Vampyros Lesbos
Image Edition
Spain - Germany / 1970
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring
Soledad Miranda
Ewa Stroemberg
Dennis Price
Color / 90 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)

Image Entertainment
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7
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
The beautiful and reclusive Countess Carody (Soledad Miranda) lures an attractive real estate agent (Ewa Stroemberg) to her sunny villa...
    If Count Dracula (1970) and The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) are Jess Franco's most recognizable 'mainstream' titles, then Vampyros Lesbos is his ultimate cult film. Rediscovered via muddy gray market tapes by a new legion of devoted fans (including Quentin Tarantino, who used part of the film's unique music score in 1998's Jackie Brown), the film launched a new interest in Franco's cinema. In some respects, its reputation has become over-inflated in the interim, but there's no denying the film's off-kilter appeal.
    The film is the best known of Franco's collaborations with one of his key fetish actress, the tragically short-lived Soledad Miranda. While I personally prefer her wide-eyed naïf who succumbs to corruption in Eugenie de Sade (1970) and her moody avenging angel in She Killed in Ecstasy (1970), her portrayal of the darkly seductive, yet implicitly sad and tragic, vampire countess is also unforgettable. It would perhaps be a misnomer to call Miranda a *great* actress, but the chemistry between her and Franco resulted in a fascinating body of work that continues to haunt fans to this day. Franco was the first and ultimately, last director to realize her tremendous potential, and was able to use her, physically, in a way that reminds one of Barbara Steele in Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960), to choose but one example. Through Franco's guidance, she became one of the key femmes fatale of the European horror film before her untimely death in 1971.
    In addition to Miranda's ethereal screen presence, the film boasts a fine roster of supporting players. Ewa Stroemberg is certainly photogenic as the object of Miranda's carnal desires, but she also gives a solid performance that adds some shading to an underwritten role. Franco mainstay Paul Müller is also on hand as Stroemberg's disinterested psychiatrist, while the director essays another of his bizarre character roles (playing a hotel porter with a penchant for torturing young women). The great English character actor Dennis Price is also on hand, playing the shady Dr. Seward. Price, his career on the decline, adds a touch of class to the proceedings; he looks nowhere near as sickly as he does in his later Franco films, but even here his years of alcohol abuse are clearly visible. An unfortunate scene of him *attempting* to run from the Countess' henchman, Morpho, could have been avoided... Price apparently had problems with his legs as a result of his service in World War II, and watching him painfully pigeon-toe for his life is likely to elicit unintended snickers.
   
Vampyros Lesbos also offers some of Franco's dreamiest, most whacked out imagery. A literal inversion of Stoker's Dracula with a female vampire, sunny beach house locales, mosquito netting in place of cobwebs, etc. the film unfolds in a deliberate manner. Franco indulges in his penchant for zoom shots, but they actually work in such a stylized context. The unusual visuals are lent an added impact by the truly amazing soundtrack by Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab. It seems that this music was not written for the film, but that Franco discovered it and was inspired to make the film around its bizarre fusion of acid jazz and rock 'n' roll riffs. He even saw fit to recycle the music for She Killed in Ecstasy and The Devil Came from Akasava (1971) and it never grew old.

Image's new DVD release of Vampyros Lesbos is already creating a furor in internet chatrooms. Taken from a much cleaner source print than Synapse's flawed DVD release, it offers a sharper image, much improved color and far less defects and scratches. However, the framing has some bizarre discrepancies when compared to the Synapse release. While both are framed at 1.78 (and only Image's, by the way, is anamorphically enhanced), the framing seems to vary from shot to shot sometimes the Synapse transfer offers more information on all four sides, and sometimes the Image one does. Precisely why the framing is the way it is remains to be seen, but the Image release is clearly superior. Audio quality is also cleaner and has more punch when compared to the Synapse disc essential in allowing one to enjoy those jazzy riffs on the soundtrack. The removable English subtitles offer some different translations when compared to the Synapse, but this isn't a dialogue-driven film; Franco tells his story through images and music, and that made the film accessible even in unsubtitled gray market editions years ago. Extras are limited to theatrical trailers for the film and Image's upcoming remastered edition of She Killed in Ecstasy (neither have subtitles), as well as a still gallery. 10/15/04
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