Put Jess Franco and Vampyros Lesbos into the same sentence. Now imagine what that movie might be. I think, in your mind’s eye, you’ve pretty much locked in on what it’s all about. Franco’s 1971 erotic horror film is a retelling of Dracula from a female perspective, but it’s difficult to pick out those small details when the larger ones – namely, the three Bs: bush, boobs, and butt – are such an integral part of the film. One could argue that Franco’s eroticism and lesbian overtones are meant to evoke a theme of latent lesbianism, a subconscious urge that some may push away for fear of taboo and being different. Or, Vampyros Lesbos could just be a wet dream for Franco, seeing Soledad Miranda in various forms of undress writhing in front of a mirror and kissing the tender flesh of multiple women. Either way, it could be a win-win for viewers.
However, there’s not much plot to the film in a way that only Jess Franco could do. In fact, had you read the synopsis of the movie before popping the disc into your Blu-Ray player, you really wouldn’t miss much of the story at all. The writing in Vampyros Lesbos is limited to flashes of exposition in between either torture, pleasure, or a variation of both. Franco is unconcerned with laying too much groundwork for the film, and instead the first 20 minutes waver between Miranda’s character Nadine dancing and frolicking with a woman named Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stromberg). There’s a semblance of Dracula in the plot, and the dialogue even brings up that character in a quick reference to him as a real person related to Countess Nadine Carody. But other than a brief meeting between Nadine and Linda that discusses Nadine’s interesting will, there’s little setup to explain their relationship or even the path of the plot.
Franco works in surreality, using vampirism as a supernatural draw for Linda. Dreaming of Nadine, the island that she lives on, and various scorpions, moths, and blood-red kites, Linda has a sort of awakening in herself, an attraction to Nadine that draws her away from her boyfriend Omar (Viktor Feldmann). Here Vampyros Lesbos uses its vampire’s supernaturality to document lesbian tendencies, explaining the somewhat subconscious attraction between Nadine and Linda. It also, in a short scene of exposition between Nadine and her servant Morpho (J. Martinez Blanco), exposes Nadine’s past life and her rape at the hands of men. It’s both a sole example of explicit characterization for a character in the film and a derivative explanation of Nadine’s lesbianism.
This lack of plot does suit the mood of Vampyros Lesbos to a certain extent; there’s an ambiance to the film that’s dark and foreboding, at the same time the campy psychedelic music lifting the mood with its ’70s porn grooves. Franco doesn’t actually focus on the vampire aspect of Nadine very often, instead allowing Linda and Agra (Heidrun Kussin), another follower of the Queen of Darkness, room to contemplate their own sexuality. It’s difficult to tell, though, if Franco means to be progressive – with the women given the chance to act on their sexual urges in a way society doesn’t often afford – or if he’s just using the vampire’s spell as a way to put women in close contact with each other. He even states, in an interview on this disc, that he simply enjoys lesbian sex because it’s more beautiful, and he certainly depicts that with multiple scenes of lengthy female groping.
Whatever the case, Vampyros Lesbos is a film that’s sometimes difficult to watch. Franco’s direction is often intentionally slow, almost leering in its footage of Miranda and Stromberg; while the story of Dracula is present in certain respects (Doctor Seward is effectively a Van Helsing stand-in, Agra is Renfield), Franco is never able to re-tell that story effectively. Part of it is the insistence on surreal imagery, but it’s important to point out that for every representation of Dracula, there’s a lusty scene that has little to do with the plot besides giving the audience another glimpse of Miranda’s naked breasts.
Erotic, provocative, and often glacially paced, Vampyros Lesbos is an important film in Jess Franco’s canon of film. On the other hand, it’s important for the viewer to recognize that there’s very little plot to speak of, and the film is mostly a series of lesbian vignettes (the opener itself, with a burlesque-dancing Miranda, is a good example of things to come) with some vampirism used as a method to enhance the attraction between Linda and Nadine. There could be a thematic topic in here about homosexuality if one wants to view it that way, but it’s also possible to watch Vampyros Lesbos as a simply a softcore horror flick; it’s the viewer’s call, because Franco rarely gives the viewer any reason to suspect something deeper. As a straight-up film, however, attraction will depend on how willing the viewer is to accept Franco’s lengthy diversions from the loosely-defined “plot.”
Severin has restored Vampyros Lesbos in HD and it looks great, presented on this Blu-Ray in original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. There’s very little noise in the picture besides a couple of noticeable flashes of orange on the right side of the picture (this only happened once that I counted); the soundtrack, in original German with English subtitles, has some significant hiss in silent moments but is otherwise well-represented.
The package is one of the most significant features, coming with a great black slipcover that highlights Soledad Miranda. Underneath is fantastic new artwork from Wes Benscoter that depicts a memorable scene from the film.
This is a 2-disc set; the first disc features the film and special features, and the second is a bootleg of Las Vampiras, the Spanish version of Vampyros Lesbos that differs slightly. There are multiple voice-overs in the surreal imagery that the German film simply allows to linger, as well as different music for the film; these touches make Las Vampiras into a more traditional film than Franco’s original direction.
The special features on the Vampyros Lesbos disc include an interview with Jess Franco shot specifically for this release. In it, he recounts his memory of the film; what’s most interesting to note is that he talks at length about Miranda with an obvious devotion to her, and he also notes that his feeling about the film is limited to his appreciation of the atmosphere. Also included is an interview with Amy Brown, devoted Soledad Miranda enthusiast and writer of soledadmiranda.com which is featured on the She Killed In Ecstasy disc as well. It’s a 20-minute history of Miranda’s life, running through her early years of acting in the ’60s, her music career, and finally her death in a tragic car accident.
Finally, there’s an interview with Jess Franco critic Stephen Thrower, who highlights the Dracula themes within Vampyros Lesbos. It has good criticism of the film as well as documenting the best moments. A quick vignette where Jess Franco discusses his influence on Yoda’s visage is included, and a theatrical trailer and somewhat altered German original titles round this out.
If you’re a fan of Franco or Vampyros Lesbos, or even of euro horror in general, this Severin package is a must-purchase.