Bare Breasted Countess (1975) aka Female Vampire – DVD Review

fv1Bare Breasted Countess (1975) aka Female Vampire

Starring: Lina Romay, Jack Taylor, Monica Swinn, Alice Arno
Director: Jesús Franco

Out now on UK DVD from Maison Rouge Films

Attention all Francophiles! A key piece in Franco’s filmography has been given a brand new re-release. Female Vampire, A.K.A Bare Breasted Countess is one of Franco’s most iconic sexy vampire pictures, and is ready to be consumed by a new wave of cult horror followers. Franco’s career, of course, spanned decades and about every subgenre of horror that one could conceive, cementing him as one of the top European horror makers of the 20th century, and certainly one of the most prolific. Last year I reviewed the rerelease of his Bloody Moon, which was a wonderfully kitsch ‘80s slasher with a throbbing vein of noir running through it; Female Vampire is a very different picture, and one that Franco looks to have put much love into.

As the titular Bare Breasted Countess is the lovely Lina Romay, Franco’s partner and muse who appeared in or worked on the majority of his films over the years. She is the mute Countess von Karlstein, the last remaining member of a vampire dynasty, who feeds not on the blood of her victims for survival but on their sexual energy, leaving the superstitious local coroner and the dismissive local investigator butting heads to explain the deaths. Romay, a dark and wide-eyed beauty, has a bitter fragility and makes the most of her non-speaking role with her expressive face, occasionally confiding in the audience about her longing for love and peace in the face of a terrible curse. Her face wonderfully compliments the low-angled and shadowy look that Franco gives to the entire piece.

rsz_7209You’ll notice, while watching Female Vampire, that the sex is prominent. Of course, it is pivotal to the plot, but Franco likes the camera to linger and wash over the scene as it unfolds, and the movie is punctuated by long love scenes. Turns out that this is one of three versions originally shot, as was often the case during the era, with a hardcore cut intended for the more open-minded European market, leaving we frigid Brits with the tame version. But, as Franco often explained, this movie is erotica, not porn.

Even when focusing the camera directly between Romay’s legs, symbolism is achieved; the countess gently sways her legs like wings, the dark unfocused shadow of her crotch taking flight, like the bats and birds that theme the movie throughout. The countess’s sexuality is key to both her pain and her joy, a delicate, dangerous double-edged sword that is her freedom and her captor all at once.

rsz_7208Female Vampire is an acquired taste, for sure. Even those who like Franco’s work are not guaranteed to enjoy it – it is a far cry from Bloody Moon or any of the more standard horrors, and is not really intended to scare or entertain in the way that slashers do. Franco goes right back to the basics of the concept of vampirism, and the inherently sexual quality of their being. Visually not dissimilar to some of the earlier efforts of Hammer featuring the likes of Ingrid Pitt, but going far further with the eroticism than the ‘60s stifflips at Bray Studios ever dared, Franco’s vampires are very European figures of eroticism. Those who enjoyed Tony Scott’s critically-panned The Hunger with Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie will enjoy the moody sensuality of Female Vampire.

7/10

Vampyros Lesbos (1971) Blu-Ray Review

vampyros1Vampyros Lesbos (Germany, 1971)

Dir: Jesús Franco

Starring: Ewa Stromberg, Soledad Miranda, Andrea Montchal

UK Blu-Ray release 30th November from Severin Films! Just £8.99 !

Get it here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vampyros-Lesbos-Blu-ray-Soledad-Miranda/dp/B013RCCGZ4/

Plot: Linda (Stromberg) is sent by her employers at the law firm to work on the will of Countess Nadine Carody (Miranda). The Countess is a vampire who becomes obsessed with Linda and wants to draw her into the darkness, to make her a vampire like her.

Vampyros Lesbos is the sort of film that you know exactly what it’s about as soon as you read the title. There’s going to be some vampirism. There’s going to be some lesbianism. That lesbianism will be very superficial. There is a lot of nudity. It’s an exploitation film at it’s heart but it’s easy to judge it on that alone so I’m here to give it probably more analysis than it needs.

To look at the vampire side of this movie, it’s not a film that sticks rigidly to the established rules of vampire mythology. The film focuses on the seductive element of vampires, many of those who are visited by the Countess either end up in a trance-like state or are driven insane by their desire. It does result in much of the film’s nudity. One way that this film breaks the vampire rules is by ignoring the vampire’s aversion to sunlight, an early scene involving Linda and the Countess sunbathing nude on the beach. Vampyros Lesbos shares a trope of other early vampire movies by having connections to Dracula, in this case the Countess was one of his lovers whom he turned into a vampire.
vampyros2The other side of Vampyros Lesbos, the lesbian side, is a little more interesting. It’s easy to say that it’s just a “sex sells” element but it seems like there is more too it. The film seems more anti-lesbian even if it is pro-titillation. When the Countess seduces Linda, Linda is in a trance. Her lack of visible conciousness gives the scene an uneasiness, that it’s a rape scene. Afterwards The Countess continues to go after Linda because she is now obsessed with Linda, something which Linda does not reciprocate.

There’s also Agra, a woman who’s gone mad after her encounter with the Countess. She is the Renfield to her Dracula. Her madness feels more like a commentary on homosexuality, like the out-dated idea bigots had that homosexuality was a disease of the mind. The Countess is also clearly spoken on her opinion on men, that she hates them although hypocritically relies on her mute man-servant, Morpho, to do any physical fighting for her. The Countess feels like a criticism not only on lesbians but on feminists, she’s trying to lure Linda away from her traditional heterosexual relationship and go to the dark side.

Vampyros Lesbos has a disjointed pacing, it rushes through clumsy exposition that if you blink and miss it, will leave you a little confused. Instead the film slows down for it’s many nude scenes. As I said before, it’s an exploitation film. It’s softcore porn with a supernatural storyline. However it does try to be clever, it uses symbolism such as the Countess’ red scarf which is a visual marker of her vampire status but gives an ambiguity when Linda is clutching it in the end. Some of the symbolism is handled a bit clumsily but it’s still welcome that the film makers did feel the need to include them.

vampyros3Vampyros Lesbos is a relic of a different time, it’s dated and it’s simplistic. It’s a film that wouldn’t be made today, not without a tongue-in-cheek attitude anyway. It’s a bit like watching old Tom and Jerry cartoons, you see the bigotry (be it black face jokes or madness inducing lesbianism). You don’t hate it for what it is but you’re glad that times have changed. The blu-ray edition of Vampyros Lesbos contains multiple interviews with the cast and crew, including a short feature where director Jesús Franco talks about how he was the inspiration for the physical appearance of Yoda from Star Wars.

5/10

Newly remastered HD presentation of the feature in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio

Special Features:

Vampyros Jesus: Interview featurette with Director Jess Franco

Sublime Soledad: Interview with Soledad Miranda Historian Amy Brown

Stephen Thrower on Vampyros Lesbos: Interview with Author of Murderous Passions – The Delirious Cinema Of Jess Franco

Jess Is Yoda Clip

Alternate German Opening Title Sequence – Dracula’s Heiress

German Trailer