VHS Review: Fascination

“Beware, death sometimes takes the form of seduction.” This seems to be a favorite as far as Jean Rollin films go but it isn’t his goriest or bloodiest work. It’s another Gothic and erotic lesbian vampire film raining with 70s bush and the conventional amount of gratuitous nudity and soft core sex. These aren’t vampires in the strictest sense but unlike any vampire film you have ever seen. There are no fangs but individuals that drink the blood of another human being are often viewed as a vampire. Even if they are the living. Prolific French director Jean Rollin gives us the goods as usual. Only hardcore horror fans know who this man is and it’s a shame. This is an elegant approach to exploitation with beautiful shots of the country side. It’s enriched with symbolism and fine use of strong and grotesque imagery putting modern day horror films to shame. The photography is very engaging and captivating. Along with the stunning visuals, the costume design fits consummately. I couldn’t find any information as to who was in charge of that department. The score by Philippe d’ Aram is harmonious. The opening music certainly set the tone for the film.

The US VHS copy was issued in the mid 90s being the last edition. Notice how the cover art was stolen from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood. A VHS was released in the UK by Salvation in 2000. My only complaints, its run-time is only 81 minutes and the subs were hard to read. Not to worry, the film has been released on Blu-ray for those of you who want a clearer picture and easier-to-read subtitles.

Set in the early twentieth century, Fascination opens with high society women in a slaughter house, drinking the blood of an ox to cure their anemia due to the doctor’s orders. They seem to get aroused by this after a while. I view this opening act as a piece of art. These classy broads in big hats were walking through the nasty slaughter house on top of entrails while their long gowns grazed the floor covered in blood and guts. Cut to a stylish thief robbing a group of thieves and making a run for it.  When I say stylish, I mean stylish. The thief (Mark) is sporting a pin stripe black and red suit with a black top hat. The Nazi poster boy manages to make his way towards a chateau surrounded by water, where he plans to hide out. Eva and Elisabeth are all alone in the chateau awaiting guests for an annual reunion. You can tell right off the bat that mutiny is afoot. Eva and Elisabeth may not be what they appear to be, which is a couple of lesbian servants. Eva tells Mark, “I offer you my virginity in return for my life.” Of course, that’s an offer that Mark can’t refuse. After a while, he contemplates leaving, but the ladies tell him that there was a meeting at midnight where their ‘friends’ plan on coming together. It’s a secret society of some sorts. His inquiring mind makes him stay, despite all of the warnings. They basically tell him that these are his final moments and at midnight, ‘something’ is going down. At first, it would seem that Mark had it good. He has his bag of gold, stumbled across a couple of friendly lesbians with an empty chateau, and he’s about to enjoy a feast with several more lovely lesbians.

So what the hell is going on and what does this has to do with the ox blood at the beginning? We discover that it not only cures anemia but it is “the life which flows in you, but it’s also death when it escapes. Perhaps there is no going back, once it’s touched your lips.” This little anemic club is more like a vampire club that plans on sucking Mark dry. There are a few chain of events that I didn’t quite understand. For instance, why are they waiting till midnight? The girls change into see-through slips and chase after Mark but Elisabeth saves him from Eva by shooting her. Eva is stunned, “How could you? You were mine.” This is another reference to vampires but it’s not like Eva turned Elisabeth or made her what she is. They are not of the undead. Eva tries crawling back to the chateau where she is then eaten alive by the remaining group of lesbian vampires. This was a disappointing scene for me because I did not want to see Eva die and it doesn’t look like they are sinking their teeth into her body, at all. There’s barely any blood. It’s quite tame compared to Rollin’s Grapes of Death. Elisabeth goes into hiding with Mark and shoots him after telling him, “You were mine but you rejected me.” I wasn’t a huge fan of this ending. I felt the story line was lacking. Some call it a feminist film. I don’t know if I would go there just because it’s about woman devouring man. As for the drinking blood to stay healthy and youthful, it’s hard to find studies on it but this was something women actually practiced. Most notably, Queen “Bloody” Mary. She would actually bathe in the blood of virgins.

The most celebrated scene would be the visual of Brigitte Lahaie (Eva) with a black cape (bare underneath) and a large scythe, reminiscent of the angel of death. She is one of the most dangerously beautiful women to get naked in front of a camera. This beauty has starred in so many porn flicks, most where she enjoys double penetration. Whatever floats your boat I guess. I just feel like her talent was wasted and she had more to offer than double penetration. I even liked her in Jess Franco’s “Faceless.” Elisabeth is played by the elegant Franca Mai, who is a quarter of Vietnamese. Fascination was her acting debut. Unfortunately, she passed last February at the age of 52 after losing her battle to cancer. Not only was she an actress but she was a singer, photographer, independent filmmaker, and the co-editor of the web magazine e.torpedo.net. She has also written a few novels.

As for the DVD quality, I disliked the Redemption/Image release. The sound was acceptable though. Special features include; Original French trailer, 16 minutes of deleted scenes, trailers for other films,  and a Short Subject Documentary: Virgins and Vampires.