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This erotic horror film, set in 1905, tells the story of a thief who seeks refuge in a castle owned by two women, Eva and Elizabeth. The women are seductive and teasing, but turn out to be part of a vampiric cult of blood-drinking aristocrats.
For more about Fascination and the Fascination Blu-ray release, see Fascination Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on January 25, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Franca Mai, Brigitte Lahaie, Jean-Marie Lemaire
Director: Jean Rollin
» See full cast & crew
Fascination Blu-ray Review
There's power in the blood.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 25, 2012
There are hundreds of films about supernatural vampires--undead seducers and seductresses who feed on the living-- but comparatively few about mere mortals with sanguinary fetishes. That is, those who seek out sexual thrills, medical cures, or perceived physical empowerment through the ritual drinking of blood. One of the better examples is Fascination, directed by French gothic horror underdog Jean Rollin and inspired by "Un Verre de Sang," a short story by the 19th century dandy Jean Lorrain, a member of the Symbolist school of literature. The Symbolists, with their taboo-busting, decadent and death-obsessed fin de siècle (literally, "end of the century") outlook, were an enormous influence on Rollin, whose films became known for mixing gothic romanticism and dreamy surrealism to a darkly erotic effect. Of the five Jean Rollin titles that Kino Video is releasing this week--The Nude Vampire, Shiver of the Vampires, The Iron Rose, Lips of Blood, and Fascination--the last is my own personal favorite, a battle-of-the-sexes power play involving gold thieves, bisexual bloodsuckers, and a strange midnight ritual at a moat-surrounded chateaux.
Rollin's films are typically somewhat poorly structured--gaping with plot holes and filled with non-sensical turns that require a committed suspension of disbelief--but Fascination is actually soundly plotted, despite being largely improvised and shot without a traditional script. For the first time, really, Rollin's intuition produced a story that's dreamy without having to rely on dream logic. The film wastes no time introducing its gag-inducing premise: In a filthy abattoir where the floor is literally crimson with gore, a couple of high-society ladies tipple wine glasses full of ox-blood. "Today, in April 1905," says their doctor friend with helpful, period-establishing specificity, "we find it's the best way to cure anemia." But the women seem a bit too enthusiastic--lasciviously rubbing the blood over their lips--to be concerned solely with the health benefits. One wonders--cue the dramatic music--if this is something more than just a diet fad.
The film cuts to Jean-Marie Lemaire--who looks like a cross between Cillian Murphy and Malcolm McDowell--as Marc, a dapper thief on the run from a group of bandits he swindled out of a satchel full of gold. Pursued through the French countryside, he takes refuge in a grand mansion surrounded by water, with a thin, guardrail-free bridge as the only entry point. He surprises the two chambermaids, brunette Elizabeth (Franka Mai) and blond Eva (Brigitte Lahie, France's top porn actress at the time), who are alone in the house, supposedly awaiting the arrival of their marchioness. Marc has a gun and likes to think he's in control of the situation, but the two women clearly aren't afraid, giggling and taunting him and sarcastically feigning submission. They're lovers, of course--what would a Rollin film be without some softcore girl-on-girl action--but they're not exclusive, and not exclusively lesbian. When Eva pulls Marc into another room for some of the old in-out, causing Elizabeth to go into a fit of near-suicidal jealousy, the question becomes how much of this is real, and how much is an act, a ploy to keep the thief from leaving?
And then, as if to dispel all doubt, the guests arrive--a group of aristocratic women who are gathering at the chateaux for parlor amusements and, presumably, something more sinister. Their leader is the slightly older and steely-eyed Hélène (Fanny Magier), who invites Marc to stay for the evening's events, reminding him that he'll be "the only man there. Except for Satan, of course." (Damn, girl.) I'll say no more about what happens next, except that the sexual power balance gradually shifts until it's Marc who's in a position of complete vulnerability, his life in the hands of "a bunch of bourgeoisie crackpots playing questionable games."
