Sunday, August 18, 2013

Female Vampire (1973)

Written by: Gerard Brisseau, Jess Franco
Directed by: Jess Franco
Starring: Lina Romay, Jack Taylor, Alice Arno

You know all those pictures on the internet of things that are, to one degree or another, sorta kinda love stories, that are all captioned, “Still a better love story than Twilight”? The cover art of this movie should really be featured in one of those. I mean, it's got love and vampires, right? Ok, so it also has lesbian S&M witches, a severely necrophiliac post-mortem examination, theme music that sounds hilariously like “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”, and the vampire doesn't drain her victims' life essence through their blood, but through their sexual fluids. Hell, not only does that sound better than Twilight, that sounds better than most other vampire stories period, right? Yes, fans of Eurosmut, it's TheBareBreastedCountessLovesOfIrinaErotikillFemaleVampireTheSwallowersAlternateTitlepalooza. For a guy who made around 200 movies, Jess Franco is really only well known for a small handful (I wouldn't be surprised if only the cast and crew ever saw some of them), and this is probably one of his top 5. Or it could be all of his top five, considering how many different versions of it there are.

Romay plays Irina Karlstein, a vampire drawn back to her ancestral home of Madiera after centuries of wandering the world giving fatal blowjobs to all and sundry. She has perhaps the most effective hunting technique of any screen vampire I've ever seen. She puts on a cape and a huge belt, and wanders around until she finds someone alone, at which point she starts making out with them and takes their pants off. Although I'm sure this much thought wasn't put into it at the time, that's actually makes great sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Any predator will expend as little energy as possible to take down its prey, hence ambush being such a popular tactic. If you can make your prey want you to eat them, so much the better. No need to burn off valuable energy fighting struggling, terrified victims when they're practically falling over each other to stick their meat in your mouth.

The mopy Baron Von Rathony, a poet, or perhaps philosopher, or other similarly mopy intellectual, has also come to Madiera because his mopy researches have led him to believe it is the location of a nexus between the human and supernatural worlds, and that it has an uncommonly large population of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties. This belief is shared by Dr. Roberts, the coroner employed by the police to examine the bodies that have been showing up around town. For some reason they have a hard time buying the conclusion he immediately jumps to: that a semen-drinking vampire has taken up residence on the island. His friend, occult professor Dr. Orloff (who looks vaguely like a Hawkwind-era Lemmy, making me long for a series where Lemmy plays an occult investigator who beats supernatural menaces to death with a solid iron bass guitar with silver strings), agrees with him, as does a nosy reporter who shows up asking Irina all sorts of troublesome questions about her family's blood-soaked history. Of course, being a mute, Irina isn't much of an interview subject.

After a bunch of vaguely related set pieces strung together by a point-of-view camera driving around in Irina's car listening to her internal monologue about how lonely her cursed existence is (I guess her Robert Z'Dar-looking butler isn't much of a companion, poor guy, he gives his life for her and never gets so much as a thank you for his loyalty), Irina dispatches Roberts, Orloff, and all the other people who might reveal her secret, although all she seems to want is to die. I guess if eternal life came at the price of blowing random Frenchmen until the end of time, I'd probably want to end it all too. Eventually she falls in love with Rathony, and drowns herself (I think, it's not terribly clear if she actually died or they just ran out of film after lingering on her squirming in the tub for so long) in a tub of cherry Kool-Aid. Or blood. Although if it's blood, whoever she got it from was severely anemic.

As with a lot of Franco's movies, this thing is a little thin on plot. Franco himself has said that he got bored very easily and so tried to finish his movies as quickly as possible to immediately move on to the next thing. The scripts were often more suggestions than complete scripts, allowing him to just sort of shoot whatever was on his mind that day. What seems to have been on his mind more often than not was Lina Romay's jubblies, which I guess we can't really fault him for.

The one thing that I really can't understand, though, is despite the fact that Europeans have such a reputation for sexual liberation, they never seem to know what it's supposed to sound or look like. Sure, there's loads of nekkid people rubbing their nekkidness all over each other here, but you'd need a prehensile schlong to achieve penetration in most of these positions. And whoever was dubbing Jack Taylor made some sounds during his big sex scene with Irina that are by turns hilarious and downright disturbing.

Regardless of which version you see, this is a highly entertaining flick. Despite all the howlingly funny dubbing and performances and the incessant and occasionally very displeasing nudity (if you think the fake breasts of today are upsetting, just wait til you see some from the early 70's), some of that eerie atmosphere that seems to be a natural feature of any European horror movie of this vintage still manages to seep through and give the proceedings a bit more gravity than they really deserve. It entertains on many different levels, and for a movie that most likely had barely any thought put into it in the first place, that's an impressive statement to Franco's intrinsic ability as a filmmaker. You know, even if he couldn't keep the camera in focus and didn't bother to edit out the bit in the opening sequence where Lina walks face-first into the camera.

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