Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Female Vampire – review

Director: Jess Franco

Release Date: 1973

Contains spoilers

There are so many versions of this film that it becomes difficult to ascertain exactly which version you are watching. My edition, on Arrow DVD, claims it is presented “in its full-strength version” and yet – whilst there is copious gratuitous nudity and sex-scenes I don’t believe it is the full, hardcore version. It does, however, make for an interesting screenshot producing experience. This review was requested by regular reader Edna Sweetlove – who wanted some 'classic' Franco looked at.

The movie is pure sexploitation, there is no escape from that and so if such concepts are offensive look away now. The opening scenes leave us in no doubt. We see Countess Iriana of Karlstein (Lina Romay) walk out of the mist in a forest. She wears only boots, a belt and a cloak. The camera pulls to her face and then, just so we are in no doubt what-so-ever, pulls to her pubic triangle.

In a park we see a man and Iriana watches him. He approaches the, essentially naked woman, and asks if he can help her. Next thing, wouldn’t you just know it, they’re kissing. She manoeuvres him against the side of a cage, goes down on him and then we see him scream. Miles away we see Baron Von Rathony (Jack Taylor) who seems to hear the scream.

Next we see Iriana flapping her cloak as though it formed wings and then… wait for it. We get a shot from the interior of a car (with a voice over by Iriana) and the car’s hood ornament is a silver bird with flapping wings. Now one can only guess where Franco was going with the bird, perhaps it was, in his own mind, a significant metaphor. Perhaps, and this is my theory, it was cheaper than doing a flying effect. Whatever the reason it is certainly amusing to see and has become almost iconic.

One of the problems with the film is that there isn’t much of a story. The film is centred on Iriana whom we discover, when interviewed by a journalist, is mute. Who played the journalist is somewhat of a mystery as there are two credits, Ana the journalist was played by Gilda Arancio and Anna the journalist was played by Anna Watican.
In the interview