Swedish actress Ewa Stroemberg (looking like a post-Spice Girls Geri Halliwell) plays the very Swedish-sounding named Linda Westinghouse (dubbed into German too, for added incoherence), working for a Turkish legal firm. Got all that? Anyway, poor Linda is plagued nightly by visions of a mysterious and alluring female vampire calling to her. One night she is taken to a nightclub by her boyfriend and sees a strange yet erotic stage act involving a supposed nude mannequin and the woman from her dreams! Afterwards, her firm sends her to a remote Turkish island to sort out an inheritance issue for someone named Countess Carody (Soledad Miranda), who of course turns out to be the woman from her visions and the woman in the stage act that so fascinated Linda. They go skinny-dipping, sun-bathing, and drink lots of wine. Too much wine for Linda, in fact as she has to go take a lie down in the Countess’ bedroom. In her bed. Making sweet, Sapphic love with the Countess. The next morning she wakes up in a clinic, and Dr. Seward (Dennis Price!) warns Linda to stay away from the Countess, and indeed it appears the Countess is attempting to turn Linda into a vampire like herself, having become obsessed with the sexy blonde girl. Meanwhile, we also see one of Dr. Seward’s deranged patients (Heidrun Kussin), supposedly a previous victim of the Countess now in a crazed state. However, there’s much more to the ‘good’ doctor than meets the eye. Throw in a creepy cellar-dwelling pervert named Memmet (played by the inimitable Jesus Franco himself), a hulking manservant named Morpho (José Martínez Blanco), and lots of random zooms on scorpions, and there’s your movie. Paul Muller turns up as Linda’s psychiatrist, who dismisses her nightly visions as her just being sexually frustrated. Y’know, ‘coz she’s a chick.
One of the films that helped make a man out of me (wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more!), I won’t deny that this 1970 film from infamous Eurotrash director Jesus Franco (“99 Women”, “She Killed in Ecstasy”, “Count Dracula”) is a film of mostly Sapphic pleasures. However, beyond that, the film has a haunting, dream-like vibe that, combined with the funktastic score by Manfred Hubler & Siegfried Schwab (Franco’s “She Killed in Ecstasy”), and the melancholic lead performance by the late Soledad Miranda (a forgotten member of the tragic ‘27 Club’), has the film staying with you long afterwards. Good or bad film (it’s certainly not the latter), the film is utterly unforgettable. And yeah, there’s lesbian action and lots of tits, too. The late Soledad Miranda had made quite a few films before this one, and made this, “The Devil Came From Akasava”, and “She Killed in Ecstasy” (all for Franco, one of cinematic history’s most prolific directors at the very least) in fairly quick succession before dying in a tragic car accident in Portugal, on her way to sign a contract with Franco (Such a shame that with Miranda’s death and Stroemberg promptly leaving the industry, two promising stars were never to be). Best exemplified in this film, she had a strange, doe-eyed, vacuous-yet-haunted quality to her that was mesmerising and inimitable to her. It suits her especially well here as Countess Carody, who seems somewhat sad and weary.
I think the film escapes homophobia in that sense (it’s more sexist, if anything), as she’s much more complicated than a mere man-hating Sapphic predator. For starters, she’s not even human anyway, but a vampire. And although she is indeed predatory, with Linda she finds herself getting lost in, she herself becomes bewitched by this girl. It’s fascinating. In fact, as much as I’m not going to call this a thinking person’s vampire movie in the slightest (It’s called “Vampyros Lesbos” for fuck’s sake!), it’s not brainless, either. There’s a lot of psycho-sexual stuff going on here. In addition to the Countess-Linda relationship, you’ve got a horny-as-hell female Renfield character in Agra (Heidrin Kussin), and at least two sleazy male characters in the creepy pervert and sadomasochistic psychopath Memmet (creepily and effectively played by director Franco himself) and a rather brutal and hypocritical Dr. Seward, an interesting inversion of the famous Bram Stoker character (played by the once respectable Dennis Price, in his alcohol and no-giveashit phase). Try not to look too close at Mr. Franco, by the way, or else you’ll realise his ‘hunchback’ character is literally just Franco bending over a bit. Hilarious. Although it’s not an official retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it certainly plays like a psychosexual pervy slant on the tale, wrapped up in a rather dreamlike/nightmare vibe overall. It’s very much its own thing.
