Friday, July 11, 2008

Vampyros Lesbos (1971): or, Turkish Delights and Bloodsucking Nights


I have a confession to make. Despite my well-documented affinity for Weird Horror Directors from Around the World--Brazilian Badass Jose Mojica Marins, his Spanish Splendiforousness Jacinto "Mighty Mighty" Molina, British Bad Bloke Pete Walker, and Gallic God-man Jean Rollin, to name a few--somehow I have never managed to expose myself to the work of one of the most infamous horror auteurs who made his name in my decade of delight. I speak of course of my man-crush Naschy's much-maligned countryman, Jesus "Jess" Franco.* It's been a glaring hole in my Exploitation Exploration here at MMMMMovies, and one that has caused me more than a few sleepless, shame-filled nights.

But as Nature abhors a vaccuum, and something there is that doesn't love a wall, so too has there never been a hole at the vicarage that has long gone unfilled--and so it was that not many nights ago I set myself about the task of stuffing that hole full of Vicar by exposing myself to one of Franco's best-known efforts, the sapphic sanguinary sex-session from 1971, Vampyros Lesbos.

*In point of fact I have seen Oasis of the Zombies, but did not know at the time that Franco had directed it under a psuedonym. For the purposes of this review, and in a spirit of generosity and refinement of feeling, I'm pleased to pretend that that movie does not exist. And so should you.

If Vampyros Lesbos taught me anything, it's that we here in the good ol' US of A have really got the short end of the stick when it comes to nightclubs. Subscribing to the theory that context is for the weak, Franco throws us right into an underground bunker of grooviness in Istanbul, where enigmatic gorgeousness Soledad Miranda is rolling around onstage in stockings, sheer black silk robe, and little else. Her props are a gothic candelabra, a nude-mannequin woman, and the gigantic mirror from the cover of Black Sabbath's Sabotage. A sitar-heavy musical composition tweedles sensuously in the background while Soledad tweedles in front of the mirror, writhing on the black-painted floor with admirable abandon.


"Mirror mirror on the wall: who's the hottest...ah, never mind, it's obvious."

We get a few establishing shots of the club's decor--small round tables peopled by go-go girls and sweaty Eurodudes with horn-rimmed glasses--but the stage itself exists in a dreamlike void where there is only Soledad, her mirror, and her mannequin. Slowly--verry slowly--Soledad crawls over to the dummy (which is of course a flesh-and-blood model/dance partner doing the Dance of Absolute Stillness). While Soledad takes off her robe, bra, and panties and uses them to dress her partner--at one point memorably sliding on her back between the girl's parted legs (zang), we see a Germanic-looking blonde named Linda (Ewa Strömberg) in the audience sitting at a table with Menudo/Monkee hybrid Omar (Andrés Monales), both of them absolutely mesmerized, as are we all. When the nude Soledad lays the now-dressed Europuppet down on the stage, crawls over her, and takes a bloody bite out of her neck, the place erupts in applause, and rightly so.

I don't know what kind of acts were signed on a weekly basis at Studio 54 and other landmarks of American Decadence back in the day, but I'd be willing to bet this eats their cake, icing first.

Next we're tossed into a groovy surreal dream sequence, flashing from Linda's hypnotized eyes to scenes from the dance interspersed with scorpions, moths, blood dripping down plate glass windows, and sexy lesbonic embraces between Linda and Soledad. We soon discover that these disconnected images are all part of Linda's recurring dream, one that has been haunting her for weeks. "Sometimes I even have an orgasm," she offers helpfully to her shrink, who diagrams the whole thing using stick figures in his notebook. His diagnosis is the obvious one: sexual frustration with Monkee Boy. His prescription? "Find yourself a lover. A better lover." I wonder if insurance would cover that? Strangely un-cured, Linda runs back to the arms of her Monkee-Love.

Some time later Linda is sent on a special job by her firm to assist a Countess Carody with some legal work. The Countess lives on an island some distance from Linda's home, and the girl arrives at the seaside too late to catch the ferry over. Forced to spend the night in a hotel near the harbor, Linda does some more erotic dreaming and midnight wandering in skimpy nightgowns to build the tension. A Creepy Hotel Clerk warns her not to go to the Countess's abode, since "Insanity and Death rule that island!" Of course his credibility is damaged somewhat when Linda creeps down to the basement at midnight to find the clerk molesting a bloodied and bound woman's corpse! I think I'll take my chances on I&D Island, thanks!

"I'm not doin' nothin'."

Abiding by Turkish Exploitationary Custom, Linda declines to call the police or mention the incident to anyone at all before leaving for Carody Castle the next day.

It should come as little surprise by this point to learn that not only is Countess Nadine Karody the same sexy Soledad from the nightclub, but also that the island is EXACTLY the location of Linda's erotic dreams, right down to the waterlogged scorpion near the swimming pool! What are the chances? Linda finds the Countess lounging by the pool in some AMAZINGLY GROOVY sunglasses (and not much else--zang) and the two quickly strike up a friendship, despite Linda's dream-connection creepy-feelings. Behind an ill-concealing fisherman's net, the mute henchman Morpho watches through his own funkeriffic purple sunglasses. If this movie doesn't give you lens-envy, get the funk out.

Made of Hotness

Before settling down to paper-signings, Linda agrees to join Nadine in an afternoon skinnydip! I guess lawyer/client ethics are more lax in Turkey. Next to Naked Linda on the beach, Naked Nadine sighs, "It's nice to lie in the sun naked...especially when you're not alone." The customer is always right!

Back at the castle and back in their clothes, Linda sips wine while explaining that Nadine's benefactor--a mysterious Mister DRACULA--has left the countess all his riches in his will. Before she can do a double take and say "Waitaminnit...THAT Dracula?" Linda has succumbed to the red wine's druggy goodness and fallen flat on the table. Later she wakes up (or does she?) on a gigantic ottoman/bed-cushion to find Nadine standing over her, resplendent in yellow silk, with a smear of blood on her upper lip. That's a real turn-on for her, apparently, and the movie finally sets about living up to its name.

A little word about Franco's direction here. If you're not ready for deliberate delivery of mundane-but-possibly-proufound dialog and long, slow takes of beautiful women giving Significant Looks of practiced expressionlessness, you should probably stay away. Though for me Franco's compositions lack the stunning artistic eye of, say, Jean Rollin's, he nonetheless establishes a sort of slow hypnotic rhythm of both sight and sound that is mostly fascinating, and at times surprisingly effective. And while no one here acts the way you would expect real people to act in any universe, there is a sort of (dare I say it?) dreamlike quality to the proceedings that works. Not the most action-packed picture, but still, it kept me interested.

Unwittingly, Linda steps into the clutches of the malevolent Macramé Monster

After the long slow trip to Lesbos mentioned above, Linda wakes alone and comes downstairs looking for her new girlfriend. After passing under what is quite possibly THE SISTINE CHAPEL OF RED-TASSEL CEILING HANGINGS, she wanders out to the swimming pool to find Nadine floating nude in the swimming pool, a long red scarf trailing out in the water behind her--a wonderful visual. Linda, assuming Nadine is dead, freaks out and flees.

Meanwhile, at the Asylum for the Slapped and Insane, Dr. Seward is checking in on Agra, who is basically Renfield but hotter and more naked. Agra is prone to writhing around on the floor screaming things like "My friend is the Queen of the Night!" while playing with her little clown, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I--oh, wait, she actually has a little clown to play with. I'm going to go ahead and peg it at seven on the disturbing scale, just for its suggestively peaked cap. SAY NO MOOAH.

Choking Hazard

Linda's in the same asylum, and she's given up and gone amnesiac after her encounter with Nadine. I guess she knows when she's licked. While Monkee Boy takes Linda away from all that, the not-entirely-dead Countess Carody lounges sexily on the giant ottoman and recounts to Morpho--who presumably already knows--the story of how, hundred of years ago, she was rescued by Dracula from a group of soldiers otherwise engaged in raping her, and afterward became his LOVAH and heir. She now hates all men--because of their rapeyness--and is in love with Linda. A concise origin story--I give it a six.

Back at the apartment Linda's trying out a return to heterosexual love, while the jealous Countess watches from across the street. We get more Gazing Expressionlessly Into the Camera, and apparently dissatisfied with Omar's performance, Linda is soon scampering back to Carody Castle and the Big Comfy Ottoman. "From now on, the Queen of the Night will take you on her black wings!" Nadine says, the two fall into one another's arms for another, much HOTTER scene of sapphic love, including a rather surprising NIPPLE ATTACK from the otherwise passive Linda. I think this is supposed to symbolize her complete surrender to the sexay power of Countess Nadine, but really, who cares? It's HAWT. Back at the Asylum, Agra is getting agra-vated in a sexy way, thus serving as stand-in for the audience.

Linda is horrified to discover that, contrary to what she learned from the ancient documents, vampires are NOT ticklish.

The next day, guilt-ridden and wondering what (the fuck) is happening with her unnatural but nonetheless AWESOME desires, Linda goes to Dr. Seward with her story of Vampire Lurve. Seward scoffs at Linda's paltry occult knowledge, explaining that he's been studying vampires for YEARS, and has nothing to learn from her about it! Have you had your hubris today? Meanwhile Monkee Boy and the original shrink are trying to save Linda too, and Morpho is being awesome holding them off for his mistress. (The Vicar LOVES Morpho.)

It's not far to the end credits from here, and along the way we get a FULL-LENGTH reprise of the nightclub scene from the beginning, a showdown between Seward and Nadine at the asylum wherein the old man's hopes of becoming immortal are rudely quashed by a kill-crazy Morpho, Linda is captured by the hotel clerk and tied up in the cellar for the most disturbing scene in the film ("You are beautiful when you're afraid..but just how beautiful will you be when you die?"), and a somewhat anticlimactic but strangely effective ending confrontation between Nadine and Linda, with some trippy camera work and a shockingly gory exclamation point to the whole bloody mess. 'Sploited enough for ya?

"Vy yes...ve are German. How did you know?"

Vampyros Lesbos does not reach the dizzying heights of Rollin's marble monuments to the same subject matter, but it's still none too shabby. It's got enough strangeness and surrealism to please a Rollin fan such as I'm, and some genuinely twisted moments interspersed with long, thoughtful pauses in the action, all backed by a sitar-heavy score--always a plus. And Soledad Miranda is mesmerizing, it has to be said. Plus, that night club scene, twice! It's hard to dislike a movie that gives you all that. And I don't. 2.75 thumbs for Vampyros Lesbos, and Jess, welcome to the Vicarage. I hope I'll be seeing more of you in the future.



Do NOT. Fuck. With MORPHO.

8 comments:

Tenebrous Kate said...

I am delighted to learn that your first time with Jess was acceptably excellent. You picked a really good place to start, in my never-humble opinion. Soledad Miranda is one of those actresses I could just look at forever--she's so ethereal. I know Lina Romay gets most of the press, but Soledad rules my heart :}

I heartily APPROVE of your love of fabulous Eurotrash sunglasses, BTW. There's a line budget item in the Tenebrous Empire for giant Eurotrash sunglasses, in fact. I'll get My People working on ferreting out a purple pair *just for you*.

All around, your review is made of excellence!

Karswell said...

Your "Made of Hotness" screen capture is now the background image on my computer desktop! It is indeed hard to find a lass as groovy as Soledad Miranda. I'll hold all thoughts about "Jesus" as you already know that opinion, instead let's focus once more on Soledad's lips... now, let's focus on her lips again... and again... annnnnd... again...

scorethefilm said...

Love the blog, fellas. I have a question (not about this movie but about your site) for you but I can't seem to find your contact email anywhere. You can reach me at jimthemoviefreak@gmail.com

The Vicar of VHS said...

Hey, jim, thanks for dropping by! The contact address was cleverly hidden in the Contest Post--you can contact me at scott.axeman [at] gmail [dot] com.

Guess I should put that somewhere more conspicuous...

The Duke of DVD said...

Bravo, Vicar, on yet another fabulous review! This movie is one of my all-time favorites, for it has a little bit of everything in it to satisfy even the most jaded lesbian vampire aficionados among us.

As for your contact address, might I suggest hiring a troupe of gypsies to spell out the letters on your front acreage using their oiled, naked bodies. I employed this method to great success the last time I had a garage sale at my estate in Romania.

This allowed me to finally rid myself of that horrid marble statue of a herd of fauns engaged in rough coitus with a group of burly lumberjacks, which the Danish King had gifted me last Brumalia.

aunt john said...

It really does have one of the bestest soundtracks, possibly ever.

The Headless Werewolf said...

How can one NOT love VAMPYROS LESBOS? This was my first "official" Franco film, too, by the way (though I'd seen bits and pieces of COUNT DRACULA some time back). Give LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN a try if you want more of the madness.

Nine-Fingered Menace said...

You may not be aware of this, but the creepy motel clerk happens to be Jess Franco, himself. He appeared in front of the camera in a lot of his own movies, both major and minor. I've been getting to know Franco's work the past few years and, while I have long considered Rollin one of my all-time favorite directors (to the point where some of my friends are probably sick of hearing about him), some of Franco's work is so bizarre he makes Rollin look positively pedestrian.

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