One of Rollins better known films, Fascination opens with three lovely ladies in a barn, drinking the blood of an ox, which will apparently cure them of an anemic condition from which they all suffer from. From this strange opening sequence, we cut to a band of thieves fresh from a well executed bank robbery carrying with them a whole lot of loot, obviously the fruits of their labors. Unfortunately for the gang members, their leader (Jean-Marie Lemaire) takes off with the gold and heads off to a nearby French chateau. Safely secluded away from the rest of the countryside, here he plans to hide out until it's safe to make it away with his winnings, leaving the rest of the robbers without any money and a whole lot of understandable resentment.
Once inside the chateau, he encounters Elisabeth (Franca Mai) and Eva (played by the stunning Brigitte Lahaie, better known for her career in hardcore French adult films than her horror movies but a talented actress regardless), two mysterious lovelies who entice him with some pretty steamy lesbian stunt work. Unfortunately, when one of the girls takes a liking to him and tries to warn him to leave before nightfall, his old gang shows up and a shootout occurs. Luckily Eva comes to the rescue dressed in only a black cloak and some long leather boots and swinging a scythe at all the right people. But if he does end up sticking around until midnight, what will happen? And why are these girls acting so strange - and who are these party guests that they've invited over?
Rollins films tend to take on a very dreamlike and at times, surreal quality all their own and Fascination is no exception. While Lahaie might have made a name for herself as an adult film star, she's got a powerful and near hypnotic screen presence here, and is not only fun to look at, but quite competent in her role as well. She uses her body to speak when dialogue would have probably felt forced or phony and while there's no doubt that her experience in the most intimate of positions in front of the camera probably helped a lot with her work here, you've got to give her credit for emitting a seriously intense screen presence that is as memorably bizarre as it is seriously sexy. Not to be outdone, Franca Mai is every bit Brigitte's equal here. Her darker chin length hair playing contrast to Lahaie's longer blonde locks, her red lipstick playing contrast to her pale skin - she's quite beautiful here and it Rollin's camera doesn't worship her quite as obviously as it does Ms. Lahaie, it's comes pretty damn close. Rarely have women been shot with such obvious adoration as they have here, though Rollin pays almost as much attention to the locations and sets as he does to his starlets, ensuring that the film always looks top notch even when the ladies aren't on screen.
Of course, this now iconic cinematography and imagery associated with the film doesn't hurt things either. By far one of the best looking of Rollin's many beautiful and macabre films, the classic image of Lahaie clothed in a black cape and wielding a scythe definitely leaves an impression as do many of the scenes that occur later on in the film once the supernatural elements are in full swing. Like so many of the director's pictures, this one might be best enjoyed as a fever dream of unusual and at times surreal images and scenes rather than as a linear plot or traditionally structured film but that's a big part of what makes Rollin's films so special - like the best works of art, they really do mean different things to different people. Like so many of the director's work, this film was made with a low budget and some will take issue with the fact that this does show in the production values from time to time, but if you've appreciative of the wholly unique atmosphere that only Rollin could create and don't mind a plot that isn't necessarily concerned with narrative structure so much as it is with ambience and fever dream set pieces, Fascination absolutely deserves a look.
Kino/Redemption present Fascination in an AVC encoded 1.66.1 widescreen 1080p high definition presentation mastered from the original 35mm negative in a presentation that puts previous DVD incarnations to shame. Encoded on a BD50 disc, this transfer still includes some minor specks here and eagle eyed viewers might not a scratch or two here and there, but overall this movie has been beautifully restored for the most part and should definitely please fans of the director's work familiar with past representations of this film. Detail is vastly improved, from the opening shot of the iron candle holder to the pores visible on the skin present frequently throughout the film. Black levels are solid and generally very strong and whatever softness shows up in the picture has always been there. Skin tones look nice and natural, there is no evidence of obvious noise reduction, compression artifacts or edge enhancement, and the end result is a very film-like presentation. Is this going to hold up against the latest big studio blockbuster? No, of course not, but it doesn't need to - this is, after all, a low budget film made more than thirty years ago. It is, however, a huge step in the right direction in terms of giving this director's work the respectful presentations that some of us feel it has long deserved.
The sole audio option on the Blu-ray disc is a French track, in LPCM 2.0 Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only. Audio is clean and clear and the score sounds great, especially once what sounds like a Theremin kicks in. This isn't an overly aggressive mix, again this is an older low budget film, but the dialogue is perfectly balanced against the score and there are no problems at all with any hiss or distortion. The white English subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read and there weren't any obvious typos noted during playback to complain about. All in all, the movie sounds great here.
The extras start off with two Deleted Sex Scenes, the first of which involves Brigitte Lahaie and Jean-Marie Lemaire (7:54) and the second of which involves Lahaie and Cyril Val (7:32). These were preserved in raw form in case Rollin needed to deliver a harder variant of the film as he did with some of his other pictures. They are presented without audio as none exists, but in high definition and both are quite a bit more explicit than the content that appears in the feature version of the film.
Also included on the disc is the British TV special Virgins And Vampires (24:23) which was originally broadcast on October 3, 1999 as an episode of the Eurotika! series. Produced by the folks behind the Mondo Macabro DVD label, this special provides a nice overview of Rollin and his work, and features interviews with the director himself as well as with actress Cathy Castel (who acted in Rollin's Lips Of Blood), actress Monica Swinn and Salvation Films/Redemption founder Nigel Wingrove. There are loads of clips and stills used here to represent the director's work and this documentary, while not quite comprehensive given that it was made before Rollin finished working, is quite a great addition to this release - it's also presented in high definition.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are HD trailers for the feature and for The Shiver Of The Vampires, The Nude Vampire, The Iron rose and Lips Of Blood. Animated menus and chapter stops are included and inside the keepcase is a twenty-page full color booklet of liner notes from writer Tim Lucas which do a great job of making the case for the legitimacy of Rollins work and the artistic value of that work and which also do a fine job of detailing his life, times and some of his more popular films. A great addition to the package, this is a solid read and it's nicely illustrated as well. The last page of the booklet contains a brief note from Nigel Wingrove regarding his early 90s efforts to bring Rollin's films to the masses.
Jean Rollins films are not for everybody - they're trippy, dreamlike and almost surreal at times and frequently involve graphic violence coupled with kinky sex, all qualities that are bound to turn off less adventurous viewers. With that said, there's a craftsmanship and artistic value to his films that will appeal to both horror fans and arthouse cinema devotees and this Blu-ray release from Kino and Redemption makes those qualities all the more obvious. If Fascination isn't his best film, it's damn close and fans of this film can rest assured it's been given the presentation it's long deserved and can consider this disc highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.