CAPSULE: VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: (as Franco Manera)

FEATURING: , Ewa Strömberg, Dennis Price, , Andrea Montchal, Heidrun Kussin, Jess Franco

PLOT: Linda, a young woman representing a legal firm, travels to a remote island to settle the estate of a wealthy Countess. When Linda meets the countess she realizes it is the same woman who has appeared to her in a recurring erotic dream. The lovely Linda is quickly seduced by the sexy Countess, who not only thirsts for her body and blood but for her soul.

Strill from Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I suppose a legitimate argument could be made for the “weirdness” of Vampyros Lesbos, or just about any Jess Franco offering. Franco definitely walked to the beat of his own drum. The director borrows from classic literature and vampire mythos in general, and breaks all sorts of rules along the way. Breaking rules, however, does not equal weird. Even with its psychedelic visuals fully intact, there still does not exist a single image that I would qualify as “weird.” There were several lesbian-themed vampire films made during the period; despite Franco’s film being one of the first to get a theatrical release, I don’t think it was terribly shocking for the time. While Vampyros Lesbos is a beautiful and unique entry into the genre, it is not a film I would deem “weird”.

COMMENTS: I have viewed some forty plus films from director Jess Franco, and Vampyros Lesbos remains one of the most visually stunning in his oeuvre. The set pieces, particularly those found in the estate of the Countess, are eye candy of the highest order. The locations likewise add to the film’s visual appeal. The soundtrack is the film’s crowning glory and is without a doubt one of my favorites of all time. Vampyros Lesbos has a dreamlike and trippy vibe, and if you get lost in it the film it can transport you to another world. The beautiful, sexually-charged world of the Countess Carody is as enticing as it is hauntingly sad.

Symbolism is used throughout, specifically the image of a scorpion, a butterfly and a kite. It is too easy, in my opinion, to suggest that the scorpion represents the Countess and the butterfly trapped in the net is Linda. In my mind, both the scorpion and the butterfly represent the Countess. The Countess, delicate in feature and frame, is equal parts powerful, ancient, hungry, desperate, bewitching and manipulative. I see Linda as the kite: free, intelligent, strong, intrigued, tempted but not caught.

Who exactly is enticing whom in this tale is arguable. The strong-willed businesswoman versus the powerful, sexual Countess! Both lead actresses give a solid and memorable performance. The gorgeous Soledad Miranda had a powerful presence in everything she made an appearance in, but never more so than in Vampyros Lesbos. Though her dialogue is spare, Miranda speaks volumes with her expression. An immortal woman who has spent undetermined years walking the earth is challenged by this mortal woman with whom she falls in love. Ewa Strömberg is perfectly cast as Miranda’s visual opposite. Strömberg, a shapely, fair-haired woman, is the white queen in Franco’s vampiric chessboard. The white queen versus the black queen; the stage is set for a game of wills.

The men in Vampyros Lesbos are basically pawns in this chess game. Dr. Seward has been treating a woman who has fallen under the spell of Countess Carody and has himself become obsessed with the idea of joining the ranks of the undead. When he finally meets the Countess, she scoffs at the idea of a man such as himself becoming part of the vampiric brotherhood (or sisterhood). Jess Franco makes an appearance as Memmet, who warns Linda not to travel to the island to meet the Countess. Memmet’s own wife, currently under the care of the aformentioned Dr. Seward, once met with the Countess. Memmet, as it turns out, is utterly insane. (It is debatable whether Memmet or his wife are the Renfield character of this story). Finally, Linda’s fiancee Omar is little more than a third leg. Vampyros Lesbos is primarily about Linda and Countess Carody, who munch up the screen with such ferocity you can feel the electric charge of their dynamics.

I love this film with every ounce of my being; the psychedelic atmosphere, the sexuality, the music, every beat of its undead heart matching my own. Two strong female leads in a tragic and surreal love story worthy of repeat viewings. Franco was at the top of his game during this period of his filmmaking, and Vampyros Lesbos is an outstanding example of what the director was capable of. Endless shades of red, eroticism and hypnagogic logic equate to a film well worth its cult status. Mystical, magical, masturbatory: if you have not discovered the world of Jesús Franco, this is an ideal place to start.

Sultry Soledad Miranda made several films with director Jess Franco, including Sex Charade, Nightmares Come At Night, Count Dracula, The Devil Came from Akasava, She Killed in Ecstasy, Eugenie Sex Happening and a short film entitled Juliette. On the way to a hotel to meet Franco to sign a multi-film contract, she was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of twenty-seven.

Still from Vampyros Lesbos (1971)DVD INFO: Severin Films recently released two Jess Franco/Soledad Miranda collaborations on Blu-Ray: She Killed in Ecstasy and the subject of this review, Vampyros Lesbos. The Lesbos DVD includes a interview with Jess Franco, Miranda Soledad, and historian Amy Brown; commentary from Stephen Thrower, author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jess Franco”; a German trailer; and an alternate opening sequence. Also included is a second disc featuring a grungy Spanish-language alternate cut bootleg of Vampyros Lesbos with English subtitles. The picture is not immaculate, particularly in darker scenes, but generally speaking the colors are bold and beautiful and the soundtrack sounded crystal clear to my ear. The powerful use of various shades of red come leaping from the screen in this version. Having owned this film on VHS and its previous DVD incarnation, I can say it is definitely the most attractive version of Vampyros Lesbos to date.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The tale is Dracula, Franco tells it as a slanted hallucination…  Try to locate a narrative, and the whole thing dissolves; better to take the lead of Heidrum Kussin’s buxom, straitjacketed Reinfeld, who emerges from the reverie bewildered and aroused.”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

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