Friday, June 5, 2015

Poetic exploitation: Jean Rollin's 'Lips of Blood'


Jean Rollin is the marmite of 70s exploitation cinema. His films exist on the boundary between the grind house and the art house. Rollin's movies generally fall into the horror genre, and most of his horror output is concerned with vampirism. With his funereal pacing and dream logic, his movies do not fit the profile for cheap and cheerful vampire flicks. On the other hand, his films have too much nudity and violence to be considered art house.

Lips of Blood (1975) is Rollin's masterpiece. If you are an entry level viewer, you are better off watching Fascination (in which a thief breaks into a house occupied by a vampire coven; shit goes wrong) or The Grapes of Death (bad wine turns a farming community into the living dead). They have stronger plots and cater more toward fulfilling genre expectations. However, if you enjoy Rollin's work, and can get into the groove, Lips of Blood rewards the patient viewer. His purest artistic vision, Lips of Blood was financed by a wealthy fan who gave Rollin carte blanche to make whatever movie he wanted. Free of commercial constraints (or the need for coherence) Rollin was able to use his favourite ideas and locations to craft a loose narrative of long lost love

The story is very simple. A young man goes on the hunt for a beautiful young woman he remembers from his childhood who he begins to see in a series of visions. His mother tries to keep him from finding her, while a pair of eerie vampire twins go about on their own mysterious mission that may have something to do with the young man's quest.  It all ends with the young man and his undead love floating out to sea in her coffin.

Pacing is the sound barrier for enjoying Rollin's films. The plot is barebones, and the characters are nothing more than archetypes. While there is a little bit of violence and nudity, there is not enough of either to make Lips of Blood enjoyable as simple genre fodder. What makes Rollin's movies so mesmerising is Rollin's talent for producing strange, haunting images. While undeniably arresting, Rollin tends to linger on his compositions -- images of bloody lips, blank eyes, and semi-nude undead beauties drifting through the ruins of France's past -- which results in a hypnotising, dream-like effect. This is very true of Lips of Blood, which works as a 'greatest hits' compilation of Rollin's favorited themes, images and locations. With its limited dialogue and simple characterisation, Lips of Blood feels more like a silent film than a 70s horror movie.

For those interested in 70s horror movies, niche directors or weird kinky French flicks, the filmography of Jean Rollin is worth a look, and Lips of Blood is the jewel in the crown.

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