The talents of French director Jean Rollin are on full display in this moody, erotic horror tale, creating one of his most accomplished and fully-realized pictures in a career rife with celluloid fever dreams of gorgeous images.
In 1905, criminal dandy Marc (Lemaire) takes off with a chest of gold coins, the ruffian gang he was dealing with in hot pursuit. Barely eluding a bullet to the head, Marc crosses the wide French countryside to a lonely chateau. He finds that the manor is not so abandoned, as evidenced by the presence of the demure Elizabeth (Mai) and the sharp Eva (Lahaie), two beautiful women who claim to be servants.
Waiting for the cover of night to make his break, Marc decides to have some fun with the ladies, though their lack of fear is evident in their taunting of him and love-making. Marc attempts to assert his power with his gun and his strength, but it becomes clear that Eva and Elizabeth can hold their own, as they at one point turn the tables (and their daggers) on Marc, toying with him like a cat’s prey.
The gang of thieves also attempts to have their way when Eva returns the stolen loot to them. But we find out just how resourceful these women can be when the blonde vixen stabs one street-rat to death and then makes short work of the others with the help of a handy scythe.
Just who—or what—are these women? What is this secret reunion they are holding that night under the stern leadership of the one called Helene (Magier)? And why do they have such a powerful fascination with blood?
Those familiar with Rollin’s work will know that the power of his films does not rest in his narratives (though the basic plot used here serves the director’s purpose just fine), but in his beautiful compositions and attention to visual detail.
Don’t expect the madly careening camera and jazzy violence of the Italians in this Euro-terror though; Rollin’s pace is warmly languid and his gory set-pieces don’t so much resemble the crime scene of a gritty detective story as they do dark portraits from the Classical age of art.
In addition to the sumptuous photography—which includes shots of the lovely bright red-pink blood that was so common during the time—Rollin incorporates a fantastic sound design.
The lonely howl of a cold wind contrasting against the comforting crackle of a roaring fire, the steady drip of plasma in a slaughterhouse, and the fierce, excited whispers of the ladies all create a sensual experience that is just as aurally pleasing as it is visually.
Add to this the musical soundtrack that incorporates synthesizers, classical string music, and ghostly operatic voices and you have a film that manages to feel both claustrophobically intimate and chillingly epic in its sweep.
Look no further than the aforementioned scene of the cloaked Eva going to town with her reaper’s blade to see how brilliantly Rollin can manipulate an image of death and horror into one of beauty. And vice versa.
For those looking to treat themselves to the thrills of European horror fare or the cinema of Jean Rollin in particular, they will find the best of both worlds in Fascination.