José Ramón Larraz, 1974
Starring: Anulka, Marianne Morris, Murray Brown
John and Harriet are vacationing in an RV in the English countryside. Harriet believes she sees two beautiful women hidden in the forest by the road side. Though John doesn’t believe her, the women are revealed to be Fran and Miriam, two vampires who prey on motorists by hitching rides and inviting the unsuspecting men in for drinks and sex. They dispose of the bodies by staging car crashes, but Fran keeps bringing her latest victim, Ted, back for more. As John and Harriet are vacationing so near the castle Fran and Miriam live in, their paths are bound to cross...
Recently deceased Spanish director José Ramón Larraz shot many of his films in England, including his best known effort, the dark, lyrical, and erotic Vampyres. Though most of Larraz’s horror or mystery films are still very obscure and nearly impossible to get ahold of, Vampyres has maintained a cult following over the years thanks to its compelling blend of horror, mystery, and erotica.
In a way, Vampyres works as well as a mystery as it does an erotic horror film. Larraz introduces a number of questions early on, some of which he answers and others he neglects, though I think the latter adds to film’s dreamlike, surreal quality. As a horror film, there are a few genuine scares and surprising, sudden moments of violence. The horror elements are primarily suggested rather than overtly depicted. Larraz slowly reveals that Fran and Miriam are vampires, building tension and anxiety at a near agonizing pace as we realize what Fran and Miriam are up to and the lengths they are willing to go. The film becomes quite bloody in parts, off setting the lengthy, softcore scenes of eroticism that take up much of the first act.
The photography, sets, and scenery are one of the many reasons to see Vampyres. The film is largely made up of beautiful shots of Morris and Anulka. They run through the woods at dawn, kiss each other with blood covering their lips and faces, appear as if dead while sleeping, and stare longingly at one another.
Vampyres has a lovely, Hammer-like setting and the lush countryside and forest, as well as the crumbling castle, add to the Gothic feel of the film. The actual sets are Oakley Court and Denham cemetery, areas regularly used by Hammer. The director of photography, Harry Waxman, was fresh off The Wicker Man, though overall I think this feels far more like a European horror film than a British one. The emphasis on surrealism and erotica are more like the films of Jean Rollin or Jess Franco than Hammer horror. As with Jean Rollin, Larraz’s vampires stick to some folklore conventions - they need to drink blood and be underground during the day - but neither Fran nor Miriam have fangs and must rely on knives to spill blood. Clocks near them stop and they take care to cover mirrors. The supernatural elements are thin at best, but definitely add to the general atmosphere.
The vacationing couple, John and Harriet, add another story to the mix and Harriet’s connection with Fran and Miriam is one of the film’s many mysteries. On the surface level, John and Harriet are a little annoying, but Harriet’s insatiable curiosity and her desire to find out who Fran and Miriam are and what they’re up to drives their plot forward. Fran and Harriet seem to have some sort of spiritual - or possibly sexual - connection, but Larraz never reveals what this is, possibly setting the film up for a sequel.
The voluptuous Marianne Morris stars as Fran and British-Polish model Anulka (Lisztomania, Playmate of the Month) co-stars as her girlfriend and partner in crime, Miriam. Though the two women are clearly not experienced actresses, they are thoroughly sexy here and don’t have much to do other than look beautiful, have sex, and cover themselves in blood. Murray Brown (the 1974 version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula) appears as Fran’s ongoing victim Ted. Brian Deacon (A Zed and Two Noughts) and Sally Faulkner (Doctor Who, Alien Prey) are decent as the unaware vacationing couple.
Vampyres has a few flaws, such as some unintentionally comedic moments and a number of plot holes. The most glaring plot issue is probably that Fran and Miriam’s continuing plan to hitchhike rides to their home and then feast upon the drivers is predictable and - at least in a more rational film - likely to attract attention from the police. The slow pacing will not please everyone, though seasoned fans of Eurohorror will not even notice this.
Vampyres comes recommended and is now on Blu-ray courtesy of Blue Underground. A number of special features are included. Larraz sadly passed away in September of 2013, but hopefully this means that more of his films will see the light of day on DVD and Blu-ray. To learn more about him, read Pete Tombs’ touching remembrance or, if you can find it, Tombs’ book about Eurotrash and Eurohorror, Immoral Tales.