Exploitation films are mostly made with a shoestring budget to catch a buck or two at the box office. These movies take a theme, like violence, sex or nuns and exploit it in such a way that the movie lacks story, creativity and logic, but it has a butt-load of things you get bored with, ten minutes into the film. But, here and there you can find some rotten apples, as they say. These black sheep, or ugly ducklings, are the most creative and most memorable auteurs the exploitation genre has to offer. In other words, they are legends. Filmmakers like ROGER CORMAN (House of Usher), JOHN WATERS (Pink Flamingos) or ED WOOD (Plan 9 from outer space) seem to undergo the biggest challenges, endure the most annoying actors, create magic instead of special effects, because every frame they bring to the table is made with passion and the only thing they can rely on is their imagination and the will to finish the project they started. Many were dishonored and even despised during their career, but they still had the courage to make more movies. Today, many film students learn from their mistakes, but also use something from their successes.It’s safe to say, that every single student saw and admired their movies. One of these incredible minds was JEAN ROLLIN. At first sight, his movies don’t look like much. But, if you really open your mind, you will be amused and also able to see the hidden layers the movie entails. For a long time he was a nobody, but in the last two decades, his movies made him a household name every exploitation fan should know. In his most successful movie FASCINATION, he didn’t have big dialog scenes, nor extraordinary actors or even logic, for that matter, but he had plenty of creative ideas, an immersive atmosphere, a fantastic visual style with many associations, which led to the fact that this movie is now recognized as an art film. From an exploitation filmmaker to an art film director? That’s what I call a hell of a career jump! Now, with his movies transferred to Blu-ray, many will be very pleased, it seems.
This movie was conceived in only 12 days and it’s the adaptation of the short story of JEAN LORRAINE ‘A glass of blood’ (Un verre de sang). It was also heavily influenced by the visual style and the mood of the French magazine ‘Fascination’. Fascination is a movie from the sub-genre called clinical vampirism (People drink blood on purpose, for health reasons, so they can have a greater lifespan). The story is fairly simple, it follows some rich folk who drink blood, in order to stop anemia. At first, all they drink is a glass of Ox blood, but after a while they can’t get enough of it because they developed a fetish towards the blood, so they organize secret parties in order to drink human blood. Although the audience isn’t sure if this film is about vampirism, the iconography is very much present.
BRIGITTE LAHAIE: ‘Jean wasn’t the director for porno movies, he only did it because he needed the money. He was very shy. During the porno scenes, he went outside. But it was a good film. When we see each other, he still doesn’t like me to speak about the movie. To him it doesn’t exist. He is an artist. He has a problem with showing explicit sexuality.’
MARC (Jean Marie Lemaire) is a thief. He was involved in a robbery with a filthy gang and when they wanted to split the loot, Marc was trying to reassure them that he can double the amount they scored when he’s back in London. Of course, no one believed him, so he double-crossed them by taking one of the gang members as a hostage, so he can escape from the embarrassing moment.
He manages to escape from his former partners, by hiding in a wealthy castle were Elisabeth and Eva spend their days. But, by stepping into the castle, his life starts ticking away.
10 THINGS THAT DEFINE MARC’S CHARACTER
- HE IS A DOUBLE-CROSSER– He wants to deceive the gang, after he used them to deceive others
- HE TAKES HOSTAGES– he isn’t a murderer, even if he does start shooting at the gang. It is his scare tactic, which becomes obvious when he feels sorry for the dead gang member who was accidentally shoot in the process of his escape
- HE WILL SLEEP WITH A WOMAN IF SHE IS WILLING TO SLEEP WITH HIM– but only with superior women, it seems
- HE’S EASILY SCARED – Many times he was asked if he’s scared, just so he can courageously defend himself by saying that he isn’t scared of anything
- DOMINATION – If someone is dominating him, he has to bring the person down to his level, because he is against authority and he will go so far to embarrass the person that is controlling him
- TAKING ADVANTAGE– Although it’s clear as a blue sky that Marc doesn’t love Elisabeth in any way, shape or form, he tells her that he does, so he can use her to his advantage
- HE IS A GREEDY MOT*******ER
- HE IS A PARTY ANIMAL– Enjoying a party is his shtick, independently of his mood or the situation he’s in
- ONLY TWO THINGS MAKE HIM A POSITIVE PERSON – he dislikes death and he wants to party, but mainly he wants to avoid seriousness
- HE IS A LOSER– In order to control others, he is the one getting controlled, but he isn’t aware of it.
