International Horror Review: Lips of Blood (dir by Jean Rollin)

Few directors were as obsessed with memory as the great French filmmaker Jean Rollin and the 1975 cinematic memory poem, Lips of Blood, is one of his most personal works.

Frederic (played by Jean-Loup Philippe, a frequent Rollin collaborator) is at a reception for the launch of a new perfume.  After discussing how certain fragrances can bring back subjective memories of the past, Frederic notices a poster hanging on the wall.  The poster is a photograph of an old castle sitting on the beach.  As Frederic stares at the poster, he has a vision of himself as a child, approaching the same castle and meeting a young woman named Jennifer (Annie Belle).  Jennifer, who was apparently unable to go beyond the castle’s gates, allowed Frederic to get some sleep in the castle.  When Frederic woke up, he left the castle but he promised Jennifer that he would return and that he would help her to leave the castle.

Years later, Frederic is haunted by the vision.  He’s not sure if it’s dream or if it’s something that really happened.  When he discusses it with his mother (Nathalie Perrey), she insists that it was just a dream and that Jennifer doesn’t exist.  Even when Frederic says that he can’t remember anything about his childhood, his mother insists that he’s just imagining things.

But when Frederic starts to have visions of Jennifer beckoning him to come find her, is he imagining things or is she really trying to contact him?  When she leads Frederic to a cemetery, is Frederic going mad or is Jennifer trying to tell him something?  And, if this is all just in Frederic’s mind, why is he being followed by two mysterious girls who both have fangs and a taste for blood?  Why are strangers trying to kill him?  Even when Frederic is ruled to be mad and forcefully taken to an insane asylum, he remains obsessed with returning to the beach and finding that castle….

Lips of Blood has all the typical elements of a Rollin film.  Yes, there are vampires.  Yes, there is an old castle and yes, it’s on the same beach where it’s speculated that Rollin himself spent most of his childhood.  (That beach makes an appearance in nearly every Rollin film.)  Yes, the imagery is frequently sensual and erotically charged.  And yes, the film plays out as its own dreamlike pace.  Rollin is often described as being a director of vampire films but, at heart, Rollin was a surrealist and each one of his films creates its own unique world.  The world that Rollin creates in Lips of Blood is a rather melancholy one, one tinged with love, regret, and existential angst.  Frederic is wealthy and successful and leads what most people would consider to be a glamorous lifestyle.  Yet, he’s empty.  He’s haunted by the past and a promise that he failed to keep.

Indeed, throughout the film, there’s a palpable yearning for a simpler and more innocent world.  It’s present in every frame of Lips of Blood.  When Frederic visits the photographer who took the picture of the castle, the walls of her studio are decorated with vaguely political images, reminding us that the modern world can be a frightening and confusing place.  The world is full of people who are not only threatened by what Frederic saw in the castle but also by Frederic’s refusal to share their fear.  Frederic refuses to conform and therefore, society conspires to destroy not just him but also the glimpse he got into a world beyond our own.  By the end of the film, as he and another talk about getting in a coffin and allowing themselves to be swept out to sea in the hope of finding an isolated island, it’s impossible not to hope that they make it.

Lips of Blood is one of Rollin’s best and most personal films.  Never forget it.


International Horror Review: The Two Orphan Vampires (dir by Jean Rollin)

Louise (Alexandra Pic) and Henriette (Isabelle Teboul) are two orphaned sisters.  They’re both blind and, as the nuns at the orphanage explains to Dr. Dennary (Bernard Charnacé), innocent to the ways of the world.  When Dr. Dennary adopts them, everyone tells him that he’s made the right choice.  Never have there been two sisters as sweet and beatific as Louise and Henriette.

Of course, what neither the nuns nor Dr. Dennary know is that, when the sun goes down, Louise and Henriette’s vision returns.  They sneak out of Dennary’s home, exploring the nearby cemeteries and meeting other beings who can only move freely during the night.  The sisters tells each other stories of their past and we see memories that seem to suggest that they have been alive for centuries.  But, the sisters also often talk about how they can’t remember their past and it’s suggested that their “memories” are just stories that they’ve created to give themselves a history that they don’t otherwise possess.

At times, you wonder if they’re even sisters.  Perhaps they’re just two vampires who manged to find each other at some point over the past few centuries.  Still, you can never doubt the strength of their bond.  When one of them is weak from a lack of blood, the other allows her to drink from her neck.  When they find themselves being pursued by angry villagers, they refuse to be separated.  Even if it means dying, at least they’ll die together.

Throughout the film, the orphans eagerly await for night to fall so that they can see and sneak out of the house.  But, at the same time, they know that their time is limited.  When the sun rises, they will again lose their sight.  These vampires don’t need to sleep in coffins.  In fact, they don’t need to sleep at all.  But they need the night to see the world around them.

Unfortunately, Dr. Dennary may be kind-hearted but he’s still not happy about the idea of the two orphans sneaking out of his house during the night.  When the sisters go to drastic means to ensure their freedom, they find themselves in even greater danger….

First released in 1997, The Two Orphan Vampires is perhaps my favorite Jean Rollin film.  Rollin, himself, once described it was being one of his best films because it was a film that told a story that went beyond his own personal obsessions.  That may be true but this is definitely a Jean Rollin film.  It’s not just the use of the vampirism or the fact that frequent Rollin co-star Brigitte Lahaie has a cameo.  It’s that the film centers not just on the supernatural but also the way that our memories and our fantasies can provide comfort in an uncertain world, which was a favorite Rollin theme.  Whether their memories are true or not is not important.  What’s important is that the two sisters share them.

In typical Rollin fashion, the movie unfolds at its own deceptively leisurely pace.  The imagery is frequently dream-like, with the orphan vampires discovering an underworld of paranormal creatures.  The film also reflect Rollin’s love of the old serials, with frequent cliffhangers.  By the final third of the movie, you can already guess what’s going to end up happening to the two orphan vampires but I still had tears in my eyes by the time the end credits started to roll up the screen.

For whatever reason, Two Orphan Vampires seems to get a mixed reaction from several Rollin fans, who perhaps are disappointed that it’s considerably less bloody and/or sordid as some of Rollin’s other vampire films.  The film is one of Rollin’s more contemplative films and it has more in common with The Night of the Hunted and The Iron Rose than some of Rollin’s other vampire films.  That said, Two Orphan Vampires is my personal favorite of Rollin’s filmography.  It’s a film that bring me to tears every time that I watch it.