This is a transcription of Darrell Buxton’s introduction to the Fright Club screening of Jean Rollin’s Fascination (1979) from last Friday night.
We’re so pleased to be able to welcome you to Fright Club tonight, as both Adam and myself are huge fans of French filmmaker Jean Rollin, and we’ve wanted to play one of his masterworks here ever since QUAD opened.
The horror film was born in France, around 120 years ago; and saw a surprise resurgence there in the first decade of this century, with a seemingly never-ending string of ultra violent instant modern classics, from SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE to ILS, FRONTIERE(S) to MARTYRS, INSIDE to CALVAIRE. But between the 1890s and the 21st century, horror cinema’s birthplace almost completely dried up in terms of screen terror, with only stray items popping up here and there; unlike the thriving scenes in Italy, Spain, and the U.K., no concerted movement or group of directors emerged, and although LES DIABOLIQUES from 1955 proved so influential that it is still affecting the ambience, feel, and twisty plots of horror movies to this day, it was a completely isolated one-off.
One lone individual, however, flew the tricolor for French fright. Monsieur Jean Rollin. From 1967 through to his death just before Christmas of 2010, Rollin forged a unique path, specialising in a series of languid, erotic, spellbindingly beautiful low cost films, usually featuring vampires but occasionally branching out into other weird territory. In mixing horror film imagery and paraphernalia with an arthouse sensibility, and sometimes throwing in a few naughty bits for good measure, Rollin created a screen world all of his own. Vampires sleep in antique grandfather clocks, dwell in sumptuous chateaux, dress in exquisite finery, yet are ruthless and bloody in attack mode, and everything often ends up with the surviving characters playing out the dramatic conclusion on a stretch of deserted beach, which detractors may scoff is evidence of the director attempting to save a few francs on the budget, but which – once you’ve seen more than a handful of Jean’s amazing films – you may begin to interpret as being some kind of gateway between reality and hellish fantasy.
FASCINATION is an almost perfect introduction to the Rollin universe. Made in 1979, its plot revolves around a vampiric cult, but the suggestion here is of a non-supernatural variety of bloodsucker. A thief holds two servant girls captive, in a fairly typical Rollin scenario, but might things not all be as they seem, with the tables about to turn? 80 minutes of gorgeous imagery, sophistication, and haute couture mixes in with extreme bloodletting, sexual encounters both lesbian and hetero, and some outrageous revelations concerning the underbelly of French high society in 1905, the year in which the movie is set.
If this is your introduction to the films of Monsieur Rollin, I envy you. You truly have so much to discover. The Redemption label made many of his works available on VHS video in the early 1990s, and recently put out a huge collection of Rollin films on Blu-ray in America – region-free releases, mind you, so dive in! I’d particularly recommend LA ROSE DE FER aka THE IRON ROSE, a staggeringly poetic mood piece starring the delectable Francoise Pascal, familiar to British TV viewers from the sitcom ‘Mind Your Language’ but right at home in this breathtaking gloomy gem about a young couple trapped in an imposing gothic cemetery overnight. It’s one of those films that divides audiences – some might claim that ‘nothing happens’, whereas others, myself included, find themselves drawn right in and unable to divert their entranced gaze. Rollin’s 1978 offering THE GRAPES OF DEATH mixes zombies into the typically French subject of wine-making, while his 1982 film THE LIVING DEAD GIRL is an unqualified masterpiece, a haunting, tender vampire love story which seems to combine the sensibilities of George Romero and Peter Greenaway. It’s the greatest French horror movie ever made. And in these FIFTY SHADES OF GREY obsessed times we find ourselves in, the truly daring among you might want to check out Rollin’s 1975 pornographic title, PHANTASMES, or THE SEDUCTION OF AMY – released in the U.K. in a heavily-censored version as ONCE UPON A VIRGIN, PHANTASMES has yet another sinister plot involving kidnapping and imprisonment in the dank dungeons of a country mansion, yet another resourceful heroine using her wiles and charms to get her own way, and yet another astonishing beach-set finale. Not one to show your granny or your maiden aunt, but for the more open-minded viewer, well worth trying to track down.
Indeed, tonight’s film FASCINATION dabbles in some fairly dark areas of sexuality too, and it’s notable that – like David Cronenberg’s casting of porn legend Marilyn Chambers in the lead of his 1977 shocker RABID – Rollin delves into the same forbidden territory, giving a major role to French sex film superstar Brigitte Lahaie here as chambermaid Eva. Brigitte and her co-star Franca Mai, the latter making her film debut at age 20 before embarking upon a successful career as a novelist later in life, dominate the proceedings here and form a classic example of the lovingly bonded, predatory female pairing which became such a regular feature of the Rollin horrors.
I was lucky enough to interview Francoise Pascal at a screening of LA ROSE DE FER just over four years ago, and her comment on Jean Rollin was simply to tell me that “he lives in a sci-fi movie, inside his own head”. Bear that in mind as you watch the peculiar, beautiful, shocking, and fascinating FASCINATION.
Our Next Fright Club offering is Friday 27th February where Darrell will be introduce new shocker IT FOLLOWS at 8:45pm.