• Vampyros Lesbos

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: May 12, 2015
    Director: Jess (Jesús) Franco
    Cast: Soledad Miranda, Ewa Strömberg, Dennis Price, Paul Muller, Jess Franco, Heidrun Kussin, Michael Berling, José Martinez Blanco
    Year: 1970/71
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    The Movie:

    After watching a sexy nightclub act, Linda becomes obsessed with provocative dancer Nadine, who may or may not be a vampire. Her dreams about the woman become so intense that she meets with a psychiatrist. The visit doesn’t help, and she seeks Nadine out, only to find her on a Mediterranean Island once home to the infamous Count Dracula. After drinking drugged wine, Linda has sex with Nadine, but when she awakens in the morning, she finds Nadine apparently dead in her swimming pool. Linda loses her memory and falls under the care of Dr. Seward, but Nadine is far from dead, and her own supernatural connection to Linda draws the two women to each other with disastrous results.

    Director Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos was a co-production between West German and Spanish film studios, though it was shot in southern Spain and Turkey. Filmed in 1970, it wasn’t released in Germany until the following year and acts as a sort of modern-day riff on Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers, which had proved a tremendous worldwide hit the year before. Yet, unlike its predecessor, the emphasis in Vampyros Lesbos is clearly on sex rather than horror. In fact, to call the film horror does it a disservice. While it certainly contains genre elements and motifs, the film’s primary purpose is to titillate its viewers.

    Franco’s seduction is not limited to showcasing the female form in all its splendor, however; just as alluring is his use of music, a psychedelic, late ‘60s/early ‘70s suffusion of jazz, rock, and classical components that play over erotic scenes with groovy abandon. The score, composed by Manfred Hübler and Siegfriend Schwab, was also used for two other Franco films: The Devil Came from Akasava and She Killed in Ecstasy (both also shot in 1970); it was later released on compact disc, where it proved a major hit in Great Britain. To emphasize just how enthralled he was by the score, Franco opened the film with it serving as the impetus for Nadine’s erotic nightclub number, which she performs for the benefit of her on- and off-screen audiences, including both Linda and the film’s many viewers. And just as Linda is captivated to the point of mesmerism, so too is the film’s primarily male audience, who have made it a staple of home video and the score a cult classic in its own right.

    It would be easy to judge Vampryos Lesbos against such contemporaries as the aforementioned The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness (1971), both of which are superior examples of the subgenre. Yet, while those films are erotically charged nightmares, neither have the same kind of dreamlike intensity of Vampyros Lesbos. When the film concludes with Linda’s boyfriend, Omar, telling her that her experiences are nothing more than a dream, he may be right! Franco frequently shoots his images through gauze or windows, sometimes softening them to create a blurry, ethereal effect heightened by judicious use of color gels and appealing camera angles. It’s more the stuff of wet dreams than nightmares, a fevered reverie pitched in aphrodisiac lounge music. Some critics have blasted the film for its wooden acting, obviously unable to comprehend Franco’s true intent: Vampyros Lesbos is not a film proper; it’s a masturbatory dark fantasy, with Soledad Miranda as its master of ceremonies. That the film works is a testament to Franco’s artistry as a director and Miranda’s appeal as a movie siren. She may have died the same year the film was shot, but because of her involvement in Vampyros Lesbos, Miranda has entered the realm of immortality, a dark goddess imbued with life by her innumerable fans. And Vampyros Lesbos is the apex of her short but varied career.


    Severin has released Franco’s erotic lesbian classic with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition, presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio that faithfully recreates the director’s original framing. The image itself is mostly stunning, with beautiful depth of field and a high degree of fine detail. Grain generally appears organic and, though it becomes more prevalent in darker scenes, never obscures detail. Nor is there any serious crush to report. There are a few moments in which the image softens and appears to have come from an alternate source, but these are few and far between and never too distracting. The disc features a nice color palette, with skin tones a little light but everything else looking bright and textured. The overall image may not be perfect, but it often comes close, with the film looking considerably better than it ever has before. Severin should be commended for its efforts; Franco fans will be pleased, and the transfer should win the controversial director more than a few converts.