It isn’t very clear who the main character of this movie is. There is not much to say about the sisters ELISABETH (Franca Mai) and EVA (Brigitte Lahaie), because they represent symbols. They don’t posses any kind of character development but since Elisabeth has a crush on Marc till the on the film, she seems to be more important than Eva.
6 THINGS THAT DEFINE ELISABETH’S CHARACTER
- She loves Eva – she kills Eva
- She loves Marc – she kills Marc
- She wants to commit suicide after witnessing Marc and Eva getting it on
- She can’t resist blood
- She is a liar – She tells Helena that Marc killed Eva and that is the reason she killed him
- She is submissive to Helena
There is not one positive character in this movie!
THE FUTURE RIGHT BEFORE YOUR NOSE
Three very meaningful sentences are spoken in the film. The way the characters use them is somewhat funny, because they seem pretentious at first, but they have a deeper meaning other than sounding poetic. All three sentences are spoken by a woman and they are statements, so Marc is not even trying to decipher them.
- Countess Helena:‘BEWARE; DEATH SOMETIMES TAKES THE FORM OF SEDUCTION’.
This statement tells the truth, because not only did Eva seduce Marc, she also attacked the gang clothed in a black robe with a scythe in her hands, which is pretty much the standard depiction of a fellow they call Death.
- Elisabeth: ‘THE UNIVERSE OF MADNESS AND DEATH‘.
This sentence also rings true, because every character is not what they seem in the beginning of the movie. There is even a cult included and Marc dies because he was very naive.
- ‘BLOOD IS THE LIFE WHICH FLOWS IN YOU/BUT IT’S ALSO DEATH WHEN IT ESCAPES, A TRUE SYMBOL OF LIFE AND DEATH. PERHAPS THERE’S NO GOING BACK, ONCE IT’S TOUCHED YOUR LIPS’.
This is basically a guide on how to be a vampire. It tells you what you should do and what you should not, but it also carries the important message that once you go vampire, you stay vampire. This guide is winged towards Elisabeth, because she can’t resist Marc’s blood and her fetish costs him his life.
All these characters misinterpret something in course of the movie:
- Marc doesn’t understand why he wants to stay in the castle. He would be better off staying outside and sleeping in the woods.
- Elisabeth is confused and surprised that she is in love with Marc. She doesn’t understand her sudden bursts of anger or jealousy when Eva’s around him.
- Eva doesn’t understand why Elisabeth is feeling awful. She asked Elisabeth for permission to sleep with Marc and Elisabeth coldly answered ‘I don’t care’.
EXPLANATIONS FOR THEIR BEHAVIOR
- Marc stays inside the castle because he is very attracted to these women. Although it’s not confirmed that Elisabeth and Eva are in fact vampires, they still have him under their spell. He delightfully said
‘You’re really doing your best to entertain me’
- Elisabeth doesn’t love Marc per se, but she yearns for his blood. When Marc is mad or furious she is not able to stop herself, because his blood is boiling, making him even more attractive.
- Eva is aware that Elisabeth is attracted to Marc only on account of his blood, but it puzzles her that Elisabeth doesn’t realize it. Eva’s last words before she died were ‘...but you belong to me’, indicating her bitterness about the fact that Elisabeth rather choose their ‘food’ over the love she has for her.
The camera work is very creative, with fresh angles and thick atmosphere. The lighting creates the right mood for the candid angles, which give a feeling of discomfort and alienation, indicating that the audience is watching a cautionary tale or a fairy tale. The movie has a slow pace and long shots, but that is exactly what this kind of story needed. Some of the frames are little works of art:
It’s not perfectly clear why all these women joined Helena’s mystery blood club, but it’s even a bigger mystery whether they are vampires or cannibals, or something entirely different. That is a very original take on the old bloodsucking myth and for a movie that was made in the year 1979, it is incredibly inventive! But, let’s take a look at three theories that might explain what these women represent.
- The VAMPIRE theory
- They drink blood.
- They live in an enormous castle surrounded by fog.
- Passion satisfies them.
- When they drink blood, they visually look like vampires after biting a victim.
- The CANNIBAL theory
- They not only drink a fair amount of blood, but they also like to chew on human meat.
- They drink various kinds of blood, including blood from an ox and from a human. Some of them like it, some of them don’t.
- Helena bites Marc’s lip after he tries to kiss her and then examines him, like she would examine a horse.
- The GHOST theory
- Elisabeth appears like a ghost in the left corner of the castle, before Marc even notices that someone is living in the castle.
