Movie Review – Fascination (1979)
My only prior experience with French director Jean Rollin was his nearly unwatchable, schlocky Zombie Lake (1981). I was aware that he had had a prior reputation for effective erotic horror and so I decided to give his Fascination, released in 1979, a try. The film opens in 1905 in an abattoir where wealthy women have gathered to drink ox blood as a fashionable treatment for anemia. The scene is framed wonderfully, the colors creating a macabre palette, and sets the tone for the film, combining the lustfully tempting with the physically repulsive.
This being 1970s erotica, there are plenty of nude women and stilted, awkward sex scenes. The two lesbian lovers who harbor a sanguineous secret, Elizabeth and Eva, are played by the beautiful Franca Maï and Brigitte Lahaie (then a porn actress), respectively. The story centers on a thief on the run who hides out in the girls’ chateau, curiosity leading him to stay with them to find out what secret activities these bourgeois women and their friends are up to at night. Themes of class conflict run through the narrative, and the title refers to fascinations of all kinds, be they sexual or morbid.
Overall the cinematography is very appealing, helped by soft and natural lighting, yet the editing is uneven as scenes tend to run on too long and the pacing suffers as a result. The physical effects are almost laughable when compared to contemporary films. It takes much more inspiration from the early, sexually charged vampire Hammer films where a bit of blood was the extent of the gore, and feels dated as a result. Also, the dialogue is repetitive and could have been better served to add more characterization.
Nevertheless, Fascination is certainly a far better movie than Zombie Lake. It’s effectively erotic (if Sapphic kissing is your thing) and the story it ends up telling, when it gets around to it, is actually quite dark, sinking its teeth into the themes of obsession, privilege, and whether what fascinates us about the people we are attracted to is what they are willing to offer, or what we are compelled to covet.