Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lips of Blood – review

collector's dvd

Director: Jean Rollin

Release Date: 1975

Contains spoilers

This was the first film by Rollin that I ever saw and that may be the reason why I love the film so much. In many respects it fails compared to some of the director’s efforts, it is a dreamscape like many of his movies but has a fairly expressive back-story that needs perhaps a little too much dialogue to explain – a fact that perhaps interrupts the flow of imagery to a degree. I don’t really care, I love the movie.

baring the entranceThe film begins with a van drawing up on a Paris street and two men carrying what is obviously a wrapped up body, they are led by a woman. They get to a crypt and enter, taking the body to a coffin. As the men leave to get another body the woman looks at the ‘corpse’ in its wrapping, it is clearly still breathing. We only see two bodies interred this way but there are actually, we discover later, four. They lid the coffin and place a cross at the door before leaving.

Frederic and his motherFrederic (Jean-Loup Phillipe) is at a party with his mother (Nathalie Perry). He sees a photo for a perfume advert and the castle in it triggers a memory. He remembers being a young boy (played by Serge Rollin) who was lost and found the castle. Inside was a girl in white, Jennifer (Annie Belle). She allows him to sleep there whilst she leaves. In the morning, just before dawn, she wakes him and tells him that his mother is worried.

Serge Rollin plays Frederic as a childThat is all he remembers but his mother denies any knowledge. It seems he has very little memory of his childhood, after his father died. He tries, therefore, to track the castle down himself. He goes to the photographer but she tells him that she has been paid to forget all about the castle. In a very quick turn around she ends up naked and telling him to meet her that evening at the aquarium – where she will be doing a shoot – and she will get the details for him.

in the cinemaThat evening he is walking the streets and enters a cinema that has a poster for Rollin’s film the Nude Vampire, though the cinema is actually showing another Rollin’s film, Shiver of the Vampire. Actually on a recent Zombie Astronaut podcast I fell into the trap of saying the film showing was the former film – sorry zomb.

Vampires emergeIn the cinema he sees the girl and she is exactly the same as she was. He follows her and sees her outside a cemetery, where she vanishes. He climbs in, finds her and follows her to the crypt from the beginning of the film. As he enters he knocks the cross down, opens a coffin and sees a bat. He legs it and we see four vampires leave the coffins. A note here about these vampires, two of them are played by Rollin regulars the Castel twins, the other two have a thing about see-through chiffon dresses – the poor actresses must have been rather cold! We should also note the comedy fangs, which are a shame really.

the first victimOutside the cemetery there is a woman who calls him by name and claims to be the girl in white – twenty years on. He says she doesn’t look like her but she tells him it doesn’t matter and leads him off. Meanwhile the vampires have a bit of a feast on some poor random chap wandering by.

the imposter is corneredThe woman leads him through a decrepit area of the city to an apartment where he flat out proves she is not who she says by mentioning a toy he gave the girl, which she has no knowledge of. She locks him in and runs off but is got by the vampires. Jennifer is looking at the apartment and crying and two of the vampire go up and free him.

assassinFrederic then goes to the aquarium and sees a shady looking man leave. He finds the photographer dead and spots the man at an underground station. He follows him onto a train but the man pulls a gun out of his briefcase and Frederic finds himself running for his life, which is again saved by the vampires.

He gets home ranting about ‘them’ trying to kill him, causing his mother to make a call whilst he is out of the room. He leaves and is grabbed, injected and put in an ambulance. In a straightjacket he is led to the doctor (Paul Bisciglia) who is going to give him electro shock therapy.

vampires in uniformAs it is we have realised that the two nurses are the vampire twins who pull down their masks and get the doctor allowing Frederic to escape. Suffice it to say that he discovers where the castle is and goes there and then the whole sordid story comes out.

Jennifer used to live with his family but contracted vampirism. She managed to infect four girls before his mother summoned the courage to stake her. Her courage failed, however, when it came to beheading her and so she was locked in her coffin. The four vampire girls were then sealed in the tomb to stop the spread but now his mother and her friends are going to destroy the girls and expect him to destroy Jennifer. He is also told that Jennifer killed his father.

As always with Rollin we are in a dreamscape – or more accurately a nightmare. the act of a caring mother?The entire film, to me, has an oedipal quality but is, even more so, about breaking away from the mother figure by a young man (I say young he was meant to be in his thirties) and moving on to a lover/partner. The mother is the true villain of the piece; although her motives might have been to stop the spread of vampirism they were also to keep her son tied to her. She clearly paid the photographer off and then had her killed, set up the fake Jennifer to distract him and was quite happy to have her son institutionalised rather than find the girl he loved.

Conversely the vampires are the heroes of the piece and, despite a random killing all their other acts seem to be in Frederic’s defence.

Perhaps more disturbing is the knowledge that Jennifer, in Rollin’s original concept, was Frederic’s sister. That concept seemed to be dropped, however, and there is a real chemistry between the two actors in the leads.

Lore wise the main thing of note, which was none standard, was the concept that a trapped vampire could project itself. Jennifer says that she could, at first, project her vision and then her spirit but Frederic was unable to see her until he remembered her.

A bizarrely engrossing film, strangely bare in soundtrack, the film bombed at the box office and so Rollin filmed a couple of hardcore scenes and re-released the film as an X-rated piece entitled “Suck me, vampire” . The film as Lips of Blood is as close to the director’s original vision as we can get – I say this because the four week shoot was cut down to three due to finance issues.

I really like this one and it is a good introduction to Rollin as, although it is surreal, it has a fairly straight story. That straight story is a curse as well as a blessing for the newcomer to Rollin, however, as it perhaps does contain plot holes and logic jumps that are irrelevant once you realise that Rollin is all about symbolism and dreams. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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