Jean Rollin, 1975
Starring: Jean-Loup Philippe, Annie Belle, Nathalie Perrey
Frédéric is at a party when he sees a picture of some castle ruins by the sea. This triggers a powerful memory from his childhood where he entered the castle and met a beautiful young girl locked up there. He tells his mother about the memory, but she denies that it was real and becomes anxious and angry. Determined to find the girl, Frédéric tracks down the photographer of the photo, which leads him closer to Jennifer, the girl from his childhood. He has a series of visions about her during his journey and encounters a cemetery with coffins full of bats. By opening the coffins, he releases four female vampires, clad only in see-through gowns, who wander the town at night, occasionally feasting on its citizens.
His mother has him committed to a mental hospital and almost killed, but the female vampires help him to escape. He learns about the location of the castle and journeys there, discovering Jennifer’s coffin. Before he can open it, his mother intercepts him and it seems that she holds a horrible secret...
Jean Rollin directed a number of erotic, surreal films in the ‘70s - vampire movies Le Frisson des Vampire (1970) and Requiem pour un Vampire (1971) - as well as the dreamlike Iron Rose (1972), The Demoniacs (1973), one of his classics, Grapes of Death (1978), as well as Fascination (1979). As I’m doing a series on 100 important films in ‘70s horror, I tried to only pick one Rollin film. I plan to do a blog retrospective of all of his work sometime in the future, but it was difficult to narrow down my choice as I’m a huge fan of his work and the ‘70s was the most creative decade of his life.
Lips of Blood treads odd ground in the Rollin canon as it is one of his most accessible films. Flawed, but still enjoyable, Lips of Blood really shines thanks to the work of cinematographer Jean-Francois Robin (Betty Blue). Rollin felt that Lips of Blood had some of his favorite locations and Robin captures their magic - cemeteries, beaches, old areas of Paris, etc. Though there are plenty of poetic scenes and locations, Lips of Blood is one of the few films set in contemporary reality and star Jean-Loup Philippe penned the flawed, but relatively solid script.
It’s not a perfect film and there are moments that lag, clear budget and production issues, and an ending that feels a bit silly after all the build up throughout the film. The vampires’ fangs look pretty awful and the effects in general are very cheap. The film was a financial failure, undoubtedly because it attempted to blend erotica, mystery, horror, and art house. Rollin’s films in general have never been popular, though they’ve steadily developed a loyal cult following over the years. Lips of Blood, like many of Rollin’s other films, may disappoint horror fans because, at its heart, it is a romantic tale of memory and longing. There just happen to be vampires, coffins, bats, and crumbling castles by the sea. A coffin floating out to see is one of the film’s most poetic images, which is saying a lot considering Rollin’s body of work as a whole.
A few of Rollin’s regulars turn out some good performances here, such as twins Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel, star Jean-Loup Philippe (Rape of the Vampire, writer of Lips of Blood), Nathalie Perrey (The Nude Vampire), and Willy Braque (The Demoniacs), among others. There are some other genre regulars, such as Annie Bell (House on the Edge of the Park), and actresses Martine Grimaud, Sylvia Bourdon, and Claudine Beccarie would go on to develop careers in a number of French adult films after Lips of Blood.
As with most of his other films, this one has plenty of nudity, male as well as female. The four vampires barely wear clothes and when they do, the material is see through. There are no explicit sex scenes, though some more romantic, softcore elements appear. There is actually another version of Lips of Blood - Suck Me, Vampire - that contains hardcore inserts Rollin was forced to shoot at a later date.
Lips of Blood is one of my favorite Rollin films and it’s also one of his most accessible. It’s a great place to start for newcomers to the dearly departed director and has more solid plot elements than many of his other films from this period. It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, who have thankfully released many of Rollin’s films at this point.