Lips of Blood (1975): The Blood Keeps on Rollin(g)
Over the course of a film career that spanned almost fifty years, French auteur Jean Rollin made no less than six films with the word 'Vampire' in the title. That's not even counting how many others, like today's film, concerned bloodsuckers. However this month is all about the life giving liquid, and Rollin only made one film with that substance in the title, 1975's Levres de sang a.k.a Lips of Blood. Surprisingly, while I know of Rollin by reputation, this is the first time I've seen one of his films. I'm not sure what I expected. I had heard that Rollin marries the words of the French New Wave, erotica, and horror in equal, though often baffling, proportions. I also knew that Lips of Blood was released stateside in a X Rated format under the title Suck Me, Vampire, which is certainly a direct title but doesn't lead one to wax poetic about the erotic. Thankfully, the version I watched was the French cut, and while it still carried plenty of full frontal female nudity, it also detailed a story about childhood innocence all wrapped up in a surrealist's vision of vampires.
While attending a party for a perfume company. Frederic (Jean-Loup Philippe) spots the new advertising poster for the fragrance. In it, a picture of a ruined castle makes him flash back to lost memories of his childhood. As a young boy, he got lost in the castle meeting up with a teenage girl who protected him through the night before sending him back to his mother. In his innocent 12 year old way, Frederic fell in love with the young girl who he never saw again. Now, twenty years later and spurred on by the appearance of the picture, Frederic desires to find the castle again. His mother denies they were ever there, and mysterious people begin to follow him trying to keep him away from the truth. Meanwhile, Frederic releases four nubile young vampires from their coffins and they act as his protectors. The young girl, Jennifer (Annie Belle) begins to appear to him in visions, and as he draws closer to finding her, he discovers that his own family has hidden a secret of vampirism in the past.
Delicately filmed, Lips of Blood definitely speaks to the French New Wave with interesting visuals and a surrealist quality layered into the impressionistic story. It also brought my mind back to the films of George Melies with a still, silent film quality. While on the surface Rollin has made a erotic vampire tale, the irony of that is that the film is more about the lost innocence of childhood. When Frederic was a child, he fell in love with a vampire, a young girl shunned from the community, without a second thought. As an adult, he longed to recapture the innocence of youth. Because of the family secret, his mother wishes to deny her son his childhood, but eventually he finds he way back to the innocence. The end of the film finds him literally stripped of the trappings of modern life, and his plans from there include a fantastic, imaginative future that seems to hard to believe, at least from the view of an adult. To a child, it would seem like a blissful utopia. Rollin once said, "My childhood was wonderful, and my reflections of it are very romantic, sweet and utterly transfigured. Like recalling one's first love, 20 years later." This leads me to believe that Lips of Blood is an extremely personal film with Rollin looking back with misty eyes on his youth.
Jean-Loup Philippe, who stars as Frederic, co-wrote Lips of Blood with Jean Rollin, and it would become Jean-Loup's first leading role and most recognizable part. The actor gives a stunning performance that sees him shed layers of emotion as his character's revelations erupt. Annie Belle, best known among horror fans as Lisa in House on the Edge of the Park, oozes a strange,androgynous sexuality that doesn't seem crude or salacious. Through she has only a small number of scenes, Natalie Perrey makes a large impression on the film as Frederic's mother. It's also interesting to look into her career. While she appeared in a large number of films as an actress, her largest amount of film work came as a script supervisor. Over the course of her career, she would also do editing, direct, work in the production department, write two films, and even work on costumes in one. It's fascinating to see someone whose life revolved around film and have such a wildly varied career.
While Lips of Blood was my first film by Jean Rollin, it certainly won't be the last. Like a more artistically minded version of Jess Franco, Rollin filled this film with erotic visions but without an indelicate overtone. Rollin's film also turns the vampire myth on its ear. While some characters have reason to fear the vampires, Frederic does not. He sees something innocent in his first love even if she is a bloodsucking ghoul. Lips of Blood was a beautiful looking film with big ideas being talked about, and it stays away from horror cliche while firmly pulling from the genre's core. That about wraps it up for today's entry in Blood Donation Month. I hope everyone is enjoying my exploration of these bloody films, and I'll see you back here in a day or two for another film about the Roy Hud (blame the cockney rhyming slang dictionary for that one).