Fascination Blu-ray Review
Kino present Rollin’s Fascination with a 1.66:1 frame, via an AVC encode that has been mastered from the 35mm negative. It looks like film and appears very pleasantly unmolested by digital tinkering. There is no overt edge enhancement, no smearing and no DNR to blight the image. Grain isn’t overbearing and looks naturally resolved. The print is very robust, but there are some small and unworrying signs of wear and tear that can crop up.
The aesthetic, which is typical of Rollin, is overcast and raw, yet this does not mean that the image is lacking in vitality, clarity and good colour saturation when called for. The picture is deep and bold, but the scenery has not been bolstered by the photography to look greener, or sharper or more atmospheric. Rollin shoots pretty much as is, and his films tend to look dour and stripped down, making use of the natural light. There is nearly always the sense that rain is hanging in the air, and this makes for a consistently clear, yet darker-hued palette.
Although candles and flames in the open fire are often points of warmth and light, Rollin’s film doesn’t maximise on shadow as a contrast. In fact, for a film that is set in and around a satanic chateau that will become awash with blood and bodies, there is no sense of the visual darkness in the frame being used for traditionally spooky ambience. We don’t have creepy talons or pale, fanged faces creeping out of the gloomier pockets of the screen. But black levels are deep and strong. Perhaps a little bit too strong at times, when they appear to engulf some of the finer detail in the print. When colours do ignite, however, they do so very well. The blood, which never gushes, is bright and theatrical. The orange of the dancing flames comes across well, with depth and warmth. The wacky red of Marc’s barber-shop/gondolier jacket leaps from the screen, and the earthy greens and browns of the chilly meadowland around the mansion are nicely settled with authenticity into the picture. There is no banding that I noticed, and skin-tones, which are aesthetically pale and bland actually look fine. There is some sparkle and definition to the eyes too.
Whites aren’t prone to bloom and remain free from hot highlights.
You won’t come away from this film with the impression that you have been wowed by its levels of detail … and yet you will have been looking at a very well defined image, just the same. Despite the more diffused photography and the liberal makeup applied, there is actually some fine facial texture – well, skin texture I should point out, as there is much more than just faces on show. Costumes are also well presented, with stitching, patterns and material texture revealed. The sheer garments that the ladies of the chateau sport for their evening’s entertainment are marvellously “revealing” too. We can see the lace and the gauze and, obviously, what lies beneath. Wounds are hardly Savini-like, just smears of red that resembles sloppy lipstick without any actual prosthetic slice, or nibble to be seen. The long shots of the landscape that surrounds the chateau are fairly well defined too, with detail and clarity afforded the trees and the meadows.
Overall, this is a very good transfer that looks authentic and faithful.
Out of all the recent Jean Rollin releases from Kino, Fascination is the only one not to get an English audio track. Here, the film is presented with just its original French mix in LPCM 2.0 mono with English subs.
This is actually quite a loud track, folks. It is crazily enhanced and crisp, with voices that rip forth from the speakers with plenty of Gallic bark. Jean-Marie Lamaire, alone, is apt to leave the ears ringing during the early stretches of the film. Dialogue, elsewhere is essentially clean enough and intentionally seductive. Sometimes it comes across with the tininess of age and design limitations, but there is never a time when it is not clearly rendered. We have some screaming, and we have some moaning. The former is pretty loud during one scene, whilst the latter is soft. Effects, which aren’t in abundance anyway, don’t figure too greatly in the scheme of this mix. But we do get some solid-sounding, and unenhanced gunshots, and the slicing of the scythe through the air. What come across quite resonantly are the incidental sounds, such as footsteps on gravel or across floorboards, doors opening and closing etc. The rawness of the original design appears to give such things a decently punchy level of detail.
There is a very “natural” and open quality to the sound design. The track may be limited in scope, but it still feels quite spacious regardless of the lack of actual effects and surround mixing. The Gregorian chanting and moaning during some parts of the score come through with a nice low level of guttural menace though, in the main, this is not a particularly demonstrative work from Philippe D’Aram, who would go on to score The Living Dead Girl for Rollin in 1982.
