Wednesday, August 24, 2016

#2,183. Lips of Blood (1975)

Directed By: Jean Rollin

Starring: Jean-Loup Philippe, Annie Belle, Natalie Perrey

AKA: "The working title of this film was Jennifer"

Trivia: All of the cemetery scenes in this film were shot without permits

Director Jean Rollin held his 1975 film Lips of Blood in high regard, and has said that he felt its script was the best he’d ever written. Even when the movie was compromised by production issues (a financier pulled out at the last minute, meaning the 5-week shooting schedule Rollin initially prepared had to be cut to three weeks), the director still believed the final film turned out well enough, and I tend to agree with him. Along with the standard “Rollin touches” scattered throughout, Lips of Blood builds a mystery that will keep you guessing right up to the end.

At a party to launch a new brand of perfume, Frederic (Jean-Loup Philippe) spots an advertisement that features the ruins of an old castle. All at once, a long-suppressed childhood memory resurfaces; twenty years earlier, a young Frederic (played in flashbacks by Rollin’s own son, Serge) spent an entire night in these very ruins in the company of a 16-year-old girl named Jennifer (Annie Belle). Intrigued, Frederic attempts to track down this old building, only to find his efforts thwarted at every turn by persons unknown. Who is trying to prevent Frederic from learning the castle's secret, and, more importantly, why?

Lips of Blood has many of the elements we’ve come to expect from a Jean Rollin film: great locales (especially the ruins, which get creepier as the movie progresses), nudity and blood (four scantily-clad female vampires, including a set of twins played by Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel, terrorize the locals), and a deliberate, often slow pace that may prove frustrating to some viewers (large chunks of the movie are dedicated to watching characters wander from one point to the next, often in silence). What sets Lips of Blood apart, however, is its central mystery; who is the girl in the castle, and why are people conspiring to keep Frederic from figuring out the truth (even his mother, played by Natalie Perrey, is working against him)?

The intrigue begins in the opening scene (two caskets are deposited into the bowels of the castle, one containing a person who is still alive when the lid is nailed shut) and doesn’t let up until the final reveal. This, combined with its tale of female vampires who roam the countryside looking for victims, makes Lips of Blood a horror movie that’s as absorbing as it is eerie.

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