Tonight I watched Jean Rollin's Fascination (1979), starring Brigitte Lahaie. Directing films since 1968, Rollin achieved a reputation for beautiful movies rife with fairy tale imagery, blatant sexuality and eroticism, plus a healthy dose of gore and violence.
As a kid growing up in Smalltown, Ohio, in the 1970's, I loved horror movies. Denied access to the movies (mostly because I was too young to stay up that late), I did what I could to learn about them. This is in the age before the world wide web and instant global communication, so I spent plenty of time in the local library or book stores at the local mall, pouring over what information I could find.
I loved how unusual the world looked in horror movies; giant men with flat heads and bolts in their necks struggled for survival, monsters from the bottom of the ocean destroying cities, a human brain kept alive long after the body was gone. Jean Rollin was a master at creating memorable images in his slow, surreal films. However, access to such out-of-bounds films made by Messrs. Rollin and his contemporaries was restricted to a few tantalizing and confusing stills from books about vampire movies that I bought at Walden's Bookstore in the Sandusky Mall.
I struggled to make a context for them. What was happening in the picture? What the hell did they mean? Why were there so many bare breasts? I wish I still had those books. There was some good reading in them besides the full page, full color reproductions of blood splattered, naked women kissing other naked women...
Even though Rollin's movies were considered to be part of the genre of Lesbian Vampire films, they were not pornography. The content veered closely towards pornography, but was not salacious. These pictures were not about arousal, they were something else that defied explanation.
Thirty years after I was introduced to those images, I have been able to see of these movies. I even own a few on DVD. The Rape of the Vampire (1968), A Shiver of Vampires (1971), and now Fascination (1979). Each film I've watched unlocked part of the secrets that had eluded me these last three decades.
The content of each film was truly bizarre, the visual style is impressive, not too concerned about plot. The scenes unfold in a dead pan style, never commenting on the unusual elements presented to the viewer; a vampire emerging from a clock, the vampire queen licking the blood off the blade of a curved dagger, a medieval castle glows green and red in the night. Fascination also offers its share of eye catching, incongruous moments; a group of middle aged women in turn of the century clothing drinking fresh ox blood, dagger bearing women dressed in white, and a mostly nude Brigitte Lahaie wielding a scythe against an opponent.
The story begins with a group of criminals arguing over how to divide the loot from their latest score. It quickly turns into a gun battle and chase through the woods. Then the plot veers to a group of women meeting in a deserted chateau to perform a mysterious ritual to preserve their beauty and youth. Marc, the leader of the gangsters, is the connection between the two divergent plots. Hunted by the gang for stealing the money, he seeks protection from the various women he encounters on his way to a very important date he has at midnight. What decides his fate is the fickle emotions of Elisabeth, torn between her love of Eve and jealousy of Eve's relationship with Marc. All of these elements come together in a climax that was very surprising. Love may conquer all, but it is seldom satisfied.
From the little I have read about Rollin in the last few days, he was a frustrated film maker; never enough time, budget or control to truly create his personal vision. Despite these setbacks, he was able to make original films with a unique style that remained in my head for three decades.
The world will never get to see the movie Rollin wanted to make, he passed away last week after a long illness that slowed him down, but didn't stop him.
|Jean Rollin, 1938-2010|