Monday, 1 February 2016

Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

“A bizarre and bewitching combination of art house, eroticism and horror”

So let’s get one thing straight from the off. If your taste in erotic cinema is of the more prosaic LESBIAN SPANK INFERNO variety, this one probably isn’t for you, despite that marvellous, exploitative title. If you’re a fan of the more mainstream kind of vampire movie, this isn’t going to be for you either. If you love art house, but demand that there be a focus puller for every scene, you’re going to get annoyed.
However, if you’re a Jess Franco fan, you are absolutely going to bloody love this one.

VAMPYROS LESBOS is, without a doubt, one of Jess Franco’s best films, and the folks at Severin have done a fantastic job of giving it a stunning Blu-ray transfer that’s now available in the UK as well as overseas.
Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stromberg) is plagued by erotic dreams, which she confesses to psychiatrist Dr Steiner (Paul Muller). She’s a lawyer, and her latest assignment is to travel to an island near Istanbul to discuss the details of an inheritance with the Countess Carody (Soledad Miranda). Even before she goes she is warned not to go by the creepy Memmet (Jess Franco) and when she gets there she is quickly seduced by the Countess. 

Things become a blur as Linda then wakes up in the ‘clinic’ of Dr Seward (Dennis Price) who only seems to have one other patient, Agra (Heidrun Kussin) who resembles a sexy version of Renfield. Dr Seward is obsessed with the legend of vampires. The Countess has inherited property from Count Dracula, whom she met over a hundred years ago. This being a Jess Franco film, it all ends dreamily, unpredictably, and on a freeze frame that suggests he had once again got bored.

VAMPYROS LESBOS is a fascinating art-house interpretation of Dracula, with a heavy Carmilla influence as well. Linda is obviously meant to be Harker, and Franco cleverly inverts other tropes of Stoker’s classic novel as well. Instead of a crumbling gothic castle, Countess Carmody lives in a bright, clean, modern island retreat. Instead of spiderwebs, fishing nets hang everywhere.

And in amongst all this are some breathtaking shots. Despite the abundant nudity, Soledad Miranda is probably never more supremely sexy than when fully clothed with just a trace of blood on her lips. A white butterfly represents Linda, a scorpion in the swimming pool, tail poised, the Countess. Linda’s discovery of the Countess floating naked in her swimming pool, a red scarf draped around her neck and half submerged to resemble the most flamboyant, painterly flourish of blood you’ve ever seen in a vampire film is the kind of thing that makes you a Franco fan for life. 

Severin’s Blu-ray also has a twenty minute chat with the director about the making of the film, where you wonder quite how many cigarettes Franco managed to actually get through during the course of the interview. There’s a twenty minute piece on Soledad Miranda from Amy Brown, and the always excellent Stephen Thrower gives us his thoughts on the movie. Finally, a tiny piece entitled ‘Jess Is Yoda’ is something I’ll leave you to find out for yourself.

The older I get, the more I find myself loving the movies of Jess Franco. I first watched VAMPYROS LESBOS on VHS fifteen years ago and didn’t think as much of it then as I did watching it this time around. Of course since that time I’ve watched a lot more Franco. Someone once said that to understand one Jess Franco film you have to watch them all. Even if that’s the case, Severin’s Blu-ray of VAMPYROS LESBOS is as good a place as any to start the Franco journey.

Jess Franco's VAMPYROS LESBOS is available from Severin Films on both sides of the Atlantic on DVD & Blu-ray now. 

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