One of Jean Rollin's more interesting films, 1975s Levres De Sang (better known in North America as Lips Of Blood, which is how it was released on DVD a few years back from Image/Redemption and how it's being re-released again through Redemption and Ryko with this release!) begins with the simple image of a van heading through the night towards an eerie old building. When it stops, the two male passengers emerge, open the back of the van up, and pull out a dead body. When an older woman (Nathalie Perry) appears, she leads them down into the crypt where the body is placed inside a coffin that lays waiting for it. As the men begin to seal the coffin and nail it closed, the camera reveals to us that the corpse is still breathing. We don't know why these people are doing this, but when the old lady puts up a cross at the entrance to the crypt facing the four coffins, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the four people who lay buried in this eerie locale might just have a penchant for sucking blood.
From here, we cut back to the hustle and bustle of city life, where Frederic (Jean-Loup Philippe) is hanging out at a chic party in celebration of a new perfume's launch. While hanging out he's drawn to a poster that features a decrepit but somehow still elegant looking castle that reminds him of his days as a young boy where he became lost while exploring the area with his parents. He wandered into this same castle where he was helped out by a gorgeous woman in a white gown (Annie Brilland). The next morning when he knows he needs to go out and find his parents and return to his normal life, he tells her that he loves her and that one day he'll return to her. He gives her one of his toys and heads out on his way, but his promised return never happened. With the flashback out of the way and the basic premise of the story now in motion, modern day Frederic decides to fulfill that promise and head out to that castle and see if she's still there.
To find out more about the castle and its whereabouts he talks to the photographer who snapped the shot (Marine Grimaud) but she is quite elusive about the location and agrees to tell him where it is only if he meets her one night at a location of her choice, an old theater. He agrees despite the strangeness of it all, but when he shows up to meet her he finds she's been murdered. Frederic refuses to let this stop him from his mission, if anything, her death serves as further fuel for the fire that now burns within him. Later that night, Frederic notices a beautiful woman wandering in the dark. He follows her and she leads him to four female vampires who abduct him and bring him back to the crypt from the opening sequence. Frederic escapes the next morning and tells his mother of what happened to him. Her reaction is, of course, disbelief, but she seems to know more about what is happening to him than she lets on. Eventually, Frederic is reunited with the woman who has haunted his dreams for so long, but it's not the romantic reunion he'd been hoping for and in fact it will put him at the biggest crossroads of his life and force him to choose between life and love.
More linear than many of his other films in the 'lesbian vampire' sub-genre for which he's so well known, Jean Rollin plays this one fairly straight at least in terms of how he tells the story. Everything happens in a very linear fashion, save for the flashback (which doesn't upset the flow of the movie at all) and even those not well versed in the man's work should have no problems whatsoever following this one. The flashback that does happen only serves to justify Frederic's actions and explain his obsession with the castle and the girl that he knows still lives there. It all plays out rather nicely, with the addition of some further plot twists provided in the scenes with his mother made more mysterious by her obvious secrecy.
As much a character as any of the performers in the film are the locations where the movie takes place. The beach that shows up in a few of Rollin's films plays a huge part in the atmospheric ending of the movie and the coffin that washes out to sea in the final minutes of the film remains one of the most poetic images out of his filmography. The film is tragic, odd, almost surreal at times but it remains quite beautiful in a strange sort of way. The cinematography is top notch, and once again Rollin proves to be a master of composition, playing with color and framing and shadow like a kid in a candy store.
While ultimately, Levres De Sang is as much a romance as it is a horror movie (as many of his movies are), it's an engrossing and absolutely gorgeous looking film that provides enough gratuitous nudity, lesbian vampire action and mild bloodshed to appeal to the genre enthusiast but also manages to tell a rather sad and completely interesting story at the same time. While it might not be the film that Rollin is best known for, it's up there and rests firmly in the top tier of his work.
The Encore edition of Levres de Sang that came out a couple of years ago in PAL format out of Holland was, sadly, slightly mis-framed. This release is not a port of that release and the framing looks right this time around. On the Encore disc, Frederic's forehead was missing or very tightly cropped in a couple of scenes, the first party scene being a good example, and that is no longer a problem with this new release.
