Lèvres de sang
DIRECTED BY: Jean Rollin
PLOT: Sparked by a castle he sees on a poster, a man has visions of a long-forgotten girl he
fell in love with as a boy; mysterious forces try to stop him from finding the locale in the photograph, while a vampire coven helps him from afar.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Slow, atmospheric, with vampires in see-through nighties; Lips of Blood seems a little strange to the ordinary horror fan, but by the surreal standards Jean Rollin set for himself, it’s a bit blasé.
COMMENTS: For a movie about the living dead, Lips of Blood is lifeless. For a supposedly erotic movie, most of the time it just lies there. Only Rollin’s trademark dreamy cinematography and a few bold images save this action-and-suspense-free horror from being a complete bore. The scenario sets up a mystery that is not very mysterious, and posits a timeless romance in which we feel only a theoretical involvement. The movie is peppered with poorly scripted moments that don’t come across so much as absurd as simply awkward. For example, when protagonist Frédéric tracks down the photographer who snapped the photo of the castle he sees in his visions, she just happens to be photographing a nude woman masturbating (in a surprisingly explicit moment). When he asks the photographer, herself a beautiful woman, for the location of the mysterious château, she promises to tell him later at a midnight rendezvous, strips naked, and gives him a long wet kiss! Not only is this whole diversion a shameless device to shoehorn in two more nude scenes, it actually damages Frédéric’s character, since he’s supposed to be pining for the mysterious dream girl with whom he has a deep psychic connection, not fooling around with nude models. In a more exploitative movie this brand of brazen sleaze would be entertainingly incongruous, but in a film with serious ambitions as a moody psychological horror, it’s a misstep. The intended eroticism is somewhat better integrated when Frédéric accidentally awakens a coven of female vampires, who then walk around a Paris graveyard in sheer, gauzy babydoll burial shrouds from Victoria’s Secret. Among the sexy bloodsuckers he raises are sensual twins Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel (Rollin favorites, for obvious reasons). They shadow the doomed hero, saving his bacon from the shadowy forces trying to keep him from locating the mysterious castle. At one point they go undercover as nurses (sexy twin vampire nurses—now that’s mixing fetishes!), while at another juncture they save Frédéric from cinema’s longest stare down the barrel of a gun by turning on the fountains outside the aquarium. After a “twist” resolution that depends on the notion that the actors can’t distinguish an obvious prop from the real thing, it all ends with some torrid lovemaking on the beach and a coffin floating out to sea. I’ve hit the highlights here, which make the movie sound more entertaining and ludicrous than it actually is. In fact, Lips of Blood is mostly talking, walking, and a thug holding the hero at gunpoint for what seems like ten minutes, deciding whether he wants to pull the trigger or not.
With this review of Lips of Blood we’ve now covered all five of Redemption’s 2012 Rollin remastered releases; time for a rundown. Lips is the least interesting and essential of the bunch, essentially a standard softcore Eurohorror with a few unusual touches. For weird fans, Fascination (1979) is a step up; it’s a solid horror outing with a some memorable scenes (aristocratic ladies drinking ox blood, a topless Grim Reaper). The Iron Rose (1973) is the most challenging of the quintet; this graveyard tour shows Rollin’s at his most deliberately surrealist, but at times the film seems to mistake “slow and uneventful” for “poetic.” Shiver of the Vampires (1971), with its pair of scraping “bourgeois vampires” and a bisexual bloodsucker emerging from a grandfather clock, features the director’s most successful blend of dreamlike weirdness and solid Gothic filmmaking. Shiver would make a good entry point into Rollin’s erotically weird universe, but we have to say that our favorite of the five is the earliest entry, The Nude Vampire (1970). It’s raw filmmaking, especially in the acting department, but it’s the fastest moving of his minimalist stories, and features all the usual dreadful atmosphere while adding enough concentrated craziness for four Rollin romps. Of course, there are still several Rollin films of potential weird interest that weren’t included in this Redemption drop, including his first movie, the notorious Rape of the Vampire (1968).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: