Color, 1975, 87m.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Starring Jean-Lou Philippe, Annie Belle, Nathalie Perrey, Martine Grimaud, Catherine Castel, Marie-Pierre Castel, Helene Maguin
Kino Lorber (Blu-Ray & DVD) ( US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Redemption (US R1 NTSC), Encore (Holland R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)
The most restrained and eloquent of Rollin's '70s vampire saga, Lips of Blood (Lèvres de sang) drags his familiar beautiful bloodsuckers into a modern day context, focusing more on the psychological underpinnings of the vampire mythos than the simple images of naked women chomping on victims' throats. Perhaps for these reasons, Lips of Blood quickly became one of the most difficult of Rollin's horror titles to see, a situation eventually corrected on DVD with a much overdue reappraisal of his work.
In the opening sequence, a middle aged woman supervises the ceremonial placement of a still breathing girl into a coffin, which is then sealed and left in a subterranean room. Flash forward to the present day, in which Pierre (co-writer Jean-Lou Philippe) is plagued by visions of a childhood in which he encounters a beautiful girl in white. He spends the night under her care in a decaying castle, and she releases him in the morning, only to find the gate slammed in her face. He believes these visions are actually memories from his boyhood, but his mother dismisses such thoughts, claiming he should go see a doctor. At a reception for a new brand of perfume, he stumbles upon a promotional shot of a castle which strongly resembles the one in his visions. The photographer responsible for the shot arranges to meet him at midnight; when he waits for her in a local cinema (showing Shiver of the Vampires), he spies the same girl in white and pursues her to a basement, where he unintentionally unleashes a quartet of scantily clad vampires on the city. As the quest for the girl and her strange castle continues, he finds himself constantly thwarted by his family and the nubile vampires, who for some strange reason refuse to kill him. The truth, alas, is much stranger than he could have possibly imagined.
Aside from a few passages, Lips of Blood contains very little dialogue and maintains a surreal, dreamlike stance throughout its running time. The final half hour is Rollin at his best, with an unbearably poignant beachside finale that perfectly sums up his themes as a director. The bizarre locations, ranging from modern day offices to an abandoned nocturnal aquarium, mark the film as a transition piece from his dislocated vampire fantasies to his more realistic later horrors like The Grapes of Death. The familiar Castel twins make another appearance but have little to do besides licking blood off their lips in striking surgical outfits and transparent gowns, and most of the actors perform in a deliberately somnambulist fashion reminiscent of Werner Herzog. A difficult, often enchanting film, Lips of Blood will most likely reward viewers already well versed in Rollin's powerful alternate universe.
All of the three transfers of Lips of Blood available on DVD have been derived from original negatives and, naturally, look fantastic. The oldest release from Image (now discontinued) obviously suffers the most given its early placement in the development of DVD, though it was satisfactory for its time. (It also offers a hair more picture information on the top and bottom by presenting the 1.66:1 camera framing rather than the slightly tighter 1.78:1 presentation of its successors, bu the film works fine either way.)
The first special edition arrived in 2005 as a whopping three-disc European limited release from Encore, carrying a rather steep price tag but worth the investment for Rollin fans. The subsequent American release from Redemption carries over the same superb anamorphic makeover, resulting in a sharp and colorful transfer up there with the best Rollin releases on the market. The Redemption one also condenses the lion's share of the extras onto one disc, making it a preferable option for those concerned about their budget and shelf space. So, here's what's on the U.S. disc: an audio commentary by Jean Rollin (in his usualy heavy French accent, but he offers some nice recollections about the Parisian locales and working with the actors, particularly Philippe who went on to infamy in Pussy Talk), a stills gallery, video interviews with Philippe and Perrey (both English-subtitled and covering their careers as much as this particular film), a video intro by Rollin, and a batch of Redemption cross-trailers. (No theatrical trailer for this film has yet to surface, alas.) Should you choose to seek out the three-disc version, it also adds on additional interviews with Serge Rollin and Cathy Tricot (one of the Castel twins) as well Rollin's short film "Les Amours Jaunes" and a video trip back to the climactic beach locale.
The Blu-Ray release from Redemption under the new hand of Kino Video offers an appreciable jump thanks to the increased clarity of HD, derived from what appears to be the negative used for the Encore release (including the textless opening sequence). The DVDs were great to begin with, but this one is even better with an immersive, rich visual texture and some nice details previously invisible in standard def like the books and production design touches in the modern apartment and the expressionistic bursts of red lighting in the background of some of the graveyard sequences. This version doesn't even try to compete with the Encore version, though it easily surpasses its US predecessor thanks to a Rollin video intro, a 9-minute interview about the director with Natalie Perrey, an illustrated booklet with informative and appreciatve liner notes by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, and trailers for the first five Kino/Rollin titles, this one included.