Halloween Endurance Test: Fascination (1979)

I don’t know what it is about these lesbian vampire films, but the ones from the European mainland never seem to have plots. A true “endurance test” in that they’re just one continuous stream of footage with dips and crests in the action from time to time. Akin in nature to how a Pig Destroyer album works, to paraphrase Metal Sucks, in that you don’t have favorite songs scenes, just favorite parts.

If any European director can think up interesting “parts,” the Grapes of Death’s Jean Rollin can. The polar opposite of Vampyros Lesbos’ Jess Franco, whose cinematography is questionable at best, Rollin composes his shots as the photographer of clowns and bare-chested vampires he occasionally moonlights as.

“But it’s completely mad! For the taste? For pleasure? Out of depravity?”

The film begins with a band of thieves deciding how to split the spoils of their last caper. The pack is a pretty homogeneous group, except for Mark, who’s dressed as a dandy; wearing a red and black striped jacket. He wants the sensible thing, split their gains and reconvene in a month to do it again. The rest of the group wants his share. So he takes the female thief hostage and runs off.

Here we learn what will turn out to be Mark’s tragic failing: his utter honesty. His hostage is compliant because she thinks he’s going to eventually kill her. Bizarrely, he tells her that she’s actually quite safe, so she knees him in the groin and runs off to rejoin the gang that’s already in chase.

Chased to a large, abandoned chateau where he takes shelter. This is where Rollin’s love for composition comes to the fore. The characters here might be cardboard, but the manor is gorgeous; complete with a mini-moat!

Inside Mark finds much of the same: giant spiral staircases, suits of armor, cannon relics. More importantly, he bumps into Elisabeth and her companion, Eva, frequent Rollin muse Brigitte Lahaie. They’re prepping the house for the Marchioness’ arrival, a woman they’re desperate the man not meet.

They’re also not the least bit concerned about being hostages. Locked in a bedroom, they proceed to make out; cuz that’s what happens in lesbian vampire films. (Though in this one it’s another bait-and-switch similar to Countess Dracula. As the two main vampires we spend the most time with are clearly bi-sexual.) Especially when your lesbian vampire film has less to do with actual lesbian vampires (they’ll show up later), and more to do with looking like a caper-gone-array film.

Even locked in a house with two hostages, our bumbling dandy can’t win. They openly mock him and his small pistol, threaten him with knives, and otherwise humiliate him. They also present him with an offer: stay with them in the chateau until sundown, and Eva will tell him why the chateau’s been deserted.

Here the bandits make their move on the chateau, and one rape, one stabbing, and two throat slits later, Eva is draped in her iconic black cloak and armed with a scythe. The last remaining bandit, actually the woman who started the movie as a hostage, is now watching guard over the chateau.

She soon learns that you don’t bring a knife to a scythe fight.

At which point, 46 minutes into the movie, that the “vampires” arrive! The Marchioness, Helen, shows up, and informs Mark that he’s crashing a very special “girls only” club. Girls only because the guest of honor, Satan, refuses to share any of his brides.

Cue one of the greatest dance sequences in the history of horror movies. (Granted, there aren’t too many options with which to choose from here.) Mark dances to a frenzied pace, and is then blindfolded and proceeds to play a game of blind man’s bluff. After a couple gratuitous gropes, Mark wins Helen as his 15 minute slave.

I don’t know what happened to Jean-Marie Lemaire after his role here as “Mark,” but he really steals the show. A difficult task considering the rest of the cast are buxom, domineering, lady vampires. Jean-Marie is really believable as Mark, an overconfident petty thief who finds himself in way over his head in a situation he can’t begin to understand. From the beginning when he takes the girl hostage with a threat he has no intention of carrying out, through to the Marchioness’ appearance, Mark never wakes up. Rather than slow down, and listen to what the women are telling him (every character in the film tells him flat-out that he won’t survive the night at least once), he charges right ahead.

It isn’t until midnight arrives, and Mark stumbles across the corpse of the girl thief, that he finally realizes he’s in too deep. A luckless loser through and through, it is Elisabeth who saves him from an axe-wielding Eva, who finally convinces him that running away may not be so cowardly.

From her we learn the tragic truth, the ladies are all vampires through by a technicality. Anemics, they first drank ox blood to cure their affliction, later turning to human blood out of curiosity.

“The blood cult is strange, bizarre,” she admits before shooting him, “the love of blood may be more than that of the body in which it flows.”

Sadly, Satan never arrives.

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