Top critical review
Cheap 'n cheesy!
on June 15, 2004
Jean Rollin is a name instantly recognizable to hardcore horror fans, yet meaningless to nearly everyone else. This ignorance is quite unfortunate because the French director concocted some of the sleaziest, most unusual films ever made during the 1970s and 1980s, films usually imbued with a disturbing mix of hypereroticism and bloody violence. I have often tossed Rollin's name around in impolite company with seeming aplomb even though I had never seen even one of the man's films. You read enough plot synopses about someone and you start to feel as though you know every intimate detail about their work. What I did hear from others about this director oftentimes did not bode well. He is apparently well versed in schlock filmmaking, which in and of itself is not a problem with me, a true lover of bad cinema, but several of his films continue to draw raves from a selected minority of genre fans. Well, I finally sat down with a Jean Rollin film, his 1979 effort "Fascination," and was pleasantly surprised with the results. As I viewed the film with a growing sense of intrigue, I began mentally composing a list of other films from this director that I should watch in the near future. After watching the phenomenal "Living Dead Girl," I finally stumbled over one of the man's lesser efforts.
"Lips of Blood" introduces us to Frederic, an urbane French guy who looks a lot like a young Richard Wright from Pink Floyd. At a party overflowing with Eurotrash, a small poster depicting a heap of ruins out in the countryside happens to catch his attention. As he stares at the picture, he flashes back to an unusual experience he had at the age of twelve. One night he wandered to the gates of this castle whereupon he encountered an attractive French girl with a Joan of Arc haircut named Jennifer. The two shared a platonic doze but somehow fell in love. After Frederic left the castle, he never saw either the building or the girl again. He forgot all about her until the poster reminded him of that halcyon evening long ago. He immediately confronts his mother, who is also at the party, about the event. She acts strangely about what he says but denies any knowledge of it. Enraged, Frederic begins a quest to discover if what he remembers really happened or if it is all a dream. Sure enough, he begins seeing an apparition of this girl, an apparition that appears and disappears at random. Frederic tries to pry information about the location of the castle from the photographer of the picture in the poster, but to no avail. Will he ever find what he's looking for?
Yes, he does find the place much to the chagrin of his mother and others. It turns out that the whole thing deals with a bunch of nubile vampires locked away for eternity, some in Paris and another one at that castle. Frederic inadvertently lets a few of them out, at which point they begin preying on the inhabitants of Paris. These vampires are not your normal, everyday draped in black pasty-faced blood drinkers. Oh no, these female Dracula types wonder about in diaphanous gowns charming the male population with their wares prior to delivering the fanged coup de grace. Moreover, the girl Frederic remembers plays a greater role in the larger group of vampires. The conclusion to the film constitutes the cheesiest vampire hunt I have ever witnessed. Imagine a bunch of shaggy French guys walking around after female vampires as they clutch stakes. Walking! Not running, not slinking, but walking! The vampires, for their part, are the wimpiest vampires in film history. Instead of exploding into a murderous rage, or at least turning into bats, they shriek with terror when they see these guys carrying stakes and run away. Harrumph, I say! There's a surprise after these scenes that I won't spoil for you except to say it's a bit silly. But silly is this film's middle name.
"Lips of Blood" is a cheap and cheesy piece of enjoyable schlock. If you must absolutely see it no matter what the cost, prepare to be underwhelmed. Most of the film consists of these long, pointless tracking shots of urban slums or the countryside. Rollin films his characters walking or running for what feels like hours. By the way, what's up with Paris? I thought people called this place "The City of Lights." Not in "Lips of Blood," where nearly every cityscape lies clothed in darkness. Maybe the French power workers were on strike the week Rollin made his film. At least the picture quality is good enough to discern what's going on in the dark. And speaking of picture quality, "Lips of Blood" definitely has that distinct Rollin look and feel. It is the sparse atmosphere of this movie, along with the French women, that ultimately turned my frown upside down. Yep, I liked the movie well enough even though almost nothing interesting happened. Whether you like it or not will depend on your tolerance level for slower pacing, cheap set pieces, and ridiculous acting.
Redemption's DVD contains the usual racy introductory footage, a Rollin filmography, and nothing more which is surprising considering the "Fascination" and "Living Dead Girl" discs had stills and trailers. In French the film's title is "Levres de Sang," and while there is a bit of the red stuff on a few pairs of lips, there's not much else to see. Rollin fans will want the disc, but the uninitiated should probably check out "Fascination" and "Living Dead Girl" first to see if this filmmaker is their cup of tea.