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Thursday, May 14, 2015

VAMPYROS LESBOS -- Blu-ray+DVD Review by Porfle

So far, I've seen five films by cult director Jesús "Jess" Franco, including THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA, THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF, BLOODY MOON, and PAULA-PAULA. Not enough to call myself an expert on the prolific filmmaker, but enough to conclude that I'll probably never become a devoted Francophile since I find little of his work particularly compelling unto itself.

That said, I do find most of it fun to watch even if it's often in a "so bad it's good" kind of way. My fifth Franco film, VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971), is the best one I've seen so far and definitely worth watching, although I wouldn't call it a must-see unless you're already a fan.

This sun-blanched, 70s-tacky vampire yarn is like a distaff version of "Dracula", with Ewa Stroemberg (SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY) as Linda and Soledad Miranda (here billed as "Susann Korda") as Countess Nadine Carody filling in for Jonathan Harker and Count Dracula. Linda arrives at the Countess' sunny island in Istanbul to help expedite a legal matter--namely, the inheritance by Nadine of the late Count Dracula's estate--and ends up mired in a nightmarish lesbian affair with the undead beauty in which she unwillingly supplies both emotional and physical sustenance, i.e. blood.

Linda has already been having dreams about Nadine before meeting her, so the attraction is mutual. After some skinny-dipping and nude sunbathing, Nadine drugs Linda's drink (this vampire DOES drink wine) and has her "vampyros lesbos" way with her, giving Franco the first of several chances to enhance his film with some "Cinemax After Dark"-style softcore sex before the lady vamp goes for the jugular.

After waking up with confused memories of the encounter, Linda and her boyfriend Omar (Viktor Feldmann) seek the help of Dr. Seward (Dennis Price, VENUS IN FURS), a specialist in the supernatural whose sanitarium is home to a madwoman named Agra (Heidrun Kussin), also a victim of Countess Carody. Of course, the troubled inmate in the thrall of the vampire, the occult-savvy Dr. Seward, and the sanitarium setting itself are all further references to the original Dracula story.

The plot proceeds at a snail's pace most of the way and not a whole lot exciting happens with the exception of a few key scenes such as the showdown between the Countess and Dr. Seward and Linda's capture and near-murder by a demented hotel employee played by Franco himself. Things come to a rather sedate climax that builds little suspense and goes more for tragedy than horror as the Countess spins her web of forbidden desire for the hapless Linda.

Visually, VAMPYROS LESBOS often resembles a Doris Wishman film with its rough-hewn production values and garish, often kitschy design, all in distinctive Eastmancolor. As expected, the camerawork is clumsy at times but Franco shows some style as well as his usual inborn zest for filmmaking. A strangely inappropriate score by Manfred Hubler, Siegfried Schwab, and Jess Franco is a mish-mash of noodly jazz, twangy sitar notes, and what sounds like someone mumbling robotically through a distorted speaker.

Performances are mostly wooden save for Heidrun Kussin's frantic portrayal of Agra, while Soledad Miranda's dark beauty and charisma as the Countess (she reminds me of Victoria Vetri) lend the film much of its appeal. Also appearing are Paul Muller (NIGHTMARE CASTLE) and J. Martinez Blanco as the Countess' loyal servant Morpho.

A limited collector's edition, the attractively packaged 2-disc Blu-ray+DVD set from Severin Films is in 16 x 9 widescreen with 2.0 sound. The soundtrack is German with English subtitles. Extras consist of a 20-minute Franco interview, an interview with Soledad Miranda historian Amy Brown, an interview with "Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jess Franco" author Stephen Thrower, a brief clip in which Franco explains how he was the inspiration for the "Star Wars" character Yoda, trailers, and the alternate German opening titles sequence.

While disc one contains the German-language HD-remastered Blu-ray version of the film, disc two is the "bootleg" Spanish-dubbed DVD version. The print has that "grindhouse" look (which I like because of the nostalgia value) and is a shorter edit with several trims and all of the nudity deleted. (This includes two lengthy sequences in which Soledad Miranda's character does an erotic dance in a local nightclub.) Another big difference is an alternate organ-based musical score which sounds much more like a traditional creepy score for a horror movie.

Slow-moving and dry, VAMPYROS LESBOS nevertheless has that indefinable Jess Franco quality that should appeal to his fans. For others, this very sunny and not all that horrific vampire tale will either be a bore or a pleasant diversion.

Buy it at

(Photos shown are not stills from the Blu-ray.)


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