Fascination (1979) – By Cary Conley

A young man with a bag full of gold is pursued by a gang of thieves across the French countryside. He takes refuge in a castle occupied by two lovely young girls, Elisabeth (Franca Mai) and Eva (Brigitte Lahaie). As the ladies flirt and tease the young man, they continue to hint that if he stays around until dark, they will change his life forever. For his part, the young man, named Marc, is too dense and too greedy to take the hint. He’s quite cocky; he cannot fathom that these lasses have the potential to harm him. Besides, the gang of thieves have followed him and he is safe in the castle since there is a moat and only one entrance for him to guard. Marc feels like it would be best to wait until dark when he has a better chance to slip away from the castle unnoticed. But as darkness descends, more lovely ladies appear and they all seem interested in Marc just as he is interested in this secret annual meeting of pretty maids.

Apparently, some of the girls were made to drink ox blood as a way to keep them healthy and to "put some red into their cheeks." While drinking the ox blood seemed disgusting at first, the girls eventually learned to enjoy it. They hatch a plan to meet at the castle once each year to continue the practice, with one twist. Each year a different pair of girls arrive early to freshen up the castle–and to lure a young man to the castle for what he hopes will be a sexual tryst. But instead, he will be overpowered by the group of temptresses and drained of his blood to satisfy their cravings.

With Fascination, Rollin was able to take his favorite cinematic monster, the vampire, and turn it on its ear while simultaneously continuing to explore his favorite subject. These women aren’t vampires in the strict sense of the word–they don’t have fangs, they don’t need blood to survive, and they aren’t undead at all–nevertheless, they enjoy both the thrill of the hunt as well as the taste of blood. And, as most vampires are, these ladies are extremely sexual.

Fascination contains some of Rollin’s most iconic and best-remembered imagery to date. The film opens with Elisabeth and Eva dancing on the bridge that spans the moat, a very odd way to introduce the film as the opening scene is meaningless to the viewer until later on when the characters are reintroduced. Perhaps most famously is Brigitte Lahaie totally nude except for a black cloak, brandishing a huge scythe, which she uses to great effect on the band of thieves. Fascination is also the most overtly sexual of the five films Kino-Lorber and Redemption have released, with a gorgeous Lahaie getting naked on several occasions and engaging in numerous soft core sexual acts. Previous to this film, Rollin’s films have always been tinged with lesbian overtones, with on occasional kiss being shared between vampires or even some heavy petting. But in Fascination, Lahaie and the also attractive Franca Mai engage in some decidedly erotic lovemaking as well.

The story keeps the viewer’s interest as first Marc, then the two girls gain the upper hand. The two sides grapple for control of the situation, but even when Marc seems to be in control one gets the feeling he’s just being played–in reality, the two girls are always in control, pulling Marc’s strings much like a puppet master with his marionette. Things begin to get very interesting as the band of robbers are also lured onto the castle grounds. Lahaie as Eva plays the innocent maiden who is roughed up and raped by one of the hoodlums only to turn the tables on the group with the aforementioned scythe. As darkness descends, an entire group of very attractive ladies–who all eventually dress in Rollin’s primary choice of clothing for female vampires, the gauze-like cloak that reveals more than it covers–arrive at the castle and keep up the cat-and-mouse game into the night. Unfortunately, the games go on a bit too long and I became a bit bored by the end of the film. Rollin may have become a little bored as well, as the film just kind of peters out, ending on a freeze-frame of Lahaie. That freeze-frame seemed a bit too abrupt for the ending and was anti-climactic. That being said, the majority of the film was very entertaining and well-made, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Fascination has just been released in a newly mastered, HD version from the original film negatives. Included is a terrific BBC documentary about Rollin called "Eurotika!" as well as two extended sex scenes that run a total of 16 minutes that Rollin filmed for use in various international markets (as far as I know, that footage was never actually used ). The film is offered in French with optional English subtitles. The same very nice 20-page booklet, found in all five Rollin releases and authored by the original Video Watchdog, Tim Lucas, is included.

The film was released in late January and is readily available at many retail outlets and online stores on DVD and Blu-Ray as well as on video-on-demand at Amazon.com.