(Jess Franco, Spain, 1970)
Jess Franco is a director with a long standing cult following. The director of numerous genre films, in the early 70's he made two of his best, both of which starred Soledad Miranda, and which used a style that mixed European arthouse with a colourfully inventive sleazy style. These films: She Kills In Ecstasy, and Vampyros Lesbos, can both be read as serious art films, or as cheap exploitation pieces. In fact, they combine both elements, making them amongst the very best of Franco's entire oeuvre. The release by Redemption video of an uncut letterboxed print of Vampyros Lesbos should see Franco's UK audience expand further. The film stars Soledad Miranda, as the vampiress Susan Korda. Miranda was an actress possessed of a truly eerie presence, mixed with an intense eroticism. The fact that she died in a car crash a few short years after her appearance here only adds to her cult cachet, while making her almost supernatural beauty seem all the more transient. The wordless opening scene is full of sleazy atmosphere, the combination of the buzzing, distorted music, and Franco's downright weird camera angles hitting just the right note. Miranda is seen from a extremely low angle, her fingers pointing down at us, her face a totally impassive mask. Indeed, although she often appears naked, she is far too chilly a figure for her eroticism to ever be a cheap thrill.
The plot is slim: a woman is plagued by dreams of a an erotic lesbian vampire. After visits to a psychiatrist fail to help, she allows herself to succumb to the vampire's embrace. While the pace is slow, the film is built around images and atmosphere. Filmed in sunny Mediterranean locations, Vampyros Lesbos uses recurring images of a red kite, blood trickling down glass, and a scorpion in preference to stock vampiric imagery. Franco's directorial style seems often to consist of a succession of endless zoom in and outs. The pace of the film is very slow, and there is little in the way of gory thrills. Instead, the film's atmosphere is everything. The music is delirious, mixing distorted dialogue snatches and fuzzing over-amped keyboards to glorious effect. The soundtrack has already reached the top of the indie chart, and those who enjoyed the cool 'lounge core' meets 70's Spanish psychedelia of the CD will appreciate the film just as much.
Redemption's copy is in German, and has the widescreen picture pushed up to the top of the frame, with the subtitles in the black at the bottom. The picture is generally good, although there are some scratches apparent at the beginnings and ends of reels. Presumably in deference to the success of the soundtrack, the company have given their customers a choice of box design: either the fetching shot of Soledad Miranda that appeared on the CD's booklet, or a typically Gothic Redemption picture. The former features a video for the single taken from the album, while the latter features the original trailer. Vampyros Lesbos is an excellent introduction to the wild; and wildly variable; world of Franco movies, and will make a perfect accompaniment to many an 'ironic' 70's party.