Color, 1975, 87m.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Starring Jean-Lou Philippe, Annie Belle, Nathalie Perrey, Martine Grimaud, Catherine Castel, Marie-Pierre Castel, Helene Maguin
Indicator (UHD & Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 4K/HD), 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 subdued 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 was one of the most difficult of Rollin's horror titles to see for decades, a situation eventually corrected on home video during a broader, 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 (House on the Edge of the Park's Annie Belle). 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 beach-side 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. Unfortunately the film was something of a financial millstone around Rollin's neck at the time, with French audiences expecting far more graphic sex and horror than the delicate approach found here; in an attempt to recoup, he ended up retooling it as a XXX vampire comedy called Suce-moi vampire (Suck Me, Vampire), which is now understandably consigned to the bootleg circuit and really not worth the effort of tracking down.
After doing the rounds on the bootleg circuit from a French tape and appearing in a fuzzy subtitled U.S. VHS from Video Search of Miami, all of the DVD transfers of Lips of Blood were derived from the original negative and, naturally, look excellent. The oldest release from Image Entertainment in 1999 obviously suffers the most given its early placement in the development of DVD, though it was satisfactory for its time. It also offered more picture information than some later discs by being framed at 1.66:1 as opposed to 1.78:1. 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. Extras include an audio commentary by Jean Rollin (in his usually 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. 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" (later issued on several other titles) and a video trip back to the climactic beach locale.
The Blu-ray release from Redemption via Kino Lorber in 2012 offered 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 appreciative liner notes by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, and trailers for the first five Kino/Rollin titles, this one included.
In 2023, Indicator revisited Rollin's film for what is likely its definitive edition going forward as separate 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions, limited to 10,000 units (6,000 and 4,000 respectively) split between the U.K. and U.S. The new 4K restoration (with HDR10-compatible Dolby Vision on the UHD) is a real treat for the senses, and significantly, it restores the French titles that have been absent from the textless source used for most of the prior releases. The LPCM 1.0 French mono audio also sounds excellent, with improved English subtitles provided. A new commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman finds the two horror experts in fine form going through the prime of Rollin's career, the vampire motifs he developed up to the point of this film, their attempts to come to grips with a few logic issues, the state of French genre cinema, and much more. Rollin's prior commentary is included here as a selected scene option, coming in at 32m40s by removing the various fumblings, stumblings, and silent gaps from the earlier Encore disc. Also included are Rollin's archival video intro (2m26s), a revised "Living Memories" Rollin video interview (9m27s) focusing on his love of the script and the effect his childhood experiences had on it, and a second Rollin interview from 2005 called "The Beach That Follows Me" (24m36s) ruminating on the Dieppe coastal location seen in so many of his films including this one. Additional newly refined interviews from the earlier releases include "Fantasy Life" (15m19s) with Philippe, "Early Impressions" (10m43s) with Serge Rollin (about his role as the little boy version of Philippe), "Sibling Rivalry" (11m9s) with Catherine Castel (a.k.a. Cathy Tricot), and separate "Exceptional Poetry" (10m58s) and "Petite Mère" (10m34s) interviews with Perrey about the challenging production situation, her memories of Rollin, and her approach to her character. Also included are the once-rare trailer (which really doesn't sell the film much at all) and a 105-image gallery, including plentiful behind-the-scenes photos, international marketing art, and a few shots from Suck Me, Vampire. A totally new addition here is "Buried Dreams" (9m4s) with author and film historian Virginie Sélavy about the film's fusion of the director's surrealist and genre interests, the recurring innocent but deadly female protagonist figure in his films including this one, and the film's treatment of parental figures and the pull of childhood memories. The limited edition also comes with an 80-page book featuring a new essay by Maitland McDonough, archival writing by Rollin, archival interviews with Rollin and Annie Brilland (Belle), and an overview of that Suck Me, Vampire offshoot.
KINO LORBER (Blu-ray)
Updated review on November 1, 2023