- They can move incredibly quickly from one place to the other.
- Eva is the embodiment of Death, which has no connections to vampirism, nor to cannibalism.
- In one moment, Elisabeth and Eva are in the castle, and in the other, they appear in the back of the barn, where they only could get to if they had passed Marc, which didn’t happen.
All three theories have enough evidence to be true, but simple things put them off the track. If they are vampires, they don’t posses vampire teeth (just like in Twilight, pun intended!) and they walk in daylight without a problem.
JEAN ROLLIN: ‘I don’t remember why we don’t have them (vampire teeth). Maybe to make the vampire more credible, more natural. In France, during this period, when people saw those big teeth, they would laugh. And I didn’t want people laughing at my very personal vampires!’
If they are shape-shifters, the lack of other creatures hanging around, like bats, or wolfs, don’t support that theory. The only downside to the ghost theory is, when they are dead, they stay dead. When Eva is shot, she’s gone forever. Also, they can’t be Cannibals, because they don’t talk about food, or preserve the bodies in any way, shape or form for some later degustation.
The names of the characters weren’t randomly picked. No, they were carefully chosen to convey a message. Each name represents a mythological figure and the characters accordingly bear their characteristics.
In the beginning of the movie, Martin Luther’s HOLY BIBLE is a hint which gives away that the film’s narrative is presenting a different view on Christianity, but it still entails Christian symbolism.
Furthermore, in this scene, Elisabeth and Eva take TWO DAGGERS off the wall. Notice the statue in the background, it shows that the household is living in faith, and the daggers are a sign that these women are about to take control.
EVA represents Eve, who is very erotic, confident, honest and warm hearted. She also sacrifices herself to help Marc to get away from the gang. She has a lot of sexy time during the film, including Elisabeth, Marc and a lucky gang member.
MARC represents Eve’s Adam, who is naive and childish. He is too lighthearted to accept a serious conversation. He can’t be a villain, but he will go through what needs to be done till it’s over. On one hand, he wants to have all the strings in his hands, but on the other, his personality won’t allow him be cruel. That’s why he is an easy target to control. He didn’t get angry when Eva returned his stash of gold coins back to the gang, which nearly cost him his life when he stole it, but he got really pissed when he stumbled upon the corpse of an unlucky gang member. That was the final straw, because after that he decides to get away from the castle and he lets the girls know, they can go f**k themselves!
ELISABETH corresponds with the character of Elisabeth Bathory, who adored blood baths and despised love relationships, including her husband and her kids. She just loves Marc for the sake of his blood. However, there is a scene where she wants to commit suicide where it is not entirely clear if the reason for it is that she has to sacrifice Marc to the ‘club’, or that she is just jealous of Eva for taking him from her.
The countess HELENA represents Helena of Troy, who had the ability to deceive masses to be on her side. Just like Helena was the one responsible for the Trojan War, this version is responsible for the hatred between her ‘sisters’ and everybody else. She is in control and no one dares confront her, because they end up floating in the river. If she is going to sacrifice herself, it’s only to get a statement across.
THE RULES OF THE GAME
FASCINATION is not your typical vampire horror flick, although the iconography points to that sort of movie. It’s contains a creepy and slow building atmosphere, so jump scares are off limits. The elements from other Vampire flicks include:
- The GAZE
- Dark CORRIDORS
- A HISTORICAL setting, in this case: Victorian
- White innocent looking CLOTHING, one dark haired and one bright haired vixen
- A SISTERHOOD of blood
- A streak of BLOOD rolling down the chin after supper
- A dangerous amount of CANDLES, all lit at the same time
There are an awful lot of mistakes in the movie. It was filmed during a period of 12 days, so it’s not a shocker that the scenes are carelessly thrown together and day/night scenes fail at continuity. For a movie made in such a hurry, it’s a wonder it contains all these layers, but that only proves that Jean Rollin had a great vision. He delivered a new genre twist, an atmosphere straight out of a Bram Stoker book and a poetic style that was copied all over the world. The naked scenes are not pointless, because they are stirring the narrative into another direction and the whole movie doesn’t depend on the dialog between the characters. The glamour lies in the pictures. This movie is known as an exploitation film, but it bears the quality of an art film.
JEAN ROLLIN: ‘I don’t need religion, Vampire movies for me are something poetic. My personal vision of the thing was more poetic, and did not require a cross, but pretty girls and pretty graveyards. When I see a cemetery or a castle, immediately an image comes to mind. And those images always need a girl in a nightgown. I don’t need any of those other superstitious things.’