Screenshot from the Encore PAL release:
Screenshot from this 2008 Redemption NTSC release:
What's irksome about this release, however, is that like most of Redemption's recent efforts, the transfer is interlaced (the Encore release was flagged for progressive scan). It should also be noted that the colors look a little different here, and you'll notice it right away during the opening of the film which features a more prominent blue tone to it. Purists might also want to know that although the title sequence is completely intact on this release, the titles themselves do not appear over the opening bit where the van pulls up in the cemetery. In terms of the image quality itself, the image is generally sharp. There is a bit of mild ghosting in a couple of scenes with fast movement but it isn't too severe. Some print damage shows up but it's never overpowering. Colors look nice and accurate as do flesh tones and while some mild compression artifacts pop up, they're minor.
For a film more than three decades old that was low budget to begin with, the French language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track sounds pretty solid on this release and it appears here complete with English subtitles. There is some mild background hiss throughout much of the movie and if you listen for them you'll pick out the occasional pop here and there but for the most past, things sound all right. Dialogue is fairly clean and pretty consistent even if sometimes the levels fluctuate just a little bit. It's not a perfect track, but it's pretty decent none-the-less and it suits the film just fine.
Pretty much all of the supplements that appear on this disc have been carried over from the Encore special edition release. Rollin provides a screen specific commentary for roughly thirty-three minutes worth of material from the film to start this disc off and he does so in English (no subtitles this time, oddly enough) with some help from a moderator. He covers some of the interesting oddities that popped up during pre-production, how he and the crew had to over come them, and what it was like shooting so much of the material for this film out on location. He goes into no small amount of detail about the history of certain buildings that we see in the film, talks about the beach a little bit more as well as some of the other interesting places that the movie takes place in, and does a really excellent job of giving us a feel for what it must have been like for him on the set of the film.
Up next is an English language video introduction from Rollin. For just over ten-minutes in length he gives his honest feelings about the strengths and weaknesses of the film, and covers some of the difficulties that arose during the shoot and how they affected the final version of the movie. He also talks about working with the two Castel Twins and seems to have really enjoyed how their performances turned out and how they added to the film.
Up next is an interview that finds male lead Jean-Loup Philippe sitting down in front of the camera for just over sixteen-minutes, speaking in French with English subtitles about his experiences on the film. He talks about his early career as an actor, how he came to meet Jean Rollin and how he came to be involved in Levres De Sang specifically. Interestingly enough, Philippe has apparantly worked with Ingmar Bergman (famed director of The Virgin Spring and many others) on the stage before and he explains how that came to happen here. Lots of good stories here, and this proves to be another very interesting piece.
Interview number two rounds up the still lovely Nathalie Perry, who speaks for just over twelve minutes in French with English subtitles about her work on the movie and about her many collaborations with Jean Rollin that stretch back all the way to the late sixties and about the circumstances that lead to him casting her in one of his films for the first time. She talks about her relationship with Jean-Loup Philippe and how it turned into something more than just another working relationship, how she was completely charmed by Serge Rollin's unusual technique of practicing his lines for the movie, and how she feels about Rollin and his work three decades after the fact. This interview is just as good as the first two and again, Perry's got a lot of great stories to tell and if you've ever wanted to know more about the woman from the opening of this film, here's your chance.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are trailers for Killer's Moon and Nature Morte, a still gallery of production photos, static menus, chapter selection and contact info for Redemption.
Extras that appeared on the Encore release that do not appear here are the twenty-four minute video interview with Jean Rollin, the thirteen minute interview with Jean's son Serge Rollin, the fifteen minute interview with lovely Catherine Castel, the Rollin short film Les Amoures Jeunes, the trailer for the film and the nice sixty-four page booklet.
If you don't already have the Encore release or don't want to shell out big bucks for that expensive limited edition import, this is the way to go despite the interlaced transfer and the absence of some key supplemental items. Redemption's release isn't perfect but it is readily available at a good price and it offers a respectful presentation of one of Jean Rollin's finest films. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.