Friday, 8 April 2016

Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

This review is for the Severin Blu-Ray (UK edition) with German soundtrack and English subtitles in the film's native ration of 1.66:1, which leaves narrow black bars at the sides of the picture.

Vampyros Lesbos starts with a sexy, trippy striptease with the beautiful Soledad Miranda (playing Countess Nadine Carody) writhing away to an organ (fnarr, fnarr), whilst Linda (Ewa Strömberg) and her boyfriend Omar (Andrés Monales complete with "Just for Men" styled hair) ogle from a table. With her hallucinatory dance act the Countess places Linda under a spell and, in the following days, haunts her dreams. Sexy, vampyric shenanigans ensue.

The bones of the Dracula story are tucked away under layers of sex and psychedelia. Linda meets with the Countess to discuss a property left to her in a will rather than the purchase of a house in the novel. She hires a boat to get to the Countess' island instead of a coach to the castle. Then we have the haunting of dreams, the locals warning Linda not to visit the island, a Renfield type character, Linda Westinghouse instead of Lucy Westenra and Doctor Seward (who is a bit of a dick). You get the idea. I think Franco must have been reading the, admittedly pretty dry, book and thought "hey, it's the 1970! Let's sex this up! Nicole, bring me my mescaline".

The relationship between Linda and the Countess is not based on any form of hypnosis but is the result of Linda's frustrated love-life and the Countess' need for more than just blind obedience. Watch the first bedroom encounter between the pair and note that Linda's expression is not of someone under control but that of someone who is nervous and excited. The scene is very similar to a famous scene in the uncut Hammer Dracula (1958). in fact the control in this film tends to come from the male characters, although there are the  Countess' previous victims to consider, who are reduced to dolls in the strip scenes. The Countess later admits her love for Linda when she says "But then I met Linda. Now I'm under her spell". If it wasn't for the gratuitous tits-and-ass I'd never call Vampyros Lesbos an exploitation film and most definitely not a horror film. This is as much a love story as Lady Chatterley's Lover!

The photography is beautiful with deep landscape shots cutting to macro shots of insects. Sure we get loads of zoom shots, but would it be a Jess Franco film without them? The colours are vivid; full of bright reds, deep blues and burnt oranges. They really give the film a Mediterranean feel. Where most vampire films use black as the predominate colour and red as a highlight, Franco reverses this and black is used sparingly, but when used it stands out wonderfully. There are a few shots that are really out of focus but these are few and far between and seem to be the fault of the focus-puller during Franco's frequent zooms.

The soundtrack? It's like distant conversations picked up by a ham radio enthusiast, looped, distorted and played back alongside some R&B/jazz Hammond organ and trippy sitar. Not just one of the classic exploitation soundtracks but one of the greatest film soundtracks of the 1970s.

The performances are, on the whole, excellent and above Franco usual standard. Miranda is great; at times fragile and then cold and aloof, whilst Carody (as Linda) is suitably naive and insecure at the start but slowly develops into a strong assertive woman. Michael Berling is excellent as the patriarchal and controlling Seward.

For gorehounds there is very little blood in Vampyros Lesbos and for those wanting tits-and-ass, there's frequent boobs and bush, one sub-softcore moment and a couple of very nice stripteases - the second being quite brilliant as the Countess slowly removes her clothes and dresses her living doll in them. Just don't watch the film expecting a Jess Franco sex frenzy.

The quality of the picture is very good with strong colours that pop off the screen without being over-saturated. The sound is clear and without noticeable hiss and the subtitles seem accurate.

A story of control versus love and sexual liberation. Seductive, sexy, beautiful and quite brilliant.

"The Queen of the Night will bear you up on her black wings"

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