though gorgeous at times, lack an engaging storyline, and are lethargically paced. This time out, however, he managed to strike the perfect balance between arthouse and grindhouse, resulting in a movie that is all at once beautiful, shocking, alluring, and, yes, as the title suggests, even fascinating.

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