Title: Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
Director: Jesus Franco
Cast: Soledad Miranda, Ewa Stromberg, Dennis Price, Heidrun Kussin, Jose Martinez Blanco, Jesus Franco
You could say I started off on the wrong foot as I explored Jesus Franco’s body of work. My first impression of his films was the dreadfully boring Oasis of the Zombies (1983), a tough watch if there ever was any, I just couldn’t find anything good about it. Personally, Oasis of the Zombies felt like a cheap rip off! And not in the sense that it was ripping off other movies, but in the sense that it ripped me off! I followed that with Franco’s Count Dracula (1970), which while not a terrible film, was a dull take on Bram Stoker’s legendary book. But I kept hearing good things about Vampyros Lesbos, so I decided to give it a chance, and I’m glad I did! Now this was a Jesus Franco film I thoroughly enjoyed! It’s surreal, dreamlike and sexy, elements that I find alluring on any film. In a way, it was appropriate that I saw Franco’s Count Dracula first because it became obvious to me while watching it that Franco was completely inspired by Bram Stoker’s book while making Vampyros Lesbos. It is in many ways a modern retelling of the Dracula legend. For every character in Vampyros Lesbos, you can find a counter part in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We get a Lucy, we get a Reinfeld, we even get a Van Helsing, but all siphoned through Franco’s twisted, yet artistic point of view, now aint that an interesting premise!
On Vampyros Lesbos we meet Lucy Westinghouse, a lawyer who has to travel to a mysterious island to meet a woman named Nadine Oskudar so she can finish signing some legal papers, you see, this Nadine Oskudar has just inherited a piece of real estate from someone named Count Dracula, wonder who that coulde be? Anyway, Lucy ends up skinny dipping in the beach with Nadine. Nadine tells her “you don’t have to be shy with me!” as she runs naked towards the water. Lucy, a sexually frustrated woman, likes what she sees and feels so she agrees and jumps in the water with Nadine; then they bathe naked in the sun. One thing leads to another until Nadine finally seduces Lucy! After this, Lucy ends up forgetting all about what happened to her! She can’t even remember who she is, or how she ended up in an insane asylum. Will she ever meet Nadine again? What really happened on that mysterious island?
So out of all the lesbian vampire flicks I have seen, my favorite one so far has been Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness (1971), to me that one was a classy vampire flick, so beautiful to look at, so sultry. The other one I enjoyed was Hammer Films The Vampire Lovers (1970), starring the ultra sexy Ingrid Pitt. But out of all those, it’s Vampyros Lesbos that in my opinion engulfs the whole Lesbian theme to the max. Not only is it the most sexual of the three, containing the most amount of nudity and sexual situations, but this being a Jesus Franco film, he isn’t afraid to embrace the lurid themes the film touches upon; it displays them in an unabashed manner. It’s as if with his visuals he was saying “this is a film about lesbian vampires in love, and don’t you forget it!” As an added bonus it is the most surreal and dreamlike of these films. Franco decided to infuse his story with these dream sequences that act as a strange, subconscious call, as if Lucy’s repressed sexual desires where calling her out. Loved that about the film. These dream sequences have a theatricality to them, they brought to mind the sexy vampire dances seen in films like Vamp (1986) and From Dusk Till Dawn (1994), I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the film that inspired those.
The film isn’t perfect technically, sometimes it shows its low budget nature, which is the way Franco almost always worked, but to his credit I will say the film does look a hell of a lot better than it has a right to, this is something only a true artist can achieve. This is why I compare Franco a bit with Rollin, they both did a lot with very little. They both took advantage of existing locales to make their low budget films look beautiful; ultimately, this is something that benefits us as an audience, as voyeurs of the worlds they’ve created. The way Franco constructed some of the scenes in the film is just alluring, you feel like you are being hypnotized. A lot of that has to do with the score for the film which by the way is pretty memorable, I believe it’s actually one of the things that stands out the most about the film. Once you hear this soundtrack, you’ll probably want to own it, I know I did.
Another stand out element of the film is Soledad Miranda’s performance as the Countess Nadine Oskudar. She plays it silent for the most part, but there’s this scene in which she confronts the Van Helsing of this film that is just awesome, she has this commanding voice! She is definitely a domineering presence on this film and I might add in the relationship that develops between her and Lucy. Thematically speaking, the film shows a lesbian seducing a “straight” woman who harbors homosexual desires. She has a man in her life, but she’s not satisfied, so she looks elsewhere. It just so happens that that elsewhere is a woman, and a vampire! Sexuality has always been an important element in the vampire formula; the Dracula legend has always served as an allegory for men seducing women, the tricks of the trade so to speak. You ask Dracula and he’ll tell ya, hypnotic looks and the right words can get you far with a woman! What Vampyros Lesbos does is deal with that same subject manner but from a lesbians point of view. All in all a very sexy film filled with haunting, dream like imagery and lots and lots of sensuality. So far, the best Jesus Franco film I have seen and one of the best Lesbian Vampire movies I’ve seen. I’ve yet to see Vampyres (1974), so we’ll see how that one fares, but so far, Vampyros Lesbos gets high marks from me. It's not a perfect film, especially when it comes to its slow pace and its sometimes amateurish "script" which I have a feeling didn't go past a few pages, but even through its imperfection, a strange sort of beauty shines through, well worth a watch.
Rating: 3 out of 5