Monday, 9 July 2012

Quality exploitation… Vampiros Lesbos (1971)

This film is frankly a bit ridiculous and yet it has sufficient quality to overcome its more exploitative traits and I would guess that’s precisely why Jess Franco is so highly rated by aficionados of the obscure, exotica of cult 70s “horrotica”.

Like daydreaming on a hot Mediterranean summer day, you awake from this film with a dislocated sense of reality, slapped in the face by ludicrous sexual set pieces but also disorientated by the repeated imagery of mediterranean shores, butterflies and scorpions… Soledad Miranda.
Franco cuts up his narrative and you’re never quite sure what is actually happening, to whom and when but that’s a strength in a film of this kind and which attempts a new take on the well-trodden Dracula story. We all know what happens to the vampire in that story but maybe here is something different? And maybe it’s more effective to be less than direct in addressing the subject matter…there’s more mystery.
Soledad Miranda plays Condesa Oskudar a mysterious figure who haunts the dreams of her female prey only to ensnare them in Sapphic submission and then drain their life blood to replenish her own. It’s a saucy take on the Dracula theme that has been re-worked and spoofed many times over. Given the film’s vintage, this feels a little more transgressive and it certainly makes The Vampire Lovers look a little staid in comparison.
The Countess also performs a long drawn out cabaret act in which she seduces a blank-eyed, almost motionless woman… this is watched by the kind of audience you’d expect on the chicken and a basket circuit: passive and distant.

This turns out to be one of many dreams experienced by the Countess’ latest prey,   
Linda Westinghouse (well played by Ewa Strömberg),  a lawyer involved in the inheritance of a certain Transylvanian property.
She travels to discuss this with a mysterious Countess on her island retreat – contracy to accepted form, this turns out to be an ultramodern designer house: just as scary as a dusty old mansion. Here she is seduced by the Countess and left in a confused tstae and minus a pint or two of blood.
 She is take to a sanatorium where her boyfriend Omar (Andrés Monales wearing a standard-issue period ‘tash!) finds her in delirium. The place has its own mysteries and is run by Doctor Alwin Seward (British veteran Dennis Price in one of his last films) who not only wants to understand the vampires he wants to become one.

Here also is another woman, Agra (Heidrun Kussin) who has been feasted on by the Countess and driven mad by the experience. Kussin acts her socks off as she throws herself around in unrestrained fashion – tormented by her lost love, helpless to find her self. Her madness has in turn made her husband (played by Mr Franco himself) into a psychotic killer…an unpleasant aside and one that adds to the shocks of a largely dreamy film.
Linda recovers slowly and learns that the Countess has truly fallen for her – she is to be  a special one who will share the vampires existence. Will she succumb or fight her way back to normality?

Vampiros Lesbos is unsettling in a lysergic way all of which is aided by the groovy experimentalism of the soundtrack by German duo Manfred Hubler and Sigfried Schwab (which I’ve had on CD since the 90’s retro beat boom)!
There are plenty of rough edges but the overall direction and tone is cohesive. The flesh on show adds to the reverie and the action is almost quaintly restrained – the kind of soft porn that was edging itself gradually into the mainstream… I would have liked the film less if it had been more overt. The charm and the horror is in not revealing too much…
The undoubted star is Soledad Miranda who is not only beautiful and willing to show all but is also an actress of control and expression. Her tragic death in a motor accident surely robbed her of a long career in more mainstream films. We’re lucky to have this to show what she could do.

Vampiros Lesbos is now available on DVD but I think it suits the medium of video on all kinds of levels not least as the slight blur of the image heightens the appearance of the dream...

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