One of the sexiest horror films ever made, let alone one of the most invigorating experiences of that sort. Yet beyond that, there’s so much more to Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos which makes everything all the more rewarding. This German-Spanish erotic horror film is the best sort of sleazy European horror: one that knows how to provide a feast for the eyes but at the same time there was so much more that made what could appear as trashy horror into something more meaningful. Provocative, seductive, and terrifying all in equal measure and in the best sense is only where the fun begins.
The film opens with what appears to be a dream that depicts the vampire Nadine performing a nightclub act as she is setting her eye on the American Linda, whose mind is flooded with these recurring thoughts. In these dreams, she is being seduced by Nadine before she eventually preys upon their blood, but the moment in which Linda ends up settling on an island to seek a home, she ends up recognizing a woman whom she sees as the exact same vampire that has recurred within her mind. These recurring thoughts reflect her sexual psychology, a frustrated mind that is searching for a resort – which fuels interest even more.
Vampyros Lesbos was rather well-known as Jess Franco’s first film to have a predominant lesbian theme and seeing as this was only my introduction to his work, my interest has only grown all the more from the spot. It’s never less than interesting how Franco creates a unique psychological descent from Linda’s character arc – she’s a woman searching for a part of herself that is missing and yet the society around her warns her not to. She goes anyway, and the moment she sees this woman whom we already have come to recognize from the recurring dreams as Nadine, there’s another important part to her growth right there. It is from Franco’s twisting with the gender politics of a traditional vampire story that make Vampyros Lesbos a standout, now having countess fall victim to whom she preys upon through fixation.
Jess Franco’s direction almost reminds me of that of Dario Argento’s, not in the sense that he has a keen visual eye but from the very psychedelic nature of its presentation. There’s a clear focus placed on small set details that make Vampyros Lesbos feel so much like a fever dream of a vampire film because I’ve never seen anything of this sort before, Every small choice that Franco is making just works so perfectly with the context that is given from the get go, whether we go down from how he plays nudity or abundant gore or reuses old set pieces for certain scenes. Nevertheless the look it gives is nothing less than enthralling, all I could ever want with a vampire film I haven’t seen in such a manner.
Yet under all of this style that flashes at us, there’s so much to commend about Soledad Miranda’s performance as Nadine, a role that grabs from her first moment and seduces the viewer for the whole ride. It isn’t only from what sort of mood Franco establishes with the film’s psychedelic nature that sets the atmosphere but what sort of quest comes along with the intensity of Soledad Miranda’s character, when she falls influence to a fixation with Linda just as Linda falls under her own possession. And looking upon what Franco intended to portray it only adds more to the impact that it leaves behind, especially coming back to what he intended with the film’s gender politics and predominantly lesbian subtext.
Vampyros Lesbos is more than just a sleazy horror film, but it’s something more meaningful when coming to consider what it incorporates on the spot especially with the descent visible from its character arcs. Style becomes substance, just as rejection becomes hypnosis to find oneself, and something all the more beautiful has formed on the spot. With the score coming into play at the same time, it only makes Vampyros Lesbos a more hypnotic sort of experience on the spot. Vampire fiction has never come by like this in a long time, for only Jess Franco could present something that appears trashy but means more deep down.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Fenix Films.
Directed by Jess Franco
Screenplay by Jess Franco, Jaime Chávarri
Produced by Artur Brauner, Karl Heinz Mannchen
Starring Soledad Miranda, Ewa Strömberg, Andrea Montchal, Dennis Price, Paul Müller
Release Year: 1971
Running Time: 89 minutes