    The audio is presented in LPCM 2.0, which is more than adequate to highlight the score’s many arresting and unique aspects. Given that Severin has utilized the superior German print for the Blu-ray, the dialogue is featured in that language, with optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired. To some degree, dialogue is unimportant to the film; because Franco so rightfully relies on music and imagery to tell his story, the film would work just as well sans the dialogue track. The LPCM audio capably carries the track, which is a wonderful mix of jazz, rock, and operatic elements, perfectly combined to accentuate the film’s more erotic moments, which are prevalent. (Speaking of the score, it is included on CD with the Blu-ray for She Killed in Ecstasy.)

    Severin has packed its Blu-ray release of Vampyros Lesbos with a number of captivating extras. The first, “Interlude In Lesbos,” is an interview with writer/director Franco obviously conducted in his later years but before his death in April 2013. While Franco speaks in English, the interview is subtitled due to the director’s thick accent. He discusses the film’s background as well as female stars Soledad Miranda, Ewa Strömberg, and Heidrun Kussin, producer Artur Brauner, the film’s censorship history in Spain, silent German Expressionism, the music, and the lesbian aspects of vampire literature, among other things. Franco clearly knows his subject, and even toward the end of his life, his mind was as sharp as ever. The featurette lasts approximately twenty minutes.

    “Sublime Soledad” is an interview with film historian Amy Brown, web master for www.soledadmiranda.com. It, too, lasts approximately twenty minutes and focuses, as its title suggests, on actress Soledad Miranda. Not content with simply covering Miranda’s involvement with Vampyros Lesbos, Brown traces the entire trajectory of the actress’s all-too-brief career. The featurette is excellent and informative, but be warned: By the time it’s over, you will have fallen in love with Miranda, and her tragic ending will leave you in tears.

    The third and final featurette is “Stephen Thrower on Vampyros Lesbos,” which essays interview snippets from the author of Murderous Passions—The Delirious Cinema of Jess Franco. At a little over eleven minutes, it doesn’t last nearly long enough; a gifted writer and historian, Thrower’s knowledge on the subject could provide the basis for a much longer, more in-depth documentary about the director.

    “Jess Is Yoda” is a three-minute outtake from Franco’s interview in which he discusses his friendship with makeup artist Stuart Freeborn, who allegedly fashioned the face of Yoda in the Star Wars movies after Franco’s face. While Franco is known for weaving tall tales, Yoda’s face is so near to his own that the tale is actually believable. Next up is the alternate German opening credit scene for Vampyros Lesbos, which runs approximately a minute and a half. And finally, the original German trailer (2:29) is included.

    Severin has also seen fit to include a DVD containing the much weaker Spanish cut of the film. Not only does it feature different music—written by Franco himself—it is also less explicit. Narration serves to cut down on the film’s dreamier aspects, casting it, as Thrower says, in a “more conventional” light. This edit has always been rarer than the German version, and while it’s considerably less interesting, Severin should be applauded for including it considering its historical importance. The company has correctly called this version a “bootleg,” as the quality leaves a little to be desired. But that’s understandable, given the relative difficulty in finding suitable materials; the film is obviously a composite from other sources (some letterboxed, some full frame), presented with removable English subtitles. It runs about fifteen minutes shorter than the German version.

    The Final Word:

    Vampyros Lesbos is a mesmerizing fever dream, an erotic fantasy aimed at titillation rather than horror. Franco’s use of bizarre but well-staged camera angles, gorgeous colors, and psychedelic music combine to make this one of his most alluring films. Severin’s BD release is definitive, not only in the presentation of the film’s visual and aural aspects but also in the extras that have been gathered. Anyone with an interest in Franco, lesbian vampires, great scores, and/or early ‘70s horror exploitation would do well to pick it up.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!