Whilst this still sounds quite fresh and dynamic considering its age and rather lowly source, there are a few moments when we can plainly hear hiss, hum and worn-in crackling. However, this shouldn’t act as a distraction from what is a surprisingly vivid track that offers lots of often quite forceful presence.
As with all the releases in this Rollin series, we have the same 20-page booklet from Video Watchdog founder Tim Lukas. This is a rather devout and quite overly enamoured chronicle of Jean Rollin, his styles and influences, his traits and trademarks and the films released in this series in particular. There’s a fair few facts gathered that put each movie in its place with regards to themes, locations and imagery. Redemption’s Nigel Wingrove is able to provide a fawning ode to the filmmaker on the back page, which is abundantly heartfelt and sincere.
We have two Deleted Scenes, which are very interesting indeed, if you are in a certain frame of mind. Both are the full and much raunchier versions of the film’s two major set-piece sex scenes. Rollin had filmed more explicit versions just in case his more exploitation-minded producers demanded that the film should need them. Both play out in silence as the audio elements have been lost. Don’t expect too much in the way of added raunch, though.
We also get to see to the episode of British TV series, Eurotika, which was devoted to the films of Jean Rollin. This lasts for 24 minutes and is a pretty decent examination of this lesser-known, but still cult-cherished filmmaker. He is in a very jovial mood, giggling away most of the time, during some frank examinations of the films he has made and the reaction to them – from meandering affection to full-blown riots. Nigel Wingrove gets to send his praise, which the late Rollin responded to by giving him license to all his movies for release by Redemption. His usual themes are looked at, especially that patch of secluded beach that he would often return to, and Rollin is able to discuss why he has such a fascination for sexy female vampires. There is talk about how French fantasy and horror reached came to a very low ebb in the seventies and how it was the popularity of porn that empowered Rollin, and others, to make their films with more freedom and of a more personal nature. He clearly informs us that his stories are supposed to evoke mystery and not horror or outrage. He does, in fact, come across very well and appears to be one alarmingly cheerful bloke.
A series of pretty lengthy and laborious trailers for this and the other titles in the series is also offered.
Jean Rollin’s fantasy films – any of them - are an acquired taste. No question about that.
I would say that newcomers to this esoteric and surreal branch of genre-charade should do some research and test the water first because to assume from their covers and from their synopsis blurb that they are the sort of vampire films that start where Hammer’s lesbian trysts leave off would be setting the wrong tone entirely. It is true that they are rife with girl-on-girl activities and that these girls usually turn out to be of the blood-drinking variety, but you have to make way for often woeful dialogue, even worse acting from characters that you couldn’t care less about, and a complete dearth of actual, tangible narrative to latch onto … and these elements tend to diffuse things throughout.
But this is compensated for, provided you are in the right frame of mind that is, by often sumptuous settings, bizarre and exotic imagery, oodles of gothic and decadent atmosphere, and a uniquely hallucinatory tone. For some, myself included, that is often enough. Rollin uses his cast, his amazing women in particular, as object d’art in a gallery that hints at the grisly and the grotesque, but is more concerned with becoming a sensual canvas of the odd and the peculiar … and the downright erotic. They are meandering and dreamlike, and Fascination, which benefits from a genuine plot, is possibly the best of the bunch. Some will simply scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss was about, but a few others, just a few, might fall under the weirdly wonderful spell of Jean Rollin’s elegant dream-world.
This disc heads-up a fine series of releases that pay overdue respect to a maligned and neglected filmmaker who, if nothing else, had a unique and singular vision that he diligently abided by. To this end, Redemption and Kino present Fascination with a fine transfer that appears faithful and film-like. We don’t get much in the way of extras, but what is provided is certainly interesting and, indeed, heartfelt.
Jean Rollin fans will lap surely lap this series of BD’s up. Others may want to think a little harder before taking the plunge.
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