Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Severin Review: Vampyros Lesbos (1970, dir: Jess Franco)

(1970, dir: Jess Franco)
“Psycho-Sexadelic Horror Freakout!”

Young lawyer Linda (Ewa Strömberg, She Killed in Ecstasy) is haunted by an erotic recurring dream involving herself and her lover Omar (Andrea Montchal, Eugenie de Sade). The dream involves herself and Omar enjoying a stage show involving a young and beautiful seductress (Soledad Miranda, Count Dracula). After the show, Linda is beckoned, seduced and killed by the mysterious nubile. Her therapist, Dr. Seward (Dennis Price, Son of Dracula) seems to think that the recurring dream is down to Linda needing a new sexual partner. Fair enough! Unfortunately, there's no time for that as Linda is assigned to visit a woman by the name of Countess Nadine Carody, who has recently inherited property from none other than Count Dracula! Once she has arrived and settled in, it's on to business. Before she can get the Countess's signature and realise who she's dealing with, she is drugged, seduced and then bitten by the bloodthirsty Countess. As if it wasn't bad enough, Linda then finds herself with a case of amnesia and under the care of Dr. Steiner (Paul Muller, Lady Frankenstein). It's her lucky day however, as Steiner is more than just a doctor, he's also a vampire hunter. With the help of the doctor and Omar, Linda must put an end to Countess Carody's bloodthirsty reign. It's not going to be easy, but it sure is going to be bloody!
Where do you start with a film like Vampyros Lesbos? Jess Franco is one of my all time favourite directors and even though I find his back catalogue to be very hit and miss (with a filmography that size, it's understandable), I can safely say I enjoyed this greatly. Right off the bat, you can tell this is a Franco film. From the cinematography to the way the action is staged and played out. Some may find his overuse of the zoom to be annoying and the snobs out there will turn the nose up at the occasional out of focus shot, but these tiny things all play in to my compassion for Jess Franco. There's some absolutely gorgeous locations used here and the set design as well as the costumes are second to none. As cheaply made as this film is, Jess definitely has a good eye for style and working around budget constraints. You sometimes find yourself scratching your head when trying to follow the plot of a Franco film, but Franco with the help of Jaime Chávarri (To an Unknown God) and Anne Settimó (Jungle of Fear) have scribed a cohesive, yet abstract enough to stand out feminine retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula, even if Chávarri now distances himself from the film. There's a real sense of atmosphere throughout that often makes the film feel almost dreamlike. The score from Sigi Schwab (The Devil Came From Akasava) and Manfred Hübler (Intercontinental Express) adds to that dreamlike atmosphere, but also ranges from haunting to out right funky. It's up there with one of Franco's best film scores and worth looking in to if you like jazz. The star of the show (both literally and metaphorically) is the Countess herself, Soledad Miranda. All she has to do is look directly in to the camera and the audience is eating out of her hands. Her performance is subtle, yet effective and fundamentally sensual. Right from the first few seconds where she is beckoning the viewer. This is her film. Don't get me wrong, everyone else puts in a good turn for the most part, even Franco himself appears as a somewhat mentally challenged and sleazy island local with his own secret, but the focus is on Miranda, even if this may not be her most demanding role. It's clear that if she hadn't had met her untimely demise, she would have made even greater waves in the film industry. Of course, those looking for bare flesh and blood will be very happy I'm sure as there is a good amount of that thrown in too. That being said, this is more classy than pure schlock or sleaze. A perfect film for the turtleneck wearing Franco fan!
  In terms of sound and picture quality, the film has been beautifully restored and presented here. Of course, being that this is a Franco film and the source material may have not been preserved at the most optimal of levels, there are some focus issues and the sound can get a bit questionable, it shouldn't be an issue at all. Those wanting special features will be very happy in my opinion. There's an interview with Franco himself talking about the film, his relationship with producer Artur Brauner and of course Soledad. Is it just me or is it like watching your granddad telling you stories when you watch a Franco interview? Sticking with Soledad, there's an interview with Amy Brown, founder of the official Soledad Miranda website, that goes in to the life, career and death of Soledad. The final major feature is an interview with Franco scholar Stephen Thrower which gives a bit more insight in to the film. Not only that, but we also get an extra clip of Franco talking about his experience with Stuart Freeborn (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope)
and his true inspiration behind the look of Yoda, original German opening title sequence and of course, the German trailer. As if that weren’t enough, the film is packaged up with some gorgeous newly-commissioned art from Wes Benscoter. All in all, this is a must own for UK lovers of Jess Franco, Soledad Miranda and of course; Vampyros Lesbos. This would also make a great starting point for newcomers!

Vampyros Lesbos is available on DVD & Blu-Ray from Severin.

No comments:

Post a Comment