Thursday, March 27, 2014


Jess Franco, 1971
Starring: Soledad Miranda, Ewa Stromberg, Dennis Price, Jose Martinez Blanco, Andres Monales

Linda (Jess Franco regular Ewa Stromberg) begins to have disturbing dreams about a mysterious woman (Franco’s first muse, Soledad Miranda). She encounters the woman during a strange striptease show in a club and again later when her job as a lawyer takes her out to a Mediterranean island. The beautiful woman is Countess Carody, who holds a dangerous, erotic sway over Linda. It turns out that Carody is the heir of Dracula and has her vampiric, lesbian designs fixed on Linda. Will she drive Linda mad, turn her into a vampire, or sacrifice her own, immortally perfect body and spare Linda out of love?

Vampyros Lesbos is undoubtedly an acquired taste – as are all of director Jess Franco’s films – but those who enjoy slow, dreamy, arty horror films will find a lot to love here, namely the performance of the exquisite Soledad Miranda (Count Dracula, She Killed in Ecstasy). Miranda is certainly one of the sexiest women of ‘70s cinema and was Franco’s muse until her unfortunate, early death as the result of a car accident. Though Ewa Stromberg (She Killed in Ecstasy, The Devil Came from Aksava) is enjoyable, she doesn’t hold a candle to Miranda. There are also average performances from Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets), Franco regular Paul Müller (I Vampiri, Count Dracula), and an uncredited cameo from Franco himself. 

The plot is supposedly based on Bram Stoker’s story "Dracula's Guest," which I’ve read a handful of times. Vampyros Lesbos has about the same connection to "Dracula's Guest" that Dracula, The Dirty Old Man has to Stoker's novel. Franco does take a number of strange liberties with vampire myth, including one scene where Carody sits outside, sunbathing, and doesn’t burst into flame or turn into a pile of ashes. Her ridiculous manservant, Morpho, adds another element of the strange and surreal to the proceedings. There is also a Renfield-like character, a girl named Agra housed in an asylum who looks remarkably similar to Linda. Apparently her obsession with Carody drove her mad.

Like many of Franco’s other films, plot is secondary to style and surrealism. Perhaps frustratingly, there are a lot of random images and shots throughout the film of objects that relate, in no way, to the story as a whole, such as shots of a kite or a boat. If you’ve seen enough Franco films, this isn’t unusual, but it is likely to confuse Franco newbies. Both sleeping and waking dreams have a constant presence in his films and this one is no exception.

Like many of Franco’s films, Vampyros Lesbos is deeply flawed, and yet I enjoyed it despite (or perhaps because of) these issues. A lot of things work against the film, such as the dialogue, but it has a certain surreal charm that soaks through most of Franco's work. Soledad Miranda has an inexplicable sort of charisma where she can say nothing, do little, and as long as she's on screen you can’t help but watch her. This film defies logic. I really enjoyed it, but I have no idea why. I’ve read plenty of reviews where the critic passionately hated it, but, again, Franco’s work has always been an acquired taste. 

This West German-Spanish coproduction with a Turkish setting is very stylish and is a delightful reminder of jazzy, ‘70s flavor. The Turkish sets are lovely and there’s some excellent cinematography. The dubbing is absolutely appalling, but that shouldn’t surprise fans of Eurohorror, where the productions are generally made up of actors from all over Europe speaking dozens of languages on set. 

Vampyros Lesbos comes highly recommended to fans of other Eurohorror fans. If you’re new to the subgenre, chance are you will either love it or fall asleep. I do, however, highly recommend the amazing psychedelic jazz score by Manfred Huebler and Siegfried Schwab, released on CD as Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party

There is no definitive print of this film. I'm reviewing the out of print German-language Synapse region 1 release, though from what I understand the Image region 1, which is currently in print, is the same, dubbed in English instead of German. This isn't really the type of film where it matters what print you get, just beware of a version called Las Vampiras, which is the cut version. And no one in their right mind wants to watch a Jess Franco movie with less nudity. 

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