Friday, September 2, 2011
Franco Friday #32: Vampyros Lesbos
Franco Friday #32
Ahhh, this feels like coming home. For many years, Vampyros Lesbos was my favorite Jess Franco film, mainly because I had seen exactly three Franco films all together. But you know, had it not been this one film getting stuck in my brain, I might never have ventured so deep into the world of Franco. Coming next week... the last Franco Friday!
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Soledad Miranda, Ewa Stromberg, Dennis Price, Heidrun Kussin, Jose Martinez Blanco, Andres Monales, Paul Muller
An indiscernible voice prattling through a megaphone over some toxic jazz segues into a relentless blast of organ music. The first images we see? A striptease. A brunette in a red scarf takes off what little lingerie she is wearing and dresses a living mannequin on the stage with her. The mannequin suddenly comes to life. A blond woman in the audience is particularly affected by this display. This is Vampyros Lesbos. Fasten your ill-fitting braziers, it's gonna be a funky night (day, actually).
Linda Westinghouse (played by Ewa Stromberg) has been haunted by dreams of a woman she has never met. This woman beckons to her. While she and her boyfriend are staying in Istanbul, Linda is called in to draw up the estate of the Countess Carody AKA Nadine (Soledad Miranda). I think she's a lawyer or whatever. It should be no surprise to anyone watching this film, the Countess is the woman from her dreams. Much like the title promises, the Countess is a lesbian vampire and she wants to drain Linda dry.
Linda's boyfriend Omar (played by Andres Monales) is very concerned for his lady who seems to be fading away before his eyes. He contacts Dr. Seward (Dennis Price) who is convinced that vampires are real and that Linda is in grave danger. Locked up in his hospital is Agra (Heidrun Kussin), one of the Countess's previous victims/girlfriends, who has completely lost her mind. She spends her days writhing around in her bed with a very phallic-looking rubber clown and prophesying the Countess's imminent return. Agra is the Renfield of this movie. Nice work if you can get it.
Of course, Dr. Seward is an unethical motherfucker who wants the vampire's power of immortality. He tries to trap the Countess in some lame scheme but he doesn't count on her manservant Morpho (played by Jose Martinez Blanco) showing up and wrecking shit. Did I mention that Linda is being held hostage by a madman named Memmet (Jess Franco)? No? Oh well. I probably forgot to talk about how Linda is special (she's strong willed?) and that the Countess has decided to bestow all the powers of the vampire upon her. Yeah, sorry. ANYWAY, Omar and Linda's therapist (Paul Muller) show up to save the day. Will they be too late?!?!
Director Jess Franco delivers a pervasively moody, if uneven, film with Vampyros Lesbos. The adventurous cinematographer Manuel Merino does not disappoint delivering a lush and very pretty film full of vibrance in even the most washed out sets located in Istanbul, Germany, and Spain. Merino also makes great use of lots of colored gels and inexplicably bizarre lighting setups, giving the film even more spice. The soundtrack by Manfred Hubler, Sigi Schwab, and Franco himself is overwhelming and should just about melt your ears off.
Even after all the Jess Franco films I've seen, Vampyros Lesbos is still pretty damn weird. Vampires that go sunbathing in the nude, mysterious blood dripping down a window, a scorpion drowning* in a swimming pool, and candles burning in broad daylight are just a few bafflements in store for adventurous viewers. The only major complaint I have is the striptease at the beginning of the film is repeated pretty much in its entirety late in the running time. I can't help but wish this had been abbreviated. It's a poignant scene in its own way but the Countess's act is so elaborate that it's a little dull the second time around. Here I am, complaining about naked women again! Maybe Franco just ain't for me.
I love this silly, silly movie but I suspect that without Soledad Miranda's super-cool performance, I doubt this would be as highly revered (or perhaps just remembered thanks to Synapse's 2000 DVD**) as it is. This is certainly better than Franco's own Daughter of Dracula, released the following year. This film does have some laughably outrageous overacting (Kussin) and forehead slapping underacting (Monales) but Miranda and Stromberg help you forget about all that. As far as starting points for Jess Franco, Vampyros Lesbos is an excellent place to begin. Just don't tell a newbie that this is his greatest film. That just wouldn't be true.
"My friend is the Queen of the Night."
*Scorpions can't fucking swim, Franco!
**After INTENSE RESEARCH, I found that Vampyros Lesbos was actually part of the second wave of Franco's films available on DVD in the US in 2000 alongside titles such as She Killed in Ecstasy, Wanda the Wicked Warden, Female Vampire, and The Awful Dr. Orloff. In 1998, during the first wave, the only Franco DVDs you could get your hands on in the States were Succubus and Kiss Me, Monster (thanks to Image DVD).