Jean Rollin on Blu-ray: FASCINATION Review

Charlie Hobbs, Contributing Writer
Tonight, on the eve of their debut to the general public, we wrap up our initial coverage of Kino/Redemption's Jean Rollin Blu-ray collection. The fifth and final film of this first wave is in some ways the perfect way to wrap up the set, as it revisits several recurring themes as well as embodying Rollin's spirit in an unusual way. Fascination is a very unusual film, but in all ways it is a work of Rollin, and recognizable from the word "go". Kino's treatment of these films has been top notch, and this later period Rollin survives in significantly better condition than the earlier films, which is nice to see. This also has probably the single best video based extra in the whole set, which makes Fascination a must buy!
FASCINATION is often described as a vampire film yet, like few other horror films, it is actually about blood fetishism. Set in 1905, the story concerns a group of aristocratic women who acquire more epicurean tastes after drinking ox's blood as a cure for anemia.

Some erotic component was usually imposed on Rollin by meddling producers, forcing him to add ill-fitting sex scenes into his productions, but here - more so than anywhere else in his filmography - the erotic scenes feel truly organic to the story. Due in large part to the sensuality and chemistry of Brigitte Lahaie (a popular Euro porn star in her second legitimate role for Rollin) and Franca Mai (subsequently a singer, producer-director of short films, web mogul and novelist), they are also classically lovely and legitimately erotic.

Playful, elegantly crafted and brimming with some of the most unforgettable images in his filmography, FASCINATION embodies Jean Rollin at his very best - venturing outside his usual comfort zones and extending the definition of his filmic universe in the process
Fascination is a film about many things. There is the turn of the century French countryside setting that reflects Rollin's adoration for all things extinct. There are the roguish characters with whom Rollin relates through his own refusal to completely bow to pressure from producers. There are the beautiful and bountiful women, in this case a bevy of them, including an actual adult film star. There is blood letting to spare, but not in the way that we are used to seeing it. Of course, there is also the most important characteristic of any Rollin film, there is atmosphere, and Fascination has it as much as any of the previous features.

This is no vampire film, though there is blood-drinking, the film is more about obsession than violence. Rollin here indulges his love of the antique by setting the whole film in the past, rather than sending his characters into antiquarian surroundings. The lead character, Marc, is our surrogate in the film, leading us through this strange scenario which at once baffles and amuses him, without him ever truly understanding his circumstances. He is seduced not only by the actual female characters in the film, but by the mystery they represent, and his seduction is our own.  Every time things get a bit dull, either for Marc or the viewer, one of the leading ladies knows how regain our attention, and it works for both of us.

Fascination is the most erotically charged of this batch of Rollin's work. The previous films certainly didn't shy away from nudity or eroticism, but Fascination is much more blunt. Perhaps it was the fact that by this phase in his career, Rollin had developed a style that lent itself to soft core films more and more as he sought the production funds to complete his projects. The sex became a game of tit-for-tat, the more tits he shoehorned in, the more of his own ideas he could leave in the film. In Fascination, the sex doesn't feel as forced as it could, but it is a bit out of place on occasion.
 
Upon my first viewing of this film, I found myself struggling a little bit to remain engaged at first, however, around the halfway point, the film picks up significantly and the third act is a thing of beauty. For all of the artifice that Rollin utilizes in the first half, the balances it out with a good deal of pulp over the back end, and it works wonders. In the end I felt the film to be riveting and possibly the most concise presentation of Rollin's obsessions among the set. Obviously, I definitely recommend this one.

The Disc:

Fascination was shot in 1979, and is the newest film in this set by several years, and it looks all the better for it. The image is considerably sharper and warmer than the earlier films, as well as having sustained much less print damage. There are instances where the image goes a bit soft, but that has more to do with the camera than the transfer. I was very satisfied with the image on Fascination, and I can't imagine anyone else being less than happy. The audio is similar to the previous discs, satisfactory but unremarkable, without a quirky score like Shiver or The Iron Rose, it faded into the background for me. There is no English dub on this disc, however, and I find myself strangely disappointed after hearing how good the dubs for Shiver and The Iron Rose were.

Fascination probably the most interesting set of extras on any of these discs. Kino eschews the usual Rollin/Perrey interviews and instead includes completely different material on Fascination. There are two extended sex scenes included in HD and uncut in case the producer needed to market the film as a soft core porn. These total around 16 minutes and feature much creative blocking (though there are still more than enough nut shots), and position changing. The other, quite awesome, extra is an episode of British cult cinema show, Eurotika, featuring the work of Rollin. There are several Rollin interviews as well as numerous clips from many of Rollin's films. The clips from the films released by Kino have been substituted by the HD upgrades, and the other clips look appropriately dreadful. This twenty-odd minute show was very interesting and gets me excited about where Kino's Blu-ray series will go next!

I can't wait to continue this series. I haven't found a stinker among the bunch. Buy Jean Rollin on Blu-ray starting tomorrow, January 24th!
Special Features:
- Mastered in HD from the 35mm negative
- French with optional English subtitles
- Two deleted scenes (16 min. total)
- "Virgins and Vampires," a 24-minute profile of Rollin, with extensive interviews, from the TV series Eurotika!
- 20-page booklet with an essay by Tim Lucas, editor of Video Watchdog
- Original theatrical trailer
- Original trailers of four other Rollin films
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