Whatever you might think of Franco (and there’s lots of opinions), he’s definitely got his own worldview on show here and whilst hardly “Intolerance”, it’s got more going on here than just lesbian vampires. Whether what’s going on here (and that includes the lesbianism) is your cup of tea, well I’m guessing if you’re still reading this you’re at least somewhere on the spectrum of this film’s wavelength. But it’s definitely not going to be for all tastes. In fact, Franco’s style alone has been known to put more than a few people off. Yes, just as Franco has his own twisted, kinky worldview, he also has a very distinct filmmaking style. I’m not going to call him a great filmmaker or artist in the slightest, hell I’m not even going to say he’s a great storyteller. He could never, however, be accused of being a journeyman hack with no discernible style. In most cases you’ll know very early on in a Franco film just who directed it (His legit- if still loose- take on Stoker, “Count Dracula” might take you a while to catch on, however. That was his one attempt at mainstream appeal, I reckon). It’s all about the zooms, seemingly randomly zooming in and out on various insects, scorpions and the like. Do not make a drinking game out of this, you’ll die of alcohol poisoning before the end of the first act! It’s actually not random, though. In fact, it’s pretty blatant symbolism on show. However, if you hate zooms (as many indeed do), this film will drive you nuts. Even with the zooms, I think it’s a really stunningly shot film, with cinematographer Manuel Merino (“The Teacher and the Miracle”) capturing some truly gorgeous imagery, and I’m not just talking about the stunning naked bodies of Miranda and Ewa Stroemberg. I mean, my God would you look at that fabulous, red-lit spiral staircase? That’s like something out of a Corman-Price-Poe flick right there. The bold use of the colour red throughout is wonderful and obviously deliberate by Franco. Although I had to be told the film was shot in Istanbul, Turkey (despite being a West German-Spanish film), the seaside scenery is gorgeous and completely unlike anything you’ve seen in this kind of film before. Vampires don’t tend to do much sun and sand, after all, and there ain’t a foggy Transylvanian castle in sight here (Though the Countess has ties to Dracula, as expressed in one fascinating bit of dialogue). But Franco wants what he wants, and so we get scenes of the Countess skinny-dipping and sun tanning, albeit with big ‘ol sunglasses on. You’ll certainly never forget the film’s opening stage act, a bizarro performance art piece with the Countess dancing sexily with what appears to be a nude mannequin, but which by the end of the scene appears to be very much alive. Is it completely ridiculous? Sure, but it’s also undeniably erotic, aided immeasurably by the sexy actresses and the sensational, funky music score.
I hadn’t seen this film since I was about 19, and seeing it again at age 35, it was like not one day had gone by. Such is the film’s staying power. There are more sexually explicit films out there. There are more professionally well-made and thought-provoking films out there. None of those films, however are “Vampyros Lesbos”. I actually think it has held up a helluva lot better than Hammer’s far more sexually repressed Karnstein trilogy, not to mention the arty “Daughters of Darkness” (which it does share a few similarities with). See it, because it’s sexy as hell. See it because it’s a rite of passage for every heterosexual male. See it for the strangely haunting Soledad Miranda. See it for that funky soundtrack. See it for Jesus Franco’s distinctly bizarro and kinky worldview. See it, so that you can say you’ve seen a film called “Vampyros Lesbos”. And see it, because damn it, it sure is something! The screenplay is by Franco, Anne Settimó (assistant director on “She Killed in Ecstasy”), and Jaime Chávarri (a writer-director in his own right), though the latter denies having any hand in writing the script despite the credit.