When French erotic-horror poet Jean Rollin met sex film goddess Brigitte Lahaie, the result was a match made in exploitation movie heaven. Of the four movies they made together, Fascination stands out not least for its iconic image of Lahaie as the angel of death personified: naked except for a black cloak and wielding a blood-stained scythe. Set during the early 1900s, the typically minimalist Rollin storyline concerns dandyish thief Mark (Jean-Marie Lemaire) who having double-crossed his gang, absconds with the loot to an eerie chateau whose sole occupants are the lovely Eva (Brigitte Lahaie) and Elisabeth (Franca Mai). Mark initially bullies the young women into helping him elude his pursuers, but seductive duo slyly turn the tables. Through sex and mind games they persuade him to stay until nightfall whereupon the lady of the house, enigmatic Countess Hélène (Fanny Magier) arrives leading her all-female cult of chic aristocrats who have far deadlier games in mind.
“Beware, death sometimes takes the form of seduction”, Countess Hélène warns Mark, as the film plays as an extended reverie on the sexual allure of death. Her arch statement is one of numerous hints that leave Mark’s final fate fairly obvious, although interestingly none of the suspense is lost. For all the clues, Mark just doesn’t get it - either too ignorant to read the signs or too arrogant to think he is in any danger from seven women. He is live fast, die young youth personified. Cocky and smug, his eventual comeuppance seems richly deserved. Quite what Elisabeth comes to see in him is a mystery and remains one of the many layers of ambiguity the film weaves about relationships. Mark can’t quite understand why he is compelled to stay at the chateau, Elisabeth cannot explain why she thinks she loves Mark, while Eva believes Elisabeth belongs to her. In fact, the haunted look on Eva’s face when she confronts Elisabeth’s betrayal proves more affecting than the tragic heterosexual love story.
The story breaks down more or less into a series of surreal erotic episodes, with Rollin lingering over his trademark dreamy lesbian love scenes and plenty of nudity from the gorgeous Lahaie. However, as in Rollin’s best films no matter how off-kilter and strange the imagery, the plot proves surprisingly coherent when approached on its own terms as a waking dream. Rollin takes a cultured, elegant approach to sexploitation-horror with the emphasis on the poetic and magical aspects. He milks the dreamlike atmosphere provided by that fantastically evocative, mist-shrouded chateau, for all its worth and conjures other indelible images from close-ups on blood-stained lips to Lahaie’s big scythe-wielding moment. Arguably the finest hardcore porn star-turned straight actress, the future novelist/talk show host is mesmerising here.
A lifelong film fan, French director Jean Rollin worked consistently since the 1950s, but it was his horror films that would bring him most attention, starting with Le viol du vampire in 1968, a work that caused a minor riot on its initial showings. This showed Rollin the way to further dreamlike entertainments, often with a strong sexual element. Other films included Le vampire nue, Le frisson de vampires, Les Raisins de la mort, Fascination (often regarded as his masterpiece), The Living Dead Girl, Zombie Lake and a number of hardcore porn features. He was working up until his death, with his latest Le Masque de la Meduse released the year of his demise.