Director: Jean Rollin
Screenplay: Jean Rollin
Starring: Franca Maï (as Franka Mai), Brigitte Lahaie, Jean-Marie Lemaire, Fanny Magier, Muriel Montossé, Sophie Noël, Evelyne Thomas
Running time: 82 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
There are few more memorable images in the cinema fantastique of French director Jean Rollin than the sight of Brigitte Lahaie stalking victims dressed in a cloak and wielding a scythe. This striking sight appears in Fascination, a gem of a slow burner that, after a blood soaked opening at an abattoir which seemingly sets the tone, eschews the horror for an apparent drama set in 1905.
Thief Marc seeks refuge in a gorgeous chateau where he finds lovers, Eva and Elisabeth. The pair do their best to keep Marc there and the trio get to know each other. From here that scene with the scythe, which Lahaie’s Eva uses to stalk several victims like a harbinger of death after she is assaulted, sets the tone for what will eventually come: a brilliant descent into horror and murder.
Loosely based on the 1892 short story The Glass of Blood (Le Verre de sang) by Jean Lorrain, Fascination is a different beast to some of Rollin’s other films, yet still retains the dreamy, hallucinatory feeling, rural scenery and beautiful visuals, not least the outstanding chateau setting which belies the film’s low budget. Dialogue is limited, with the atmospheric mood for which Rollin is so revered really coming to the fore, as it does in so many of his films.
The characters are engrossing; the main trio of Marc, Eva and Elisabeth seemingly change motives throughout, and the viewer’s thoughts about a character in one moment are likely to be very different just a few scenes later. They’re very engaging characters, wonderfully portrayed by Franka Mai (Elisabeth), Lahaie (Eva), and Jean-Marie Lemaire (Marc). It’s this trio who we spend much of the film with until the final act, where the horrors and trues motives reveal themselves and more characters are introduced. It’s a brilliant finale that’s well worth the wait as the slow burning drama takes hold and that opening scene’s meaning becomes apparent.
Another notable feature is the score by Philippe D’Aram. When it is in full force it’s incredibly eerie, a choral chant, hum-like, that evokes creeping dread. It’s quite unnerving, creating a similar effect to that which Angelo Badalamenti became famous for in his collaborations with David Lynch, and forebodes the horrors to come.
And what horrors; the blood is used sparingly, the claret not flowing as freely as in some of the director’s other movies, but when the horror does arrive it’s at times sudden and unexpected and often very unsettling. The finale features some really unnerving images and sounds, some of the most striking in Rollin’s oeuvre.
In closing, Fascination is a real treasure in the filmography of Jean Rollin. It’s a haunting piece of cinema with visuals and scenes really cementing themselves in the memory; a showcase for the talents of Brigitte Lahaie and a real treat for lovers of the fantastic, horror and dreamy cinema.
Fascination is released on 4KUHD and Blu-ray by Powerhouse Films on their Indicator label on 30th October 2023 in the UK and 31st October 2023 in the US. I reviewed the UK Blu-ray edition. The new 4K restoration by Powerhouse Films is outstanding. Like all of their Rollin restorations, the image quality is top notch and miles ahead of previous releases of the director’s movies. The audio is also spot on.
