Review by Troy
= Highest Rating
beautiful and reclusive Countess Carody (Soledad Miranda) lures
an attractive real estate agent (Ewa Stroemberg) to her sunny
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
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.
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.
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