Most of the time, I really don’t like vampires.
There. I said it. I hope we can all adjust and move on.
To be specific, I don’t like what vampire film and literature have become.
Seriously, I didn’t like Dracula (neither book nor film). I never bought the alluring/sexy vampire as put forth by Frank Langella and John Badham, or by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Interview With The Vampire (though, okay, as a movie I liked it), or by anyone having to do with (gag, choke) Twilight.
There are, of course, notable exceptions. Nosferatu (obviously, duh) holds up well, largely because it has none of the problems I just mentioned. The novel version of Lestat, The Brat Prince, is charming enough. Though technically not an actual vampire, I always dug Michael Morbius.
I also have a painfully low tolerance for most love stories.
Naturally it was only a matter of time before I got around to Lips Of Blood (Lèvres De Sang), a vampire love story if ever there was one. Oh well. At least it’s Jean Rollin.
The story is simple enough. As a boy, Frédéric (Jean-Loup Phillippe) falls in love with Jennifer (Annie Belle), a young female vampire. He is convinced by his mother it’s all a dream.
Later, the adult Frédéric (who looks startlingly like the love child of David Soul and Robert Carlyle) is at a party where his memory of Jennifer is awakened when he sees a picture of the ruins where he’d met her. When he seeks her out, his efforts are hindered by his mother, but her attempts prove futile.
There is a fair amount of disjointed, “I feel like I missed something let me back up” storytelling here. The technique is, I assume, intended to create tension and is, in fact, indicative of Rollin’s style. In that respect, Lips Of Blood has more in common with giallo than with more traditional vampire fare.
On the other hand, Rollin doesn’t rein in this tangled plot as successfully as, say, Dario Argento or Mario Bava, or Rollin himself in several other films. In this case it becomes a klunky distraction.
Atmospheric? Yes. Effective? Not so much (probably more so in 1975).
A couple of long stretches with no dialogue don’t help. At one point, the film goes six minutes without anyone saying a word. Thirty seconds later, nine and a half more minutes. In other words, fifteen minutes of film with only thirty seconds of dialogue roughly in the middle.
In Rollin’s defense, this might be explained in part by the fact that he made his films on a very low budget, almost a French Roger Corman if you will.
Lips Of Blood isn’t without its high points, however. The ruins of Sauveterre Castle have a vaguely Lovecraftian dread, and the mother’s story and the later hunt for four vampire girls has a similar vibe to the culty weirdness of the original Wicker Man.
It’s also worth mentioning that the female vampires are by no means sexualized temptresses despite two of them being covered only in sheer fabric. They are legitimate objects of fear as they maintain their steady, even pace as they trail their victims. It’s also interesting that one bite apparently kills the victim instantly.
Overall, if you like your vampire tales with a little less tradition, a little less sex, and a little more slow-building dread, you could do worse than Lips Of Blood. As vampire love stories go, I guess it doesn’t suck.