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If you've been around the Euro-Horror block enough times, you've encountered the work of Jean Rollin. The director has many ardent fans, but for the average punter, the love is probably not there. Rollin's films generally travel a fevered, circular path filled with illogic, leisurely pacing, a languid attitude, glacial manner, relaxed attitudes, and naked women. Thank god for the naked women, or Rollin would be relegated to a fairly musty corner of French Arthouse Cinema. Fascination epitomizes Rollin's oeuvre, but also points out the lyrical beauty of his work; which is to say that pervo horror hounds with a penchant for the effete should certainly enjoy it for its abstract merits.
Rollin rolls out the red carpet in high style, introducing us to some lovely Victorian ladies quaffing wine glasses-full of ox blood in an abattoir - a cure for anemia, as was the fashion at the time. Shifting to a fortress-like country estate, we find a brigand running from a lesser class of thugs, and ultimately holing up in what he thinks is a deserted manse. Little does he know that those two blood-slurping babes are there too, eager to mess with his head, and his twig-n-berries. Through a calming journey we may learn just what this devilish duo is up to, or maybe we'll get what simply feels like a series of surrealist paintings rendered on film.
It's beautiful as such; lush compositions lingered over representing the purest form of style over substance, while somehow hgenerating at least one genuinely compelling conceit. Though we don't give a damn about the brigand, we're sure interested in the motives of the two ladies. Eva (Brigitte Lahaie) and Elizabeth (Franca Mai) act as though they're not supposed to be in the house either, hinting that the thief intimidates them, the two nonetheless start acting all weird and mysterious. These moments where the ladies' motives are unknown, contradictory, and disturbing, create some engaging genre fun. However, straight-up sexual games of cat-and-mouse ensue, pleasing from an eye-candy standpoint, but ultimately stalling a movie that has plenty of other difficulties staying in gear.
Rollin fans know that narrative was not the director's strong point, and most are simply drawn by his psychosexual hallucinations. When those phantasms are flowing, you can't deny that the man has talent. Various frames resemble great surrealist paintings, or at least enjoy either stunning composition or delirious imagery. Fascination contains plenty of stand out visions, including that iconic cover shot of Lahaie strutting with the scythe. If it weren't for both the crackpot plot - something like an episode of Kolchak but with less emphasis on actual content - and for those ho-hum soft-core sex scenes, Fascination could be considered great. Great, by Jean Rollin standards, that is.
Fascination looks pretty good for such a shaggy old film. The 1.66:1 picture, mastered in HD from the 35mm negative, is worlds better than those VSOM tapes you watched in the '90s, though I noticed one brief problem crop up. At one or two points a dramatic jump in the image, as if the film slips a sprocket, is guided by digital noise reduction into a watery world, like someone splashed a bucket of water at your screen for a second. Otherwise, grain is tasteful and minimal, and a little speck or scratch can be seen here and there. Decent detail levels, good black levels, and warm colors make this a pretty picture.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio in French (with optional English subtitles) is solid and mixed well. Dialog is clean and damage-free, and the eerie score evocative. The stereo mix is not exactly active, however, so audio fanatics will just have to enjoy the simplicity.
Redemption delivers a decent little slate of extras, including a 17-page essay booklet by Tim (Video Watchdog) Lucas. Lucas is always a pleasure to read, and this comprehensive little examination of Rollin's career is no exception. And then for the sleazy ones, Two Deleted Sex Scenes (16 minutes total) expand on those couplings already in the final cut, and truthfully aren't much hotter or more compelling than what is in the film. "Virgins and Vampires" is a 24-minute Rollin profile culled mainly from a TV show called Eurotika!. It's interesting and filled with nudity. Lastly, enjoy the Theatrical Trailer and Trailers for four other Rollin movies.
Rollin's psychosexual thrillers trade mostly in the sexual, draped with psycho imagery, and ultimately recall the fevered dreams of a 13-year-old boy - which was one of Rollin's primary motifs. Fascination throws a little plot our way, and some nicely weird teasing, while piling on those beautiful pictures and some tasty, boring sex. All together it's somewhat goofy, somewhat weird exploitation-style effort, with very little blood or tension, which nonetheless should please Euro-horror or Jean Rollin fans with a high tolerance for aimlessness. Cautiously Recommended.