Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vamp or Not? Fascination

dvdThe 1979 film Fascination, by Jean Rollin, is one that often graces vampire filmographies and it does feature blood drinking. However, despite the DVD sitting amongst my vampire DVDs, when I came to look at this for the blog I knew I was going to have to look at it under the auspices of ‘Vamp or Not?’ Are they vampires? We shall see.

The film opens with a portrait of a man and then pans down until the camera rests upon a large book. A female hand caresses the book, releases the clasps and opens it. Clearly the book had some significance to what Rollin was saying within the film. Unfortunately I do not really know much French – so if a kind reader wishes to let us know what the book is, feel free to do so.

in the abbatoirWe move to an abattoir and a woman stands amongst the blood, the butcher enters with a man and two more women. One moves to the first, they are contrasted in their virginal white and mourning black clothes. The butcher brings the sole woman a glass of blood, before bringing the same to the other two. It is ox’s blood and the man, evidently a doctor, suggests it is the best cure they have (in 1905) for anaemia. One of the women rubs blood upon her lips and the doctor admonishes her, it isn’t a game it is a therapy.

Jean-Marie Lemaire as MarcA group gather together. Marc (Jean-Marie Lemaire) dresses in an almost dandified way and points out to his companions – three men and a woman in man’s clothing – that the information was good, *he* had gold. It is clear they have just robbed a man. Marc suggests they meet in a month, he will have travelled to London and sold the gold and will return to split it with them. They want their share immediately and Marc, to aid an escape, grabs the woman as a hostage. Later she tries to seduce him, to much laughter from Marc, and so knees him in the groin and runs. He gets a couple of shots off but misses her. Suddenly she is back, with her companions. They shoot at Marc, grazing his neck; he runs and makes it to a chateau.

Eva and ElizabethThe bandits stop, there is a moat around the chateau and the only way to reach it is by bridge. They have him trapped and wait to make him feel he has escaped. In the chateau Marc sees two women. He managed to catch one, we later discover that she is Eva (Brigitte Lahaie), whom he questions. She is the lady in waiting and the other girl, Elizabeth (Franca Mai), is a companion to the owner of the chateau. All the other servants are away and are due back the next day. He catches sight of the girl trying to get to the bridge and prevents her escape – Elizabeth was one of the women in the abattoir.

loversHe locks both of them in a room but they giggle, they have another key. They start to kiss and, when he comes back in, they mock him gently. He locks them in again and the two girls get it on with each other before using their key to escape. Marc is counting his gold when Eva sneaks up behind him and kisses him. They get knives and brandish them but he knocks them away and gets his gun. Eva starts to strip and offers him some rumpy pumpy, so he goes off with her. Elizabeth says to him, out of earshot, that she thinks she could have loved him.

attempted suicide?She sneaks into the room where Marc and Eva are going for it and takes the gun. In a room, on her own, she lifts the gun to her mouth and is obviously contemplating suicide. We hear the gun go off, she is fine and says it went off when she was playing with it. The question is, what was Rollin doing with this scene? Certainly a suicide would, traditionally, become a vampire. Perhaps it was meant to show us self loathing? Did she shoot herself and survive? Probably not as we see Eva shot later and wounded and Elizabeth doesn’t have a scratch on her but, at this point of the film, we are not to know that.

the banditsMarc is concerned as the sound of the shot will have attracted the bandits and indeed there is a gun battle across the bridge. That is until Eva leaves the chateau and approaches them – carrying the bag of gold. She passes it to them and asks them to leave but they want to count it and so she takes them to the stables. Marc says that they will kill Eva, but Elizabeth seems confident that she’ll be back. When he asks about who they expect that night she replies death.

iconic imageryTwo of the men count the gold whilst the girl and her husband take Eva further into the stables. The husband makes Eva strip her dress so that his wife can wear it and go walking whilst he has his way with her. Eva stabs the man and then puts on a cloak and picks up a scythe. In the iconic scene of the movie she kills the other two men and the wife with the scythe whilst wearing the cloak; she truly appears to have become death.

Fanny Magier as HélèneSo what is going on? The two girls are playing games with Marc to try and keep him there – though Elizabeth’s heart isn’t in it as she has truly fallen for him – something Marc doesn’t believe as it seems unlikely, which is a sentiment the viewer would have shared, believing it no more than a plot contrivance, had Marc not uttered the line. That night Hélène (Fanny Magier) and four women appear and they, with the two girls, are having an annual reunion. There is a lot of game playing but the truth that comes out is that two of the club or cult must go ahead and lure a man and get him to stay.

feeding on EvaIn the past many of them used to go to the abattoir for ox blood but then some decided to try human blood. So are they vampires? Well they wear chiffon robes, which in the world of Jean Rollin might be a tell. When Eva is injured four of them are drawn to her blood and, despite her being one of their number, they descend on her to feed. One of them calls to Hélène to satisfy her thirst and another mentions that they can soon rest as it will soon be daylight – yet we have seen the two girls during the day.

bloodied mouthElizabeth admits that once you have tasted blood it is like an addiction and the vampire genre often represents the bourgeois as vampires and this time around it is the bourgeois being vampires. It is a blood cult, we have no evidence of supernatural aspects and yet it is Rollin and what he does with this is take familiar genre elements and twists them into an unusual – and visually striking – film. These seem more than people playing vampires and I think this one deserves its place on the filmographies. I am going vamp with Fascination.

The imdb page is here.

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