Like swingin' 70s Eurosleaze staples Jess Franco or Paul Morrissey (or on a more mainstream scale, Ken Russell), Jean Rollin is typically revered as a mad genius amongst the hardcore horror geek-set. Outside this circle, he's an unknown. In a way, it's certainly understandable — I won't even pretend his movies have universal appeal — but it's also a bit sad because he was such a formidable talent and he's got a style that's germane to him.
Reveling in Gothic, supernatural themes, Rollin hallmarks include nude, predatory female vampires, atmospheric, misty cemetery settings, barren and windswept beaches, a singular surrealism to the cinematography, and wistful, haunting music scores which never overwhelm. (On the flipside… hallmarks also include weak scripts, poor continuity, and stilted acting.)
Rollin worked under the pseudonym Michel Gand for his more adult fare (titles such as Schoolgirl Hitchhikers and Hard Penetration litter his resume), and I haven't seen any of them; even so, I am pretty far behind in his horror oeuvres. I have seen The Living Dead Girl at least a few times, Grapes of Death once, and bits and pieces of The Nude Vampire. Fortunately, Kino Lorber releasing is affording me (and you) great opportunities to catch up on his better softcore erotica with a passel of Blu-ray DVDs just released.
The first one I decided to watch was Lips of Blood (1975… the DVD should have come with hedge clippers, because you can carbon date it by the super-70s bush on the otherwise otherworldly ladies). It's my new favorite! The most haunting, sensual, romantic, beautiful vampire film I have seen in a long time. It's imbued with mood, atmosphere, beauty, and deadly dreams splashed across the screen.
The story follows Frederic (Jean-Loup Philippe) a man haunted by a boyhood (played as a youngster by Rollin's son, Serge) love. The vexed Parisian has never been able to forget the mysterious woman in white (Annie Brilland), nor his vow that he would one day return to her. When Frederic by chance sees a poster of the castle where he encountered the woman all those years ago, he becomes determined to track down the photographer and to find out where the photo was taken.
The action switches back and forth between Frederic's all consuming passion, to his mother's obsessive hatred of vampire kind and her organized efforts to eradicate the clan of them who "live" beneath the old castle from days of yore. There are plenty of fangy bites and stake-driven deadly delights, but they become almost comical at times as the undead just stand there and let themselves be exterminated.
Meanwhile, Frederic finds the source of his memory but when the lascivious lady shutterbug (Marine Grimaud) is murdered before he can get her whole story, Frederic becomes more driven than ever with finding his immortal beloved before she, too, falls prey to the dangerous forces bent on keeping them apart.
Well, I certainly make it seem as though Lips of Blood has a cohesive plot and is a suspense-driven romance! It's not. But I love it anyway. It's all Rollin, all the way. So if you can just sit back, relax, and let yourself be immersed in imagery and sensual splendor, you'll be engrossed in the eerie evil that is Lips of Blood.
The Blu-ray is gorgeous. Presented in an AVC encoded 1.66.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer mastered from the original 35mm negative and audio is in LPCM 2.0 Mono with subtitles in English.
Extras include a new Rollin intro to the film (shot presumably *before* his death in 2010) in which he talks about how his hopes for the film were dashed when it did not do well commercially and the producers forced him to recut it with some added hardcore footage and re-release it as Suck Me Vampire (personally, I would have gone with Hips of Blood. But that's just me.). Still, the auteur is realistic and affable in retrospect, proud (as well he should be) of his original effort.
There is also a 10 minute interview with longtime Rollin collaborator Nathalie Perrey, who talks about the rather abhorrent conditions under which the film was made and how difficult it was to work with so little in order to present so much beauty in the end result. In addition to being in the film, she was also Rollins' assistant and caretaker of his little boy during the shoot. She has some really interesting and entertaining stories to tell.
Best of all is the 24-page liner notes booklet written by the inimitable and foremost authority on the subject, Tim Lucas. He makes an excellent case for placing Rollin in the artist category, in spite of pornographic trappings.
Next, I'll be reviewing for The Shiver Of The Vampires, The Iron Rose, The Nude Vampire, and Fascination.
= = =
by Staci Layne Wilson