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 Kino with this Blu-ray debut!) 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 lounging around the party, he's inexplicably drawn to a poster that features a decrepit but somehow still elegant looking castle that reminds him of his days as a young boy (played by Rollin's son, Serge) where he became lost while exploring the area with his parents. He flashes back to the time that 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 realizes that he needs to go out and find his parents and return to his normal life, he tells the woman 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 fairly straight forward 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. Adding to all of this is the female cast, who all do their part to up the ante in terms of the sex appeal that the producers wanted to make the film more marketable. Annie Brilland (also known as Annie Belle) is stunning here and the two Castel twins who play the twin vampires in the film have got a mysterious allure to them as well. While this version of the film isn't as sexually graphic as some of the director's other pictures, it still offers some lurid thrills in this regard, including a scene in which Marine Grimaud's photographer shoots a nude woman who decides an impromptu masturbation session is in order.
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. Unfortunately for Rollin, the film didn't do well at the box office at all and in order to appease those aforementioned producers who wanted a more marketable film, he had to reuse some of the footage and splice it together with some hardcore footage to create a XXX variant which was released under the title of Suck Me Vampire.
Kino/Redemption presents Levres Des Sang in an AVC encoded 1.66.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer mastered from the original 35mm negative. As you'd expect, this is a marked improvement over previous DVD releases in both color and in detail. Some shots that have always looked soft still do and sporadic minor print damage is present in the form of some specks here and there but in general the image is crisp and solid throughout. Colors are very nicely reproduced here, as are skin tones and if black levels aren't always inky black, they're pretty close. Shadow detail isn't reference quality but compared to previous DVD releases it is improved considerably while texture looks very good here too - you'll notice the frayed edges of the movie poster outside the theater (showing Rollin's own films!) and on the various negligees that some of the female characters wear in the last half of the film.
The sole audio option on the Blu-ray disc is a French track, in LPCM 2.0 Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only. Audio is clean and clear and the score sounds good throughout the movie. This isn't an overly aggressive mix, again this is an older low budget film, but the dialogue is perfectly balanced against the score and there are no problems at all with any hiss or distortion. The white English subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read and there weren't any obvious typos noted during playback to complain about. All in all, the movie sounds great here.
Rollin provides a video introduction to the film. For just under three 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. Also included here is an interview with the still lovely Nathalie Perrey, who speaks for just under ten minutes in French with English subtitles about her work on the movie and about her many collaborations with Jean Rollin, noting that many of the crew members were interested in fooling around with the girls and how a certain actor would talk in his sleep during the production.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are HD trailers for the feature and for The Shiver Of The Vampires, The Nude Vampire, The Iron rose and Lips Of Blood. Animated menus and chapter stops are included and inside the keepcase is a twenty-page full color booklet of liner notes from writer Tim Lucas which do a great job of making the case for the legitimacy of Rollins work and the artistic value of that work and which also do a fine job of detailing his life, times and some of his more popular films. A great addition to the package, this is a solid read and it's nicely illustrated as well. The last page of the booklet contains a brief note from Nigel Wingrove regarding his early 90s efforts to bring Rollin's films to the masses.
There were a lot of supplements that originally appeared on the Encore PAL format special edition release, but sadly, they haven't been ported over to this Blu-ray. Those with the Encore release will want to hold onto it for the extras exclusive to that set which include interviews with Serge Rollin, Catharine Castel, Jean Rollin and Jean-Loup Phillipe, a different interview with Perrey, a still gallery set to music from the film, a Rollin commentary and one of Rollin's early short films, Les Amoures Jeunes. This three disc edition also included a sixty-four page book detailing the history of the film and it's XXX variant, Suck Me, Vampire.
Despite the fact that a lot of the extras form the previous European special edition have not been carried over, Kino's Blu-ray release of Levres Des Sang is still one worth owning thanks to the noticeable upgrade in audio and video quality. As to the film itself, it's one of Rollin's best, an underappreciated study in heartbreak and horror, as much a gothic romance as a vampire picture and a film well worth reevaluating if you haven't already fallen under its spell. Highly 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.