Lips Of Blood:
Jean Rollin captures blood and breasts in a bottle, with this, one of his most perfectly realized mid-'70s movies. Lips Of Blood is so good, in fact, it makes Zombie Lake look like, well, Zombie Lake. Clearly that's a loaded, hard-to-interpret statement, which fits with Rollin's oeuvre, not that Rollin was loaded all the time, but his movies are often hard to interpret - at least from a movie-going punter's perspective. Rollin's often heady mixes of idealized sexuality, fatalistic nostalgia and obligatory vampirism aren't for the meat-and-potatoes horror crowd, nor are they for the arthouse crowd. They exist somewhere in between both worlds. If your legs will stretch, this is the one to watch.
Following a portentous opening sequence involving crypts, coffins and crosses - you get the picture - we find ourselves in modern day France where a rake named Frederic (Jean-Loup Philippe) is enjoying the nightlife at a swanky party. Only he's not really enjoying it, since he keeps staring moodily at a poster of an old castle. Cue the flashback, where Frederic, as a young boy, finds himself separated from his parents, only to wind up at that castle, where a mysterious hottie with a bad haircut (Annie Belle, billed as Annie Briand) offers the young boy succor and a kind of mystical hope.
With his memory awakened, Frederic endeavors to fulfill his long ago promise, hoping to reconnect with the hottie, though he'll discover his quest isn't as easy as simply remembering directions to the castle.
Rollin's movies are remarkable for a few reasons. They usually feature lots of frank and lovely naked vampire chicks. Furthermore, Rollin's composition - or mise-en-scene - is mostly top-notch, especially his use of shadows, which is almost peerless. What trips the average viewer up is the lack of performance quality or linear narrative. This is why Lips Of Blood is such a pleasure, as Rollin constructs a fairly spare, but easily traceable and compelling plot. We never lose sight of Frederic's quest, while the mystery inherent within, especially the part his mother plays in affairs, coerces rather than confounds our understanding. As long as you're willing to go with the notion of vampirism as total metaphor instead of a cheap stand-in for sexuality - in which the better man must shove his stake into a figure of evil - then Lips Of Blood becomes a rapturous symbolic journey as well as a movie you can follow.
Lips Of Blood really leaps into the foreground of Rollin's work through the power of Phillippe and Briand's performances. Briand's mysterious woman, draped in sensuality, also effortlessly conveys protection and motherly compassion. Though that's clearly what Rollin intends to communicate, in so many other Rollin films his female actors generally find themselves simply slinking around nude, drooling blood. Phillipe takes this uncharacteristic mastery of actors even further, using his own talents - and presumably those of Rollin the director - to create a fully realized character full of deep longing and ennui. It's often difficult to gauge a foreign language performance in terms of quality, especially in genre films, but Phillipe comes through loud and clear. His sense of confusion and loss, of longing and even dissatisfaction with earthly life, are expressed easily with his face and at-times fiery acting.
Plot and performance aren't often things one looks for in a Rollin movie, nor are they things often presented. Frequently you're forced to make do with a naked woman hiding in a grandfather clock before having lame soft-core sex with some dude. You'll get your lovely ladies and mild vampiric violence, for sure. You also get beautifully composed shots, stellar acting, and a genuinely engaging tale. Lips Of Blood may be one of Rollin's best films, worthy of a look.
Redemption Films has upped the ante for this, its second release of Lips Of Blood, the first of which came out in 2008 in a not that great interlaced transfer. This one, a 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer mastered in HD from the 35mm negative, is sharp, clear and features rich colors and deep black levels. We'll say that film damage is definitely represented, with white speckles here and there, plus the occasional 'cigarette burn' to let you know that this was made on a physical format known as celluloid, which is prone to scratching and what-not, even under the best of circumstances. That said, I can't imagine anyone finding much else to complain about, certainly in regards to compression artifacts or other transfer problems.
French 2.0 Audio with optional English Subtitles is rock solid for what it is. The dynamic range is nice if not terribly robust, and audio is fairly free of any damage, hiss, or distortion. You won't find a very active mix, but you will enjoy a fantastic, evocative score, that is mixed well in regard to dialog.
Extras include a two-minute Introduction by Jean Rollin, a ten-minute Interview with Natalie Perrey, the actress who plays Frederic's mother. You get the Lips Of Blood Trailer and Trailers for Four Other Rollin Films, and an awesome 20-Page Booklet by Video Watchdog scribe Tim Lucas, with 17 complete pages of text. It's the same booklet included in Redemption's other current slate of Rollin releases.
Is Lips Of Blood simply another one of Rollin's lesbian vampire romps, with lots a nudity, a little blood, and not a whole lot of sense? No, this stylish effort, yet another in which Rollin grapples with the effects of profound childhood memories, uses those nude vampires to much greater effect. With beautifully composed shots, stellar acting, and a genuinely engaging tale, Lips Of Blood may be one of Rollin's best films, worthy of a look, and for the right audience Highly Recommended.(It should be noted, however, that this is Redemption's third go-around with releasing this movie, so if you have one of the prior releases, you'll have to decide whether an increase in picture quality is enough to justify a double or triple dip.)
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com