With its period-piece setting and aristocratic bearing, Fascination is one of Rollin's more elegant works, not to mentioned one of his most polished. Even on a purely technical level, it's a huge improvement over many of his earlier films. The editing is less herky-jerky, the camerawork is moody and fluid, and the gun-shooting, neck-slitting scenes are a bit more competently staged than most of Rollin's previous "action" sequences. There's actually a stabbing here that would look almost believably realistic if the guy getting shivved in the ribs weren't making such a ridiculous, look-at-me-dying- on-screen face. Yes, the acting is still unintentionally and sometimes hilariously camp, but that's usually what you get when you hire no-names or porn performers in dramatic roles.
That said, Brigitte Lahie is transfixing. She's got an otherworldly, slightly alien face, and a body that...well, let's just say it's well suited to her primary profession. When she comes walking down the narrow bridge like an Amazonian vision of Death--with a scythe in her hands and wearing a black cloak that leaves her left breast uncovered--you won't be able to look away. For any number of reasons. Fascination itself is just as alluring and fully lives up to its name, begging to be fetishized and obsessed-over by gothic erotica fans, who will find much to love in its air of mystery, brazen nudity, and sexual blood sport.
Fascination Blu-ray, Video Quality
For a long time, Jean Rollin's films were only available in the U.S. by way of duped VHS tapes and then decent, but far from spectacular DVDs, so to see them in high definition is something of a revelation. The Blu-ray presentation is fairly consistent across all five films being released in this first batch of titles, so I'm basically reiterating what I've written in the previous reviews. Though the visual style is much in keeping with the earlier films--intentionally drab overall but punctuated by vivid color--Fascination is the most polished-looking of the five titles. Cinematographer Georgie Fromentin had only one previous credit, a film called Hard Penetration--but he actually does some decent lensing here, helping Rollin to create some of his most memorable images. On Blu-ray, the color has been reproduced wonderfully and the image is dense, with deep blacks--sometimes they crush a bit, but this is probably unavoidable--and good contrast. As with the other titles, Kino's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is true-to-source, with no noise reduction, edge enhancement, or other unnecessary digital manipulations. That said, the print is also presented as-is, which means you'll sometimes notice white and black specks, occasional flickers, and some small scratches, hairs, and debris. Fascination is never exceptionally sharp, but the fine, high-definition detail apparent in the transfer makes this an instant improvement over the prior DVDs. Finally, there are no real compression issues to worry about. It bears repeating: If you've been following Kino's Blu-ray track record, you know exactly what to expect from the Cinema of Jean Rollins series--the best possible prints, presented with minimal digital intervention.
Fascination Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Nude Vampire, Shiver of the Vampires, and The Iron Rose each included both the original French audio and an English dub, but for Fascination Kino has only supplied the French language mix, presented in uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 mono. As with the picture quality, the audio sometimes exhibits evidence of the film's low- budget origins--dynamic tinniness, light hisses, audible pops, and crackles--but nothing you wouldn't expect and nothing outright distracting. What's important is that the dialogue, while never perfectly clean--there's some slight muffling or peaking at times--is at least always understandable and balanced in the mix. I was also somewhat surprised by the sound design here, which is better and more deliberate than in some of the early Rollin films. The creepy score, by Philippe d'Aram, sets a great mood too. The disc includes optional English subtitles.
Fascination Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fascination Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Unheralded horror filmmaker Jean Rollins is finally getting his high definition due, with five of his early films being released on the 24th in wonderful Blu-ray editions by Kino-Lorber and Redemption Films. Fascination is my own personal favorite-- it's surprisingly elegant and features some of Rollin's most memorable imagery--but as I've said before, any self-respecting gothic horror fan is going to want to own all of these films. Kino has done a fantastic job with these titles. Recommended!
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Fascination Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires and more Jean Rollin Films in 2012 - January 4, 2012
In a recently published interview, filmmaker and producer Bret Wood has revealed that Kino Lorber are planning to release a number of exciting titles in 2012, amongst them Louis Feuillade's classic Les Vampires (1915) and Donald Crisp and Buster Keaton's The Navigator ...
• Kino Lorber Acquires Rights to Redemption Films Library (Updated) - January 1, 2012
Kino Lorber has announced its acquisition of the North American rights to the Redemption Films library. First to Blu-ray in early 2012 will be Jean Rollin's erotic vampire films The Nude Vampire, Shiver of the Vampires, The Iron Rose, Lips of Blood, and Fascination. ...
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