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
Brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative by Powerhouse Films
Original French mono soundtrack
Audio commentary with Sylvia Kristel: From ‘Emmanuelle’ to Chabrol author Jeremy Richey (2023)
Jean Rollin Introduces ‘Fascination’ (1998, 2 mins)
Rituels (2023, 8 mins): updated documentary on the making of Fascination by Rollin’s personal assistant, Daniel Gouyette, including interviews with key collaborators Natalie Perrey and Brigitte Lahaie
The Music of ‘Fascination’ (2023, 20 mins): new presentation of an interview with composer Philippe D’Aram
Love Like Blood (2023, 7 mins): critical appreciation by author and film historian Virginie Sélavy
Alternative sequences: two extended sex scenes
Eurotika!: ‘Virgins and Vampires’ (1999, 25 mins): documentary on Rollin, produced and directed by Andy Starke and Pete Tombs, featuring contributions from Rollin, actors Monica Swinn and Brigitte Lahaie, and Nigel Wingrove of Redemption Films
Original theatrical trailer
Image gallery: promotional and publicity material, and behind the scenes
New and improved English translation subtitles
Limited edition exclusive 80-page book with a new essay by Vanessa Morgan, an archival introduction by Jean Rollin, a reprint of the short story by Jean Lorrain that inspired the film’s screenplay, a previously untranslated archival interview with Rollin, an archival interview with actor Fanny Magier, and full film credits
Limited edition of 10,000 individually numbered units (6,000 4K UHDs and 4,000 Blu-rays) for the UK and US
There’s a lot of information packed into the audio commentary by author Jeremy Richey. It begins by taking a look at the opening of the film before providing insights into, and an overview of, some of the actors who star in the film. A particular treat is the focus on some of the supporting actors, sharing details of their careers and lives outside of the movies. I also particularly enjoyed Richey’s comments on the challenges Rollin faced during his career. There’s also an informative overview of the career of Brigitte Lahaie. It’s an excellent commentary.
Rituels: Fascination is an updated eight minute short documentary on the making of the film by Rollin’s personal assistant, Daniel Gouyette, including interviews with key collaborators Natalie Perrey and Brigitte Lahaie. There are some fun memories, particularly from Perrey.
The Music of Fascination is a 20 minute long, new presentation of an archival interview with Philippe D’Aram, in which the composer talks about how he met Rollin, and shares his memories of working on Fascination. He also discusses the instruments used to bring the music to life, and how the way music is made has changed from the time of the making of the film to the time of the interview. D’Aram is a pleasure to spend time with.
Love like Blood is a seven minute appreciation by Virgine Sélavy which is a good, albeit brief, listen; particularly her commentary on the main castle location of the film. It complements Sélavy’s similarly enjoyable pieces on other Indicator releases of Rollin’s films.
There are two extended sex scenes, both running for eight minutes. Each features music and no sound effects. These are good inclusions; it’s always nice to have deleted, additional and alternative footage and outtakes.
The trailer is just over two minutes long and runs through various scenes from the movie.
The image gallery contains over 70 behind the scenes and promotional photos, as well as poster and home video artwork.
Eurotika: Virgins and Vampires is a fascinating documentary providing an overview of Rollin’s career, together with an interview with the director. There are various other interviews as well, looking at the director’s work. A great inclusion. Eurotika was originally shown on Channel 4 on 1999, with 12 episodes in total airing. Other episodes focused on the likes of Michael Reeves, Jess Franco, José Larraz and Italian horror filmmakers. Virgins and Vampires was the first episode in the series.
The 80-page book is typically well curated, opening with a new essay by Vanessa Morgan, which provides an introductory overview to the film, together with interesting insights in the subversiveness of the film and what was happening in society and politics at the time it was filmed. The book also contains the short story The Glass of Blood, which Fascination was loosely inspired by, an informative overview by Rollin from 1997, together with an equally insightful interview from 2004 which has never been translated into English before, and a fun interview with Fanny Magier, who played Hélène. An excellent book, as is to be expected from Indicator.
The love, care and attention that Powerhouse Films are giving the films of Jean Rollin on their Indicator label is exceptional. Once all 20 releases are out, they will arguably comprise the best set of individual releases of a single director’s films on Blu-ray/4KUHD.
Fascination is one of Rollin’s best films, some would argue his best; a slow burning treat with oodles of atmosphere, and unexpected moments of violence, mixed with sex and a degree of opulence thanks to its 1905 chateau setting. It’s incredibly well presented in a fantastic limited edition set on the Indicator label, which packs a top class 4K restoration, gorgeous packaging, an informative book and excellent new and archival on-disc extras.