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Redemption Films // Unrated // October 28, 2008
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 29, 2008 | E-mail the Author
As graceful vampire films go, Fascination takes a step in the seductive, passionate direction as it swallows up its audience into a minimized plot chock full of rapturous eroticism. French director Jean Rollin's film could take one step backwards and become gothic softcore porn, while it could also take a step forward and become a complete horror film. Instead, it contently sets up shop right in the middle of the two, experiencing the strengths and weaknesses of both mediums -- which makes for an intriguing, sensual vampire film. Those off-put by a fair amount of mild sexually-explicit material in their horror films might want to shy away from Fascination, but those who enjoy indulging in the eroticism of vampiric culture should find plenty of satisfying material to sink their teeth into.

The Film:

It's an interesting experience to navigate through Rollin's individualistic style -- especially if you're expecting something completely different than what he offers. Instead of a blood-soaked, lavish blood-drinking spectacle, Fascination becomes rather nuanced and transfixing in its simple, drawing demeanor. It's actually best to know the full details of this early 1900s plot, mainly for the sake of enhancing its overall experience as a pseudo-cannibalistic mystery. A "vampire" coven has enlisted two of its members, a sensual blonde Eva (Bridgette Lahaie) and a lean brunette Elisabeth (Franca Mai), to ensnare a male sacrifice for their thirst. On the morning of their feeding shindig, Marc (Jean Marie Lemaire), a suave professional thief, just so happens to require shelter in their cheteau from his recently-spurned partners in crime. Where Eva sees opportunity for the coven's feast, however, Elisabeth sees a man that she finds herself attracted to -- possibly in love with.

Why the two vampiresses hadn't found a suitable male by the morning of their ritual gets the eyes rolling a bit in its ease of plot construction, but Rollin makes certain to give enough luring eye candy to try and distract from pithy things like logic. They must have been distracted from their cause by all the lesbian lovemaking they had been indulging in until that very morning. There's no dancing around it: Rollin's fine exploitation vampire film aims to titillate by churning the mind around all the curves and contours of the female body with sumptuously-shot nude scenes, and it does so with splendid period artistry. He sacrifices concentration on support performances -- basically everything outside of his core actresses and Lemaire -- in an effort to highlight these two focal, enamored female vampires and their prey, which both hurts Fascination's narrative flow and enhances the concentrated visual engagement.

It's pretty stunning to see the kind of rich images that he's able to compose with such miniscule budgets, especially some of his more iconic shots -- such as the erratic hand-cam capturing that surrounds the lush shot of Eva approaching the house as she scuttles up adorned with nothing more than a skimpy black cloak and a scythe. Several of Rollin's recurring visual triggers find their way into the film as well, such as blooming candles in dimly lit rooms, stark splashes of red against washed-out secondary colors, and usage of see-through veils for his focal women. He enjoys experimentation with eroticism, which can be both his hindrance and his draw; Fascination is known as one of his more approachable lesbian vampire pictures, but its teetering performances and nonchalant plot neglect to help its case for more cynical observers.

Fascination earns its name from the two seductive vampires stringing along Marc's attention in their undisclosed evening. Sure, Rollin uses it as an interesting device, but it exists, of course, to accentuate the sensuality of its lusciously-photographed sex scenes. In order to keep a testosterone-driven male around the house until "supper", Eva takes one for the team and sleeps with the freshly-met outsider thief. This creates some rather obvious conflict between the three of them, especially in the more romantically-based Elisabeth's eyes. Her character doesn't become really all that interesting until the closing moments of the film; perhaps that's because Rollin tries to infuse a romantic, loving connection between her and Marc, which is way too difficult to believe under these circumstances. But amid her whims and Eva's seduction atop his own sparked curiosity in their evening agenda, he's strung along until the moments of the coven's gathering -- which, once midnight strikes, rearranges and re-postures character demeanor and motives abound.

Rollin's Fascination rises to its most compelling levels late in the game by taking a non-supernatural path in explaining these voracious female vampires. Barely any archetypal elements like vampire fangs, wooden crosses, or garlic cloves show up. Instead of molding these women into tangibles monsters, he alludes to and entails a semi-historically analogous plot mechanic to add curiosity to its characters: the concept of elixir vitae, or elixir of life. Drinking blood, first from an ox then to that of humans, becomes more of a voluntary antioxidant / health longevity element to these women than a dire necessity, which gives a more frivolous and motivated cause behind their scheming. This reveals itself in full-blood fashion with the film's most potent dramatic displays -- a set of short homilies voiced by the captivating Franca Mai. Sure, Fascination exists as more exploitation than meditative horror film; however, it's not without thought, poise, and distinction in structure.

The DVD:

Redemption Films USA and Salvation Films present Fascination in a standard keepcase offering with artwork that perfectly exemplifies the film.

The Video:

Sadly, Jean Rollin's most accessible film isn't really done proper justice, as Fascination comes with a non-anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer. Even considering the fact that it's not enhanced for widescreen televisions, the image itself looks somewhat rough; taken from a blemished, hazy negative, print damage, dust, and other debris litter the source print, which can distract from Rollin's successes in low-budget attractive cinematography. Jaggedness along lines becomes very visible, especially against diagonal lines -- which becomes fairly prominent in the scythe scene. It's a shame, because color depth is surprisingly rich and subtle details like textures and fabric show a nice level of detail, while black levels are effective with touch-and-go precision.

The Audio:

Sadly, the French Dolby Stereo track doesn't fair much better, as an array of pops and noisy hissing come up frequently. It sounds like the audio was taken from a metallic-sounding source at most points, something that affects just about every sound that comes out of the speakers due to the lower-budget audio source. However, vocal claritycan be fairly strong in some sequences, as can the slamming of doors and other hollow effects in the chateau. Subtitles are available in Optional English only with the French language track.

The Subtitles:

Most individuals with widescreen televisions might have a problem with these English subs. If you plan on zooming in on this non-anamorphic disc with a static zooming feature (meaning only zooming in to one point, as opposed to some DVD player's ability to zoom in increments), think twice about this disc; the subtitles are position all the way at the bottom of this 1.66:1 image, so if a television's 1.78:1 zoom feature is used, all of the single-line subs are beyond visible height, while the second line of subs gets chopped in half. Not a problem for standard tube users, but it can be troublesome for the widescreen crowd.

The Extras:

All we're working with is a Photo Gallery and a line-up of Trailers, one of which is for Fascination and two others for Jean Rollin's work (Nude Vampire and Iron Rose.


Final Thoughts:

Jean Rollin's Fascination relishes in atmosphere and voracity, offering more siren-like seduction amid its vampire elements than mounting tension. Yet there's something about the feasting elements that blend well with its ideas, though all the uniqueness in the world cannot shelter a film so light on story with the plotholes and poor supportive acting structure that it exhibits. Still, Rollin thinks somewhat outside the box with his vampire concepts here, which makes his low-budget vampire exploitation flick worth a Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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