Saturday, 18 February 2012


1979, France, Directed by Jean Rollin
Colour, Running Time: 81 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region A, Kino Lorber; Video: 1.66:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: LPCM 2.0

Among those that have seen and dislike Jean Rollin’s work his skills behind the camera are undoubtedly in question. His movies may sometimes come across as clumsy or amateurish with his performers usually only vaguely aware of what constitutes good acting. But he continued to direct films over a three decade period with regularity, and aside from stopping off at one or two other genres along the way he generally drifted between porn and fantasy horror often amalgamating the staples of his two specialist areas with wanton disregard for established trends. Could there have been something more to this man and his material than tits and cheapo vampire teeth? By 1979 he had established himself as a prolific director in both porn and erotic vampire cinema, and Fascination would seem like a collision of the two at times with less overt emphasis on the latter than his earlier works. In the middle of rural France there’s a castle where two attractive females - Eva and Elisabeth -waste away their days, waiting for some initially unspecified event. Elsewhere a group of bandits have robbed some poor sod carrying a fortune in gold and are about to make off with it when an argument splits their group and Marc makes off with the bag having betrayed his fellow criminals. After a struggle with his hostage he is located in the woodland by the other thieves and is forced to take refuge in the aforementioned castle, where he meets the two girls. Threatening them with his, er, gun the women appear to be distinctly unperturbed by his aggressive attitude towards them. Meanwhile the other bandits are keeping a safe distance from the castle effectively preventing Marc from leaving while waiting for their chance to launch an attack. It becomes apparent that Eva and Elisabeth are awaiting the arrival of a posse of bourgeois females in the middle of the night for some sort of ritualistic meeting. Unable to leave due to the gun-toting bandits outside and now unwilling to leave anyway due to a notable degree of sexual enticement from Eva, Marc is destined to be swept up in the strange activities that are about to take place in the castle.
While Rollin’s commonly used theme of vampirism is evident in this film it’s not visible to the point of fanged, blood-sucking people being present as it was in movies such as Le Frisson Des Vampires. This serves to provide both an interesting new slant to his favourite subject as well as removing one of the things that newcomers may have previously found hard to digest: very odd looking vampires. It takes a subtle backseat as Rollin crafts a surreal world in which Marc becomes enslaved, notably signified by the meteorological shift that takes place as he gets closer to the castle - the area is surrounded by mist. Eva and Elisabeth are gorgeous young women and obviously reflective of his regular theme of two female companions as protagonists that invades almost every Rollin movie. That Marc is trapped in a house with these two indicates that Rollin is purely recreating his own sexual fantasies on film and I think it’s this exhuming of the creator’s own omnipresent dreams that helps lend the work its share of artistic authenticity - beneath the surface there’s a tangible beauty here that’s difficult to fake. Eva is of course played by Brigitte Lahaie, star of a large number of porn flicks during the seventies including a few of Rollin’s, and her range of ‘skills’ is utilised in Fascination wherever possible without descending the story into outright hardcore. Her relationship with Elisabeth is slightly more complex than what we see on screen, this being hinted at when the latter displays a certain amount of suicidal jealousy upon Eva’s demonstration of sexual affection for Marc, though who she’s actually jealous of is quite ambiguous - perhaps it’s anybody when attention is not being directed at her. Marc himself is essentially a fool, a man who’s devoted himself to crime even to the point of stealing from other criminals and he wades into the girls’ world with a sense of arrogance that will eventually be stripped, and as such there is also an air of morality about the story that is flimsy but lurking around nonetheless. Possibly more important than individual characters though is the surreal ambience that surrounds the situation that they find themselves in - it’s an odd world that has the boundaries between itself and reality blurred. Rollin’s landscape photography and exceptional use of locations here is, as ever, exemplary. Whether that’s a happy accident is for the viewer to decide I suppose. It’s also worth noting also that the haunting and doom-laden music used in this film is among the best used for any Rollin venture and aids the visual material in several significant scenes. The most suitable approach to Rollin’s work is to forget about cinematic convention, remove expectation of complete verisimilitude, and sit back to witness the strange events of a place that surely can’t exist. Fascination is actually a better starting point than many of his other films and one of his best all round.

Releasing the likes of Fascination on video cassette in the UK during the nineties was something that helped Redemption become a respected distributor of lesser seen genre material. Many of the flicks they unleashed on their niche audience were almost impossible to see at the time and they quickly became a favourite of those who could appreciate cinematic obscurities. Unfortunately they failed to grasp the possibilities of the digital era when DVD arrived and their disc releases were consequently difficult to admire with boundary-pushing companies like Blue Underground and Synapse appearing on the horizon. Fascination was their very first UK DVD some time near the format’s infancy so most issues can be forgiven considering DVD took a few years from conception to be perfected. The problem is that even years later their discs had hardly evolved and thus the only thing going for them was their obscure content - hardly an accolade in a new era.  Anyway, their release of Fascination was correctly letterboxed though without enhancement. It looked reasonably detailed with copious print damage and some washing out of colours. Audio was in the MPEG format, something that was adopted to a small extent at the birth of DVD but quickly became overshadowed and eventually snuffed out all but completely by the much more marketable Dolby Digital. It served its purpose and was at least in native French with functional subtitles for those of us whose grasp of continental tongue extends only to bon jour. Dark Side magazine later joined forces with Redemption to release the film on a double pack (limited to availability through the magazine) with another of Rollin’s greats, Requiem Pour un Vampire, though the claimed anamorphic enhancement provided no benefit due to the fact that it was from the same master.

Thankfully Stateside company Kino have teamed with Redemption to remaster this (along with several other of the director's movies) in high definition - image quality jumps significantly on the Blu-ray, with strengthened colour schemes and wonderfully naturalistic detail without being excessively sharp; indeed, on occasions there is an authentic haziness during certain sequences.  Running at 24 frames per second the accurately framed full HD picture, often an immersive joy to behold, is accompanied again by original language French (uncompressed two channel mono) with clear English subtitles as an option (no English language audio track is present).  Also present are two highly desirable softcore outtakes (with Lahaie) totalling around fifteen minutes and apparently shot if the film was required for export to more liberal territories, plus a twenty five minute documentary about Rollin that I originally saw broadcast on British TV surprisingly.  Finishing off this awesome package are the trailers to the five films initially released under Kino's Rollin series and a very attractive booklet (unfortunately the same as the one included with the other discs, but welcome nonetheless).  With this Blu-ray Disc, Jean Rollin's work looks and feels better than ever - this is the way this material was meant to be experienced, and is easier to appreciate with the respectful job that Kino have done.  If you're a Rollin fan, get this captivating film on Blu-ray immediately; if you're not, consider opening your mind and putting your toe in the inviting waters - you may find yourself jumping in completely.

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