Color, 1979, 83m.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Starring Brigitte Lahaie, Franca Mai, Jean-Marie Lemaire, Fanny Magier, Muriel Montosse, Sophie Noel
Kino Lorber (Blu-Ray & DVD) ( US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Image/Redemption (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.75:1)
When is a Jean Rollin vampire film not a vampire film? The answer: Fascination, a riveting, highly unorthodox of the blood drinker mythos for which Rollin gained financing through a few adult film quickies. Though extremely low budget, the result is one of his finest, most elegent accomplishments and one of the safest introductions to Rollin's style.
After a haunting, cryptic opening in which several well-to-do French ladies gather at a farm where animals are being slaughtered and daintily sip glasses filled with blood, the story follows the misadventures of blond hoodlum Jean-Marie Lemaire, who holds up two young women (Brigitte Lahaie and Franca Mai) at an isolated chateau. The two women apparently have little to do during the day besides rolling around on the rug for an occasional lesbian dalliance, so this turn of events turns out quite unexpectedly for our antihero. When another group of ne'er-do-wells shows up, Lahaie takes a scythe to them, and as the prologue has already indicated, turn of the century French women were not quite as naive and innocent as most commonly believed. Like most Rollin films, the ending is both tragic and haunting, with a highly memorable final image and line of dialogue.
Along with The Living Dead Girl, this film remains the director's purest and most successful of the feminine mystique channeled directly through the gothic tradition. Coming right off her stint on Rollin's The Grapes of Death, former adult film actress Lahaie makes a fine, memorable figure, tromping around semi-nude in her black cape and slashing open trespassers. Not surprisingly, the actors have little opportunity to do more than serve as gorgeous set decoration; the subtitled dialogue is almost extraneous. The sex scenes are more intense and explicit than Rollin's previous horror outings but remain suffused with a heady surrealism that makes the encounters play like animated works of art. Surprisngly, the women are not technically vampires but, according to Rollin, were derived from a true anecdote concerning a small female blood cult among the rich and bored. Thus, the film plays more like a pastoral version of the blood-bathing Elizabeth Bathory saga with the eroticism aspects pushed up to full throttle (a la Borowczyk's Immoral Tales).
The new Image DVD of Fascination presented by Redemption is by far the cleanest and most visually impressive rendition of this film, though the only real past competition is the prior edited tape released by Redemption in the U.K. and ragged, smudgy-looking SECAM prints released in France. Actually, the DVD is so clear that it reveals some flaws in the source material, indicating that Rollin's personal print has also suffered some slight ravages of time. Some slight, minor staining on the print flickers in and out for a few minutes, but it's not enough to detract from the beauty of the film or the clarity of its presentation. Of course, since this film was shot on an impoverished budget (most likely on substandard film stock as well), it will never have the crisp, ultrasharp clarity of other films from the period. The sound quality of the film has never been spectacular, but the audio here is pleasant and distortion-free, with Philippe D'Aram's beautiful score seeping over the decadent imagery like a bloody veil. Considering Fascination's history and the awful versions fans have had to settle for in the past, this DVD is a sight for sore eyes and should serve as a nice aid for introducing new viewers to Rollin's strange, wonderful cinematic world. Mercifully, like the other Rollin titles, the DVD omits those irritating Eileen Daly intros and focuses more on the extras: a photo gallery of production and promotional shots, as well as the original French trailer (which contains some alternate sexy close-up shots trimmed from the final cut of the film).
The Kino Blu-Ray (branded as Redemption, per usual practice) is truly lovely, with an attractive film-like texture and much more detail than SD could capture. It's still a fairly soft and powdery-looking film compared to some of Rollin's other works, but it's definitely a substantial improvement. The negative has been left untouched here, which means you'll see some filmic debris here and there. The most interesting extra is a pair of very extended sex scenes with Lahaie, both softcore but treading close to the edge with a handful of shots. The excellent Mondo Macabro TV episode "Virgins and Vampires" devoted to Rollin is included here in its entirety, with many of the film clips substituted with their new HD upgrades. (The framing of the interview sequences is also a little horizontally stretched now, which is a tad distracting.) The usual five Rollin Blu-Ray-related trailers are also included along with liner notes by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas.