Review based on the Redemption version.
"Lever de Sang" or "Lips of Blood" is widely regarded as one of Jean Rollin's best films and for once in my dubious career I will agree with the masses, this is his best. Rollin's art is in full flower. The camera work and lighting is reminiscent of Dario Argento at his peak. There's lots of filtered light and artistic surreal settings. Rollin goes to a great deal of trouble staging his death scenes in this movie to be pleasing. This death imagery is on par with Argento's lesser works such as "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" which is what it brings to mind. Even with less nudity then in prior films Rollin displays his woman with great effect in diaphanous robes and pastel colors to go with his lighting. The plot is as tight as Rollin ever gets. This means it has a clear plot, not without holes, but a clear plot with a logical path. Less surrealistic then some of his more bizarre films such as "Requiem for a Vampire" it is still stuffed to the brim with symbolism and surreal settings. Despite the overall quality of the film there are some corny sequences such as the burning of the vampires. Many fans of Rollin will however enjoy these scenes interpreting them as part of Rollin's surrealism.
This film is a visual feast. My favorite scene combines Argento style lighting with Rollin's eye for the female body. It is of four lovely vampires clad in diaphanous robes standing on a château's wall, staring down at a victim. The wind whips their robes of violet and blue allowing brief and erotic glimpses of their full womanhood. Whenever anyone mentions Rollin this is the scene that first comes to my mind. Another scene which comes to mind is the assassin's chase of Frederic, played by Jean-Lou Philippe. This is an action scene and while it can't be compared to a Hollywood guns and cars action sequence it is able to hold its own. Unlike a similar action scene in "Requiem for a Vampire," there is little distracting dialog and the surreal effects add to the drama rather then detract.
While not as surreal as earlier Rollin's films such as "Shivers of the Vampires" (1970) or "Requiem for a Vampire" (1971), "Lips of Blood" is redolent of Rollin's style of symbolism. Early on we are keyed into the importance of memories in this film with the following lines:
Frederic: What a scent!
Girl: Scents are like memories, the person evaporates but the memory remains.
Other symbology includes a whore painted with vivid red face paint, the appearance of the vampire Jennifer, played by Annie Belle, between two warning signs just prior to Frederic releasing the vampire hoard on Paris, and a bull's shadow. Like the warning signs most of the symbology adds to the plot line, very little is the random symbology Rollin often employees. The only throw away image I picked up on was a frog in the whore's chambers and even that might be an allusion to the fact she is a fake not Frederic's princess. Perhaps even a joke that if kissed she would become his princess.
Like most of Rollin's films this is a soft-core extravaganza, but unlike most of his work it is fairly light on nudity and there is no sex until the very end. There is one nude modeling scene and lots of fleshy glimpses. This may result from the fact that a hard-core version of this film was planned and produced. Knowing this one can see hooks which are set for spin off hard-core scenes such as the Parisian party and photographer's come on in the modeling scene. I have not seen the hard-core version so I can not make any exhaustive comparison, but it is reputed to be bad and the insertion of the hard-core scenes ruins much of the symbolism of the movie.
Other features lacking from this movie which are normal Rollin's trademarks are his rape scenes. An absence I for one don't miss. Also absent is Rollin's anti male stereotypes. There are few men in the movie, which is common for Rollin. The one significant male is Frederic, a naïve man of thirty-one, who follows the threads of his memory and the prompting of Jennifer's astral self to fulfill his destiny. Instead the plot revolves around a smoothing mother figure that is handled less heavy handedly then his male stereotypes.
My copy of "Lips of Blood" was a DVD from Redemption. Like all Redemption films the sound and visual quality was excellent. The film is uncut. Also like all Redemption films it is virtually devoid of extras, even trailers. The Redemption opening scene is fantastic and hot but is identical to all their releases.
If you have not seen Jean Rollin's work this is the film to buy. If you don't like it then you don't deserve to see more. His best features are highlighted in this film and his flaws are less apparent than in his other films. But if you're like me the images are like memories, the film evaporates but the memory remains.