Saturday, January 13, 2007


Vampyros Lesbos
(Spain-West Germany, 1971, 91 min.)

Starring Ewa Strömberg, Soledad Miranda (as Susann Korda), Andrés Monales, Dennis Price, Paul Muller, Heidrun Kussin, Jesus Franco, José Martínez Blanco, Michael Berling, Beni Cardoso.

Screenplay by Jesus Franco and Jaime Chávarri, from a story by Chávarri cherry-picked from Bram Stoker.

Directed by Jesus Franco.

Did you know that, if this film’s subtitles are to be believed, the English translation of ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ is…‘Vampiros Lesbos’? Yeah, I was stunned too.

Linda Westinghouse (Strömberg) is a German woman living in Istanbul with her boyfriend, Omar (Monales). She’s having recurring dreams about a seaside town, a mysterious woman who calls out to her, and a window with a trail of blood running down it. One night she and Omar go to see a live show: one scantily clad woman dances and strips while dressing up a previously naked woman who moves in such a way as to suggest she’s supposed to be a mannequin. Assorted petting and kissing takes place and the audience looks on raptly as if this was all very deep and artistic when it’s really nothing more than a stroke show – sexy but also quite silly (not an uncommon combination). Linda at the very least does have a good reason to show interest: turns out, as we learn in a session with her shrink (Muller), the dancing woman looks exactly like the woman from her dreams. Linda admits that the dreams both terrify and arouse her. The shrink, who has been pretending to take notes while he actually doodles stick figures, suggests that she’s sexually frustrated and that she should get a better lover. I’m not 100% certain if this was supposed to be just advice or an attempted come-on, but either way, Omar should be pissed.

We then see Linda at her job, where a co-worker tells her that the boss wishes the company had a higher profile. I’m not sure what kind of company it is, but Linda's reply that she’s going to Anatolia to see someone about an inheritance suggests some sort of law firm.

That someone turns out to be Nadine Carody (Miranda, who sadly died in a car accident before this film was even released), a countess from Hungary (Franco’s Turkey, interestingly enough, seems to be largely devoid of Turks). On the way to the island where the countess lives, Linda is forced to stay in a hotel on the mainland, whose staff seems to consist of one man, Memmet (the director himself). Memmet clearly gives Linda the creeps, all the more so when he scares her by warning her away from going to the island where “madness and death rule.” He asks her to meet him in the wine cellar later so they can talk, but when she gets there she finds him with a dead woman, bound to a chair and smeared with (very fake) blood.

Presumably the previous discovery has soured Linda on Memmet’s advice because we then cut to her on a boat on the way to the island. She arrives at the Countess’s very quiet mansion and eventually finds the woman sunning herself, and wearing sunglasses with lenses big enough to dip your feet in. Linda tells the Countess that she feels like she both knows her and that she has been there before, all wide-eyed, innocent, and seemingly oblivious to the fact that this is the exact same woman from the dream and the live performance. Coupled with the fact that right before she finds the countess she sees a window with a trail of blood running down it, Linda is either in deep denial or she’s really not all that bright.

The two go for a dip and some naked sunbathing. The Countess assures Linda that no one can see them, an assertion immediately contradicted by the fact that someone is watching them, the Countess’s henchman (Blanco), whose name is Morpho. (Stop laughing.) The Countess gets Linda to drink some wine, which causes her to get woozy. Morpho takes her to her room to sleep it off, but soon the Countess enters. The inevitable allover kissing begins followed by the equally inevitable bite on the neck. When Linda wakes up, she finds the house deserted, until her wanderings bring her to a pool in which the Countess is floating naked, arms outstretched crucifixion-style and blood dribbling from the corner of her mouth. Linda passes out.

Cut to an asylum on the mainland. One of the inmates, Agra (Kussin), is freaking out. She continually talks about an unseen woman who she swears visits her on a regular basis, and whom she seems to regard as her master. The Doctor (Price) attending her is clearly the right (or wrong, depending on your viewpoint) man for the job, because the first time we see him, he’s poring over texts related to the dark forces of the night. Linda is also in this same asylum, having been found unconscious on the beach. She can remember nothing specific about what happened to her on the island except for flashes.

Then, in a convenient bit of exposition, we learn that the Countess is at least a century old. “Dracula” once saved her from marauders, only to turn her into his own private sippy cup. He eventually transformed her into a vampire herself, but her time with him had left her with an insurmountable hatred for men. She says that she has possessed many women over the years, and yet she now feels that she is the one possessed – by Linda. She vows that Linda will be hers.

And the movie goes on from there. Note I said goes on, not progresses. I’ve read haikus with more narrative thrust. Franco and co-screenwriter Chávarri (if he truly participated; IMDb trivia suggests otherwise) select a few points from the original Dracula story and then hang a series of scenes on them that sort of tell a story, much in the same way that scrubbing your teeth with your finger sort of promotes dental health.

The director throws a lot of symbolism around, most of it obvious: insects crawling on web-like nets, stalking scorpions, etc, although I did like the way he co-opted the normally innocent image of a floating kite to suggest a malevolent force hovering nearby and watching. He also makes good use of the psychedelic music on the soundtrack, enhancing the film’s admittedly funky sense of period, but, rampant nudity aside, it’s all kind of boring. Plus it’s a bit too ‘sploity for the art crowd yet a bit too artsy for the trash fans. (In circles where such distinctions are still made, that is; in my world, genres breed freely.)

But enough with the lesbian vampires, I say. When is someone going to take a page out of Gustav Klimt and make a movie about lesbian mermaids? (Mermaydos Lesbos, anyone?)


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