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.