Jean Rollin’s 1979 film Fascination opens with a sequence clearly inspired by Jean Lorrain’s 1893 short story The Glass of Blood (Jean Lorrain being a shamefully neglected Decadent writer). This story was based on a somewhat bizarre real-life practice of the time in which wealthy people suffering from anaemia or similar disorders would start their day with a glass of cow’s blood at a local slaughter-house. This strange obsession with blood provides the theme of the movie, another of Rollin’s very unconventional filmic explorations of vampirism. We then see a falling-out among a group of thieves, one of whom takes shelter in an apparently deserted chateau. The chateau is not quite deserted however. He soon encounters two rather unsettling young women, whose interest in him is obviously sexual but equally obviously goes beyond the merely sexual. He is warned not to stay around until dark, as they are having other guests, apparently very dangerous ones.
Fascination has the lyrical, poetic visual style you expect from Rollin. It also has extremely competent acting, with Brigitte Lahaie and Franca Mai as the two disturbing young women and Jean-Marie Lemaire as the thief on the run all giving strong performances. The elegant chateau provides a perfect setting for a Rollin film. The movie is set in the early years of the 20th century and captures the feel of fin de siècle decadence very effectively. If you’re already a fan of Rollin’s brand of poetic and deliciously perverse erotic horror you won’t be disappointed by Fascination. If you’re unfamiliar with his work it’s not a bad place to start – the surrealist elements always present in his movies are less extreme in this one, or at least they’re less overwhelming. It also has (by the standards of a Rollin movie) a relatively straightforward plot. In the late 70s Rollin was moving towards a slightly more accessible style, but without sacrificing the strengths of his earlier productions. It’s still a million miles away from Hollywood notions of horror. A great movie by a great director. Available on DVD from Redemption.