REDEMPTION FILMS have recently released five titles by the late French director Jean Rollin in new, HD transfers from the original 35mm prints (available on both DVD and blu-ray). The first one to enter my collection is 1979’s FASCINATION, arguably one of Rollin’s best-looking films.
The year is 1905. A group of high society types meet at a secluded butcher shop to drink the blood of oxen, allegedly a cure for anemia.
Jump across town to a thief named Mark who has just screwed four other thieves out of their share of a bag of gold. Mark takes the one female thug as a hostage, but she manages to escape. On his journey through the beautiful French countryside en route to London, Mark comes across an isolated mansion and decides to hide there until dark (the four thieves are on his tail). Inside the mansion he meets two mysterious women, Elizabeth and Eva (played by the beautiful Franka Mai and the legendary Brigitte Lahaie) who he attempts to hold prisoner until he leaves. But the women prove too slick for him, and eventually convince him to stay for a special reunion they’re having that night. They won’t tell him who their special guests are, and Mark continues to ask why no one—not even the servants—are home.
When Mark tries to leave the next morning, the four thieves are waiting for him. He’s trapped, but Eva decides to give the thieves the bag of gold in exchange for them leaving Mark alone. She takes them to the barn for them to count the coins. She seduces one thief, then dons a long, black cape and a scythe and dispatches the group (the effects aren’t very convincing, but the site of the lovely Lahaie in nothing but a cape makes up for it). The last thief to get killed is the female, who Eva takes down with her scythe on the narrow foot bridge that leads to the mansion, also one of Rollin’s most iconic sequences.
When Elizabeth and Eva’s house guests arrive, they play a game of blind man’s bluff with Mark. When what they intend to do to him is revealed, Elizabeth helps Mark escape, hiding in a giant pigeon coop. Back at the mansion, the female guests (all dressed in ceremonial see-through robes) turn on Eva and take her down on the foot bridge, drinking her blood.
Mark confesses his love for Elizabeth, but she claims she’s not able to love him back and shoots him. She returns to the site of her one-time lover Eva being drained of her life fluid, and the film ends as she is welcomed back into the blood-drinking cult by their leader.
If you’ve never seen a Jean Rollin film before, be advised that his films aren’t action packed, are often surreal, and rely more on atmosphere and mystery than gore and scares. In the case of FASCINATION, Rollin has created a group of aristocratic blood drinkers who aren’t vampires per se, but rather those who took a step too far in their fear of succumbing to a wide spread disease. But considering Rollin’s use of a castle, capes, and much gothic scenery, it’s easy to label FASCINATION as another one of his vampire films.
Brigitte Lahaie and Franca Mai have never looked better, and here make an intimidating bi-sexual duo. While there’s ample nudity (a Rollin trademark), it isn’t the centerpiece of the film, nor are the kill scenes. The film’s ambiance and longing to find out who these mysterious house guests are keeps things moving, albeit at the director’s unique pace.
Redemption’s High-Def DVD looks absolutely gorgeous, and features a few nifty extras, the best being a 24-minute interview with Jean Rollin from a UK TV program called EUROTIKA! Also included are two deleted sex scenes which the director shot in case he needed to turn FASCINATION into a soft core film (there’s no sound in these scenes, but Lahaie fans will love them anyway). There’s also original French trailers for this and the four other titles Redemption has remastered, plus a 20-paged booklet with an informative essay written by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog magazine.
Jean Rollin is definitely an acquired taste, but if you’re looking for a different take on vampirism, give FASCINATION a shot. It’s one of the director’s best achievements, and is simply a beautiful film to look at.
A prime example of Rollin's gore-geous scenery
Mark realizes too late that Elizabeth is truly nuts...
Elizabeth returns to the fold...
Brigitee Lahaie and Franca Mai, two of the most beautiful sirens of euro cinema
Death never looked so good...
Eva seduces then takes out the first thief
The ladies play blind man's bluff with Mark