Directors: Jean Rollin
Redemption USA

Lesbians, blood and unrequited love, prerequisites for an erotic journey into the fantastic cinema of Jean Rollin, made all the more tantalizing with the inclusion of ex-porn star Brigitte Lahaie. While less a tale of lesbian vampires than it is an inventive take on the bloodier and more notable accounts of Elizabeth Bathory, FASCINATION offers enough Rollinade to quench the thirst of die hard fans, while presenting a more conventional horror plot that will appeal to those just beginning to sink their teeth into Rollin’s work.

After stiffing his outlaw brethren from their cut of a purse of gold coins, a thief (Jean-Marie Lemaire) seeks refuge from the pistol wielding gang in a near by chateau. Outwardly abandoned, the bandit promptly discovers that the residence is in fact occupied by two young ladies in waiting. Both Elisabeth (Franca Mai) and Eva (Brigitte Lahaie) have arrived days before the rest of the manor's staff are scheduled to return to work and appear to quite enjoy being alone in the large, empty estate with only each other as company. The two ladies roll out the welcome mat for the cornered thief, yielding to any and all of his requests in an attempt to keep their unexpected visitor from departing before sundown. Intrigued by his captives, and in no rush to leave the castle until night can provide appropriate cover, the crook is informed of an impending social gathering that is to take place at midnight and where death herself is scheduled to appear as the guest of honor. Elisabeth, who in the matter of mere hours has found herself smitten with the thief, attempts to warm him of the dangers to come and proved route for his escape. However, the small band of double crossed thieves and the calculating Eva are not about to let him skip out on the nights prearranged festivities.

When he cast her in his zombie oeuvre Les Raisins de la mort (THE GRAPES OF DEATH), Jean Rollin not only helped Brigitte Lahaie to make the leap from porn star to conventional actress but cemented a working relationship that would carrier over to several more collaborations, including NIGHT OF THE HUNTED and TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES. The beauty of such a unique pairing is that Rollin’s films allowed Brigitte to graduate to less graphic sexual material while preserving the level of nudity that her fans had grown accustom. The focal point of any scene in which she finds herself, Brigitte is a striking figure whose portrayal of Eva isn’t as strong or as well defined as Jean-Marie Lemaire’s roguish thief but none the less stands out among the relatively small cast. Once Eva disrobes to a sheer black cloak and begins to wield an iconic and imposing scythe, the film picks up speed and your attention becomes fully focused on the beauty's every lethal move. Shying away from cinema since the early 1990s, preferring to focus on her carrier as a radio talk show host, Brigitte recently reemerged to the delight of many a fan with a small number of supporting roles, most notability in the 2004 French horror film CALVAIRE, proving that even in her fifties, she still has the goods.

While few of Rollin’s films have found popular favor with audiences and critics in his homeland of France, FASCINATION was rather well received upon its initial release, as was THE GRAPES OF DEATH released a year earlier, as both where more accessible to mainstream horror cinema fans than his earlier work. Filmed in just 12 days from a script written by Rollin, FASCINATION was nevertheless a commercial disaster, a failure that would force Rollin to shoot several pornographic films under a variety of pseudonyms in order to make ends meet. FASCINATION and THE GRAPES OF DEATH are often referred to as the best jumping off point for those unfamiliar with the auteur's body of work, as they provide more conventional narratives, particular in comparison to such earlier work as La Vampire nue (THE NUDE VAMPIRE). While certainly recommendable, I don’t know if this is the best way to advise someone inquiring about a director whose personal vision is so distinctive. After all, if someone asked you to recommend a cannibal film would you suggest they start out light, with a forgettable z-grade gut muncher or would you recommend Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST knowing full well that they may not talk to you the following day? Jean Rollin’s atmosphere and reoccurring themes are practically their own genre, equally turning off and appealing to legions of cinema fans. As such I would suggest diving into the deep end first and letting the viewer decide for themselves whether or not they've gotten in over their head.

Long discontinued, Redemption first released FASCINATION in 1999 under its then distribution deal with Image Entertainment. Rereleasing the title through its current distributor, RYKO, Redemption presents FASCINATION in a 1.66:1 letterboxed aspect ratio. The print features some blemishes, but nothing that doesn’t appear to be anything more than a few minor faults from the source print. Color is appropriate, with reds bloody and greens damp, giving justice to the film's primary gothic setting and dreamlike atmosphere. The film's original French audio is clean and optional English subtitles flow smoothly and are easy to follow.

FASCINATION‘s French theatrical trailer, which can be found in the extras menu, features at least two alternate or edited takes that elude to a more visually provocative production. While the scenes are fleeting, they display a touch more flesh than similar scenes found in the feature itself. A brief shot of Brigitte Lahaie stabbing a member of the gang of robbers, features an alternate angle
that notably displays more of the buxom beauty's finer attributes and a scene featuring the evening's feminine gathering may have had to been re-shot, as a strong wind picks up the sheer gown of one lucky lady in the scene's foreground, providing a full moon view while covering up the action of her costars. A still gallery, trailers for THE NUDE VAMPIRE, THE IRON ROSE and other Redemption releases round out the disc’s supplementary features. It should also be noted that the cover art for this release has been updated by Redemption with a much more appropriate and appealing image of Lahaie than compared to its previous release.
(Jason McElreath)