Lips Of Blood (1975)

MARCH 23, 2013

GENRE: FRENCH, VAMPIRE
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

I have a week left (!) but if I don't find the time for another entry, at least I can say I went out on a high point - Lips Of Blood (French: Lèvres de sang) is my favorite Jean Rollin thus far, and the one I'd most likely revisit or recommend to pals. Everything just worked like gangbusters for me; half of his films I've wondered if I could even really count them as horror, but there's some good vampire action sprinkled throughout, all in service of his most accessible and intriguing story, and a likable male lead for a change to boot.

Well, likable compared to the guys in Iron Rose or Fascination anyway. He actually comes off like a jerk early on, when he sees a photo that triggers a "memory" of his childhood, though he can not recall the specifics or where the castle in the photo is located. So he totally derails his date (bummed that she only appears in these scenes; she's quite striking) as he begins fixating on the photo, asking people where it was taken, who took it, etc., and getting angry when the folks are (rightfully) baffled why he cares so much. But his mood improves when he starts getting closer, especially since the photographer drops her clothes and makes love to him moments after meeting - even after telling him that she has promised NOT to reveal its location. So he gets more intrigued AND he gets laid - score! He's pretty chill after that.

For a while it almost takes on a sort of Giallo feel (complete with a black gloved murderer on a subway) as he keeps investigating and folks get killed, though there's no real mystery as to what's going on here - the castle houses some vampires and now they are free thanks to his meddling. But they appear to be on his side, and eventually we find out who told the photographer not to tell him where the castle is, which isn't a total surprise but it's still more interesting (and coherent) than the motivations I'm used to seeing in a Rollin film. Plus they're full blown vampires - even long teeth make an appearance!

It's also an, er, visually stimulating experience. What I mean is: there is more nudity than in any of his other films that I've seen, I think. All of the vampire ladies (four of them) wear see through gowns at all times, and that's chaste compared to every other female (except for the guy's mother), and everyone's pretty casual about it - when he goes to see the photographer she's got another girl with her just finishing a photo shoot, and she makes no effort to conceal anything when this strange guy waltzes on into the room. And don't worry, ladies - star Jean-Loup Philippe also bares all, and kudos to him for doing so since it's hardly impressive (let's just say I felt less insecure after). It can be a bit gratuitous, but since the movie's plot was so engaging I never really took much notice - if I was bored it might be another story.

I was also endlessly amused by a bit near the end involving a fake head. For pre 1980s horror flicks (especially foreign ones where they weren't taking this stuff as seriously as we did in the States), all disembodied heads look abysmally fake, and we just have to go with it. And (spoiler) there's a point in the movie where our hero is supposed to kill the main vampire girl, and he comes out of the crypt with a fake head, which I (and the other characters) totally believed was her real noggin. So it actually worked as a surprise when we discover he was faking it, having cut the head off a Mary statue (one Rollin thankfully doesn't draw much attention to and thus give it away) and left his would-be lover intact. This leads to the (spoiler) somewhat emo but darkly romantic ending, where he lets her bite him and they live out their days in a coffin together on the ocean. I don't know much about Rollin, but after 6-7 of his vampire movies I get the impression that he probably wished he could find a beautiful vampire lady to spend the rest of his life with, and thus I wasn't surprised to discover in the IMDb trivia that Philippe's character was an autobiographical one.

I also liked seeing the "real world" in this one, as opposed to his others which are always so isolated (or at least highly unnatural, like Night of the Hunted). Iron Rose had a party at the beginning, but otherwise was set apart from anything we could recognize. But here, there's a cocktail party, a photo studio, a subway, a hospital... it's vampires entering our world, instead of the other way around. Maybe it's just because my tastes tend to lean toward the more commercial and accessible, but I find it a lot easier to get invested (and, on occasion, scared) when I recognize the world and find it populated with strange characters, as opposed to an identifiable guy going into a weird world. So even though I've enjoyed most of the Rollin films I've seen, this is the one that passes the "I'd go out and buy this" test with flying colors. Thanks to everyone who recommended it, and an even bigger thanks to those who urged me to check out more of his films in the first place.

What say you?

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