When she's wearing anything that is!
However, and I'm as surprised to say this as you are to read it, his 1971 film Vampyros Lesbos is actually quite thrilling and well-done. I know what you're thinking, and you're right... with a title like "Lesbian Vampires", there's no way I could give this thing a bad review, but no, that's not what I'm talking about. Hell, I could go watch 1972's The Devil In Miss Jones (and I might) if that was all that mattered.
However, Franco actually gives us an interesting and artistic horror movie here with a paced and open camera eye and an unapologetically erotic undertone. Much like Morgane et ses Nymphes (also from 1971), this film could so easily have been mere trash, but rises above its Horror and Soft-Core Porn limitations to provide an Art-Film feel that's as European as "Mandatory Vacations".
Ostensibly a chronological sequel to Dracula (set in the 1970's), Vampyros Lesbos actually follows the plot of the original Bram Stoker novel relatively closely, while exchanging many of the male or straight female characters for Lesbians. Our main Vampire character Countess Nadine Carody is played by one of the most beautiful actresses to grace the hot silver screen, Soledad Miranda (credited here as "Susann Korda"). This woman might sell the film with her face alone, even if she couldn't act. Luckily she can, and luckily she's got an incredible (and oft-bare) body too.
Because Count Dracula has passed on and left all his property to Nadine-Nadine, Blonde Attorney Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Strömberg) brings her legal papers (and the "junk in her trunk") to visit our incredibly hot Countess and legally finalize the inheritance. While I find it questionable that Count Dracula, whose relationship with Sunlight is a bit more than merely contentious, would have an Island Beach House in his possession (or is that how he died?) when Vampire Nadine brings Lawyer Linda on first a skinny-dipping, then nude sunbathing adventure, I just stopped caring about Vampire Lore and started applauding.
Naturally, "distraction" is what Franco was hoping for, as his relationship with established Vampire Mythology is only slightly better than Dracula's relationship with Mr. Sun. But, if this were a valid complaint, half the Vamp Flicks out there would get Dogs... Regardless, Nadine and Linda (neither of whom are dogs) soon have hot, completely naked Lesbian Sex, which is confusing to Linda and disturbing to her boyfriend (Andrés Monales' Omar). Clearly there's something wrong with this man.
As Linda realizes the true nature of Nadine, she alternates between running away from her and running toward her. But Linda doesn't run for long, becoming one of Nadine's own, she is told "The Queen of the Night will bear you up... on her black wings." which must be one hell of a pick up line, because it leads to more (and more explicit) hot naked Lesbian Sex. Ladies, remember that line... apparently it works.
If you're at all familiar with Dracula, much of the rest of this (at least in the core plot) will feel familiar. Dr. Seward (Dennis Price) still runs a mental institution, but his character is blended with that of "Dr. Van Helsing" with his Vampire Lore studies. Naturally, he teams up with Omar (our "Jonathan Harker" character) to attempt to defeat the Countess (all she's got is this Mod Goof named, ha ha ha, "Morpho" [José Martínez Blanco], and, of course, Lovely Linda). There's even a corollary to "Mr. Renfield" in Vampyros Lesbos, but instead of being a broken down weird little man who can't stop sucking blood, we get Agra (Heidrun Kussin), a hot, blonde, oft-naked Lesbian who can't stop masturbating.
Yes, I know, this is starting to sound like a "Spoof", but I assure you, it's not. Franco has always kept his sense of humor, but this isn't a comedy, nor is it played for laughs at any point. Surprisingly all of this is treated with maturity and seriousness and even respect. And this is maintained up until the tragic ending, which is far more artistic than it had any right to be.
That goes for the rest of the film as well. Franco's screenplay (from a story by Jaime Chávarri, which was, of course, based on Stoker's Dracula) barely scratches the surface of what he translates to the screen. Using a series of "pick up" shots to draw parallels to his main story, Franco adds a depth that is missing in a great many of his movies (if not all of them). This isn't sacrificed for the prerequisite "Erotica" either. Inexplicably (though wonderfully) one of Nadine's night activities is an incredibly hot performance art piece, seemingly based on Pygmalion. When Nadine's "Fair Lady" comes to life (after a long and sexy build up) they naturally have hot, naked Lesbian Sex. However, there is a brilliant subtext to this repeated scene that shouldn't be missed just because it's so incredibly blood-boilingly hot. This act serves as an erotic "dumb show" that both encapsulates and parallels the main story line.
While a rarity such as a Lesbian Erotic Thriller that is played for drama, not laughs, is incredibly welcome (and surprising considering it came from Jess Franco), Vampyros Lesbos isn't quite perfect. After all, it is essentially just another Dracula movie with a most appreciated twist. To be fair, Franco does add quite a few extras here, but some of them (such as a Jack-The-Ripper-esque Serial Killer sub-plot) feel unnecessary and tacked on.
Occasionally, the changed premises are under-explained, relying on "because I said so" logic and many of the motifs here feel so firmly planted in the 1970's, I would have looked for Greg Brady as "Johnny Bravo", if I hadn't been consumed by the Consciousness-Conquering nudity of one Soledad Miranda! Lastly, the constant gore and threat of more gore (not to mention a positively Fuclian Eye-Popping scene) transcend some of the hotness for that cold feeling.
Still, at core, this is an exploitative slice of Horror Erotica, and is firmly trapped in the genre that made Jess Franco a success. This makes the fact that Vampyros Lesbos is actually pretty darned good all the more interesting. The maturity and artistry with which all this is handled helps a lot, although the linking of a man-hatred inspiring trauma bringing about Nadine's Lesbianism seems insensitive in this day and age. In addition, any movie with beautiful, naked women, particularly beautiful, naked women engaging in sex with each other, has at least that one redeeming quality to it.
I'll be dipped in razor-blades, washed with ethanol, smeared in honey and rolled in ants, but Jess Franco actually made at least one good movie. The over-encroaching fingers of the genre, coupled with some of the limitations of the time, free-style cafeteria choosing of Vampire Lore, silly masculine confusion and a less-than-timeless setting (the music of the experimental, jazzy electronica duo Manfred Hubler and Sigfried Schwab, while good, is almost humorous to hear from over 30 years in the future) keep Vampyros Lesbos from being a "great" film, but it's pretty damned good, and worth somewhere between Three and Three and One Half Stars out of Five I'm feeling generous today, so take that point five and kiss it where it's curvy! The twisted concept of Naked Lesbian Vampires sunbathing without even a bottle of SPF 30 gives a whole new meaning to "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me". Ah, well, regardless of what Mister Bram Stoker would think of this take on his tale, Brother Kneumsi couldn't be happier. Sigh... Now about Miss Jones...
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