Chris McCormick is a highly paid fashion model whose image serves as the driving force of the ad campaign for a popular brand of lipstick and can be seen in magazines and on billboards all around the world. Gordon Stuart, a part-time composer and full-time music teacher, eagerly accepts Chris's 13-year-old sister Kathy's invitation to come to a secluded beachside photo shoot, so Chris can listen to some of his music. He arrives at her apartment one day to visit her, but is interrupted by a phone call from her lover, Steve Edison.
As Chris talks to Steve, Gordon begins to fume at the thought of Chris' obvious rejection. His hurt soon turns to anger, and he enters her room and smashes a picture of her brother Martin, a priest, before throwing himself on top of her. During Chris's struggle to fight him off, Gordon slams her head against one of her bedposts and screams at her to show him where she keeps the lipstick that her face sells to the public. When she tells him it is in her bathroom, he takes her in there and smears it across her face, then forces her to perform fellatio on him to leave the traces of the lipstick on his genitalia. Returning her to her bed, he ties her down with silk scarves, and anally rapes her to the accompaniment of his discordant compositions. Near the end of the ordeal, Kathy returns home from school and walks in on Chris and Gordon, and flees. He gets up and suggests Kathy join them and "have some fun," but instead cuts Chris free and leaves.
Gordon is arrested, but as Chris learns from Carla Bondi, the prosecutor assigned to handle the case, Gordon's conviction is hardly a sure thing, and she asks her to testify against him. Gordon's attorney argues that the sex was consensual, and that its roughness was the result of Chris's own twisted desires. He also suggests that even if Gordon acted without her consent, she provoked him by appearing naked in front of him at the photo shoot where they first met, and by the inherent sensuality of the photographs from which she makes her living. Gordon is ultimately acquitted.
Chris leaves her job modeling for the lipstick company, and plans to relocate to Colorado with Kathy after her last shoot. By a terrible coincidence, Kathy's old school is using the same building where Chris's shoot is to rehearse a new ballet being orchestrated by Gordon. As Chris poses in a red sequined gown, Kathy runs into Gordon, who—despite her protestations to the contrary—a part of her still believes is innocent. Gordon chases her through the abandoned building and rapes her.
Kathy returns to the photo shoot and tells Chris what happened. Chris, in a frenzy runs outside to her car and grabs a Remington Slide-Action Rifle she had intended to take to Colorado with her. Chris spots Gordon driving his car in the parking lot, and shoots at it. Gordon is hit by a bullet. He tries running Chris over, but the car swirls and overturns on its side. As he climbs out of the car, Chris shoots him three times. As he convulses, Chris approaches his body and shoots him in the groin, and continues to shoot his corpse. Later, Carla Bondi speaks to a jury, telling them that their acquittal of Gordon earlier resulted in Chris losing faith in the law. The jury ultimately finds Chris not guilty.Margaux Hemingway as Christine McCormick
Chris Sarandon as Gordon Stuart
Perry King as Steve Edison
Robin Gammell as Nathan Cartwright
John Bennett Perry as Martin McCormick
Mariel Hemingway as Kathy McCormick
Francesco Scavullo as Francesco
Meg Wylie as Sister Margaret
Inga Swenson as Sister Monica
Lauren Jones as Policewoman
Catherine McLeod as Vogue Lady
Anne Bancroft as Carla Bondi
Lipstick holds a 14% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based upon 7 reviews.
Lipstick was met with negative critical reception upon release, with much of the criticism focused around the film's treatment of rape, which was perceived as purely exploitative. Roger Ebert called it "a nasty little item masquerading as a bold statement on the crime of rape. The statement would seem a little bolder if the movie didn't linger in violent and graphic detail over the rape itself, and then handle the vengeance almost as an afterthought." The New York Times remarked the film's glamorous photography, but said it was "anti-intellectual in the ways that B movies always have been."
Variety reviewed the film with a similar sentiment, declaring: "Lipstick has pretensions of being an intelligent treatment of the tragedy of female rape. But by the time it's over, the film has shown its true colors as just another cynical violence exploitation."
Harlan Ellison, writing in March 1977, said: "Lipstick panders to the basest, vilest, lowest possible common denominators of urban fear and lynch logic. It is the sort of film that, if you see it in a ghetto theater filled with blacks, will scare the bejeezus out of you. The animal fury this film unleashes in an audience is terrifying to behold. It gives exploitation a bad name; and it has less to do with rape, which is the commercial hook on which they’ve hung the salability of this bit of putrescence, than it does with the cynicism of Joseph E. Levine, a man who probably has no trouble sleeping with a troubled conscience."
The soundtrack of the film was by French singer Michel Polnareff who released the album in 1976 on Atlantic Records. The soundtrack became a disco success on its own in the United States and internationally.
The film was remade in India twice, first in Hindi as Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1980) then as a Tamil - Telugu bilingual film, which were released as Neethi Devan Mayakkam and Edi Dharmam Edi Nyayam? respectively.