Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fascination (1979)

... aka: Das Blutschloss der Frauen (Blood Castle Women)
... aka: El castillo de las vampiras

Directed by:
Jean Rollin

When people throw out the word "dream-like" to describe a film, I immediately think it will possess three distinct qualities: 1. soft focus or hazy photography, 2. little to no plot, a plot of little substance that just meanders along or a plot that doesn't make sense, and finally, 3. shots that linger for an eternity to make up for the fact there's little to no plot. After all, something needs to fill the time if the story isn't, right? I can't say I'm usually a big fan of these kinds of films unless they're done by very talented directors who are able to use photography, lighting, music, art direction and shot composition to enhance and strengthen the plot. This is also commonly referred to "Making a proper movie." One can actually have it both ways and find that perfect balance. One can be both an artist and a storyteller, which is really what the art of filmmaking is all about. This film I don't think ever finds that balance. In fact, it doesn't really excel at anything. There's next to no plot and, despite this director's reputation as a visual stylist, the material is mostly presented in a surprisingly flat and uninspired fashion. Sure, there are a few nice shots in this 80-minute movie, but not nearly enough to justify sitting through the rest of it.

Arrogant thief Marc (Jean-Marie Lemaire) double-crosses a few people, takes the lone female as a hostage and runs off with a bag full of gold coins. The hostage flashes her breasts, kicks him in the crotch and manages to escape. Marc takes off again and sneaks inside a secluded mansion that's surrounded by water and accessible only by bridge. Those he's betrayed see him going in, but decide to lay low for awhile outside with plans on ambushing him later on that evening when he's not expecting it. Inside, Marc encounters two young women; Elisabeth (Franca Mai) and Eva (Brigitte Lahaie)... and they're odd to put it mildly. For starters, their story keeps changing as to why they're even there. They should be terrified by the presence of an armed, potentially dangerous thief, but instead act like giggly schoolgirls who joke about letting him rape them and then turn the tables by claiming they want to rape him.

Elisabeth and Eva are lovers and the director is kind enough to prove it by shoehorning in a sex scene at an awkward time as if quickly trying to fill some kind of requirement. Eva takes off her clothes and seduces the thief. Elisabeth gets jealous because she's in love with Eva but then claims she's in love with Marc and pleads for him to leave before nightfall. While that's going on, Eva goes outside to meet up with the four people Marc ripped off. She stabs one of the guys during sex with a dagger the director doesn't even attempt to hide is retractable and then takes a scythe to the other three in scenes that have absolutely no impact whatsoever because they're so poorly staged and edited. Night finally falls and another weird woman named Hélène (Fanny Magier) swings by with four other girls talking about some "reunion" and Satan. The ladies reveal themselves to be part of a bourgeois lez cult who drink human blood to keep themselves from becoming anemic (?) because they're sick of drinking ox blood (?!) The women then put on sheer nightgowns and walk around, a couple of people get shot and then the film is over.

This isn't art, as real art actually means something. This film means nothing, stands for nothing and ultimately accomplishes nothing. It's really just a minor piece of erotica shot at a cool-looking house and with a few attractive actresses in it and that's all. Not that there's anything wrong with any of that, but let's not make this something it isn't, right? The erotic angle is helped along by the fact one of the lead actresses is Lahaie, who's worth a look even in something as plodding and dull as this. She also has the lion's share of the nude scenes, so that's a plus. However, even gazing upon her fine form from time to time isn't enough to completely overcome the lumbering pace, meandering non-story and awful dialogue. Apparently they didn't even use a shooting script for this one and just made it all up as they went along... You can tell!

Worst of all, this isn't the least bit impressive on a visual level. Your average Friday the 13th sequel features more artistry and skillful camera-work than this does. The photography isn't imaginative, the score is forgettable, the editing is terrible, the potentially atmospheric location goes completely to waste since most of this is set indoors, every single "horror" moment is ineptly fumbled and the director seems to have no concept of scene continuity. There's a good reason people always focus on the strikingly sex image of a nude Lahaie, clad only in a black cape, holding onto a scythe. That's because it IS one of the only striking images in this film.

This is the sixth film I've seen from Rollin now and is one of his most popular and acclaimed works for some reason I can't quite fathom. I much preferred his zombie film THE GRAPES OF DEATH (1978) and the oddly compelling THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (1980) to this one. The cast also includes Evelyne Thomas and Cyril Val (who both appeared in several other Rollin films) and Muriel Montossé (who'd later show up in some Jess Franco movies).



Jose Cruz said...

Having an opinion of any specific work is valid, whether it be "good" or "bad," but I don't think it's neccessarily fair to say that the film "means nothing" and "stands for nothing" as all forms of art, which this one is by virtue of being a work of creativity, are subjective, so someone else such as myself may find much depth and resonance in this film, which I admittedly do.

In other words, it's okay to say the movie sucked, just don't assume that it did for everyone else.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Yeah, whatever I blabber on about on here is strictly my POV. This movie has its fair share of fans so apparently they're seeing something in it I'm not.

t said...

Okay, I'll bite. I'm relatively new to Rollin having only seen four of his films. I must admit, I had avoided him for a long time after constantly hearing people say how oh-so-superior his films are to Jess Franco's (since, you know, I'm a Franco fan). Despite that, I actually really liked Fascination.

In terms of 'meaning', some have analyzed a commentary of sorts on the social classes. The upper class seem to be depicted as vampires both figuratively and literally. When Brigitte Lahaie dresses in the black cloak with a scythe, the thief wonders if she's mocking him by dressing as someone from the lower class. This analysis I read explains it better than I can about these themes as well as the use of language and historical context: https://henridecorinth.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/hello-world/
I recommend reading it if you have the time!

In terms of visuals, I thought it was rather exquisite. Much of the appeal comes from the decadent decor and costumes but also the soft colour palette (esp. the pink and blue pastels). The lighting is also gentle. I feel like people often confuse low-contrast cinematography with "flat" shooting which is a shame since there are many beautiful films that employ similar techniques such as The Perfume of the Lady in Black. The barn scenes and the second half, however, are rich in contrasting shadows. Other scenes I found visually striking include all of the bridge scenes, the candlelit night games, and the opening sequence.

As you mention, it is at times uneven and there were moments that felt a bit random and messy. But saying the film "isn't art and stands for nothing" is a statement that I personally disagree with.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I gotta say one thing, Rollin fans certainly are passionate about his work. Same goes for Franco fans. I guess both directors are similar in that their style either works for you or it doesn't. I know a lot of people find most of their films insufferably boring. I'll give that link you provided a look, though I'm not sure Rollin had anything in particular in mind when he filmed this (hence, no script). Of course I could be wrong about that but the movie meandered nearly the entire time and felt utterly aimless to me.

I certainly don't mind the soft focus look of this film but a sumptuous sheen only does so much for me. If I don't feel anything while watching a movie and could care less about any of the characters, I feel at arm's length the entire time. I didn't at all feel invested in this movie's plot and felt the visuals weren't good enough to compensate. Actually, in my opinion there was a real lack of creativity to the whole thing. (I did, for the record, like certain individual sequences, like the opening bit and the scythe scene).

Thanks for your comment. I have many other Rollin movies to check out so hopefully I'll get more out of some of those. Plus I've been known to revisit movies I didn't enjoy the first time and re-evaluate them, so I'll not doubt come back to this one eventually.

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