Director: Jean Rollin
Screenplay: Jean Rollin and Jean-Loup Philippe
Starring: Jean-Loup Philippe, Annie Brilland, Natalie Perrey, Martine Grimaud, Catherine Castel, Marie-Pierre Castel, Hélène Maguin, Anita Berglund
Running time: 87 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Of all of the feature films French auteur Jean Rollin made between his directorial debut in 1968 and his final feature in 2009, Lips of Blood (Lèvres de sang) was his most personal movie, and also his favourite of all of his scripts.
It opens in a particularly atmospheric way in a graveyard, that staple of Rollin films, on a dark and stormy night, before introducing us to the lead character, Frédéric, who is entranced by an image of a ruined château on the coast. It’s a location that he feels like he’s visited before, and viewing the photograph evokes memories of his childhood and repeated dreamlike visions of a woman, wearing white, who is unable to escape beyond the gates of the château. These images drive the narrative forward as Frédéric becomes obsessed with finding the location and the woman.
The childhood recollections are strong throughout the film. It’s easy to see Rollin recalling his own childhood memories whilst writing the script and during the making of the film; using these as the catalyst for some of the pivotal scenes and locations in Lips of Blood. Several of the locations, including an aquarium, were chosen because of Rollin’s memories of visiting them as a child.
One of his most iconic – perhaps most iconic (though dilapidated graveyards and châteaux also vie for that honour) – locations of choice in his films is the atmospheric and remote beach in Dieppe which Rollin often visited in his young years, before using it in so many of his films. With Lips of Blood being such a personal movie, it’s no surprise that this most recognisable of beaches makes an appearance and plays such an important part in the narrative too.
Of course, if the title doesn’t give it away, this is a vampire movie. Like some of Rollin’s other best work, Lips features a number of memorable female vampires, stalking their way through the landscape; not least the iconic twins played by Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel.
Rollin’s films are always visual treats and this is no exception, with the lighting and colour schemes bordering on the almost theatrical at times, with spotlights on the actors as if they are treading the boards on a theatre stage. There is some truly striking imagery, some shots almost like a painting: the standout image of the vampire twins in hospital uniform, fangs out; a virtually empty train and station; a coffin in the sea. These are some of the most memorable images from all of Rollin’s features. Dialogue is stripped back throughout the film, which relies more on mood, atmosphere, imagery and music; a mix that makes the film so striking.
In closing, I really enjoyed revisiting Lips of Blood, a film I haven’t seen for a few years. Its blend of atmosphere, memorable locations, iconic vampires and dreamlike quality stand out in a film that is amongst the best in the impressive filmography of Jean Rollin.
Lips of Blood is released on region free Blu-ray by Powerhouse Films on their Indicator label on 30th October 2023 in the UK and 31st October 2023 in the US. I reviewed the UK Blu-ray edition. The transfer is a new 4K restoration from Powerhouse Films and it is quite simply phenomenal. The detail is rich, colours are strong and the filmic quality is maintained throughout. Exceptional. The audio is also first rate. It’s a fantastic presentation of the film.
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
Brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative by Powerhouse Films
Original French mono soundtrack
Audio commentary with genre-film experts, critics and authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman (2023)
Selected scenes audio commentary with Jean Rollin (2005)
Jean Rollin Introduces Lips of Blood (1998, 3 min)
Living Memories (2023, 10 min): newly edited archival interview with Rollin about his most personal film and favourite script
This Beach That Follows Me (2005, 25 min): Rollin reminisces about the beach in Dieppe and his many experiences filming there
Fantasy Life (2023, 16 min): newly edited archival interview with actor and co-writer Jean-Loup Philippe
Early Impressions (2023, 11 min): newly edited archival interview with actor Serge Rollin
Sibling Rivalry (2023, 11 min): newly edited archival interview with actor Catherine Castel
Exceptional Poetry (2023, 11 min): newly edited archival interview with actor and script supervisor Natalie Perrey
Petite Mère (2023, 10 min): archival interview in which regular Rollin collaborator Perrey discusses the challenges and triumphs of making Lips of Blood
Buried Dreams (2023, 9 min): critical appreciation by author and film historian Virginie Sélavy
Original theatrical trailer
Image gallery: promotional and publicity material, and behind the scenes
New and improved English translation subtitles
Limited edition exclusive 80-page book with a new essay by Maitland McDonagh, archival writing by Jean Rollin on the making of the film, archival interviews with Rollin and actor Annie Brilland, an analysis of Suck Me, Vampire, the hardcore film Rollin made using scenes from Lips of Blood, and full film credits
Limited edition of 10,000 individually numbered units (6,000 4K UHDs and 4,000 Blu-rays) for the UK and US
The Jones and Newman commentary is fantastic, with some excellent insights, including a fascinating start about the titles (this release contains the original French titles, which haven’t been seen much on home video), how tricky it was to watch Rollin’s movies years ago, and how his films subvert the horror genre. Newman and Jones complement each other well and also touch on the personal nature of the film, comparisons between Rollin and fellow director Jess Franco, the beauty of the movies, details about some of the actors, the in-jokes (a poster outside the cinema is for another Rollin film, whilst a different Rollin movie is playing in the movie theatre), and other vampire films from the period. The standout extra on the set and well worth your time.
The Rollin commentary runs over select scenes for just over half an hour. In it the director talks about the actors he enjoyed working with, his son’s role in the film as the child in the flashbacks, locations and how they’ve changed, as well as the personal nature of the film. In particular he looks at several locations which were very dear to him, particularly during his childhood.
The Rollin intro is two minutes long with just a few thoughts from the director about the movie.
The interviews kick off with Jean Rollin: Living Memories, a 10 minute archival interview, newly edited for this release. The director talks about the script and it is a breezy piece.
Up next is The Beach That Follows Me, a 2005 interview with Rollin about the atmospheric Dieppe beach featured in so many of his films. He talks about how he immediately thought of the beach, a favourite location from his childhood, when he made his first short film The Yellow Lovers, and the rest is history. He gives a brisk but entertaining overview of memories of some of his films and their locations. It is in French with English subtitles.
Next we have a newly edited archival interview with Jean-Loup Philippe, called Fantasy Life. In the 15 minute interview, the actor and co-writer talks about how he met Rollin, what drew him to the fantasy-style genre and memories of making Lips of Blood, some of the other crew members he worked with, and an unfinished project. It is in French and subtitled in English.
Serge Rollin: Early Impressions, runs for 11 minutes and is a newly edited archive interview with the actor. In it he reflects on rehearsals and interactions with other actors, together with other reminiscences of the film shoot. It is in French with English subtitles.
Sibling Rivalry is an 11 minute, newly edited interview with actor Catherine Castel, in which one of the iconic twins recalls working with Rollin, with thoughts on the various films he directed which they starred in. The title of the interview gives an indication of some of her comments of working with her twin sister. It is in French and subtitled in English.
Exception Poetry is a newly edited, 11 minute archival interview with actor and script supervisor Natalie Perrey in which she runs through a number of recollections from across her work with Rollin. It is in French and subtitled in English.
Petite Mère sees Perrey sharing more memories of working with Rollin, but this time focused on Lips of Blood itself. It is 10 minutes long and is in French with English subtitles.
The Virginie Sélavy piece, called Buried Dreams, is a new critical appreciation by the author and film historian which runs for nine minutes. It packs some interesting insight into the brief running time, particularly about some of the motifs featured in the director’s films.
The trailer runs for two minutes and focuses on one of the vampire scenes in the film.
The image gallery contains just over 100 promotional stills, behind the scenes images, and poster and home video artwork.
Finally, the booklet, a limited edition exclusive, is 80 pages and starts with an excellent new overview essay by Maitland McDonagh, followed by archival writing by Rollin on the making of the film, archival interviews with Rollin and actor Annie Brilland, and a brief but informative analysis of Suck Me, Vampire, the hardcore film Rollin made using footage from Lips of Blood. It’s a typically information packed and beautiful book, as is to be expected from Indicator, and is lavishly illustrated throughout.
In closing, it’s difficult to imagine either a better release of Lips of Blood than this Indicator limited edition, or the film ever looking better than in this outstanding new 4K restoration by Powerhouse Films. It’s a beautiful, dreamlike film featuring some of the most memorable scenes and images in the director’s oeuvre. This Indicator edition is incredibly well curated, like all the label’s releases, with a wealth of archival material and some outstanding new features and writing on the film, particularly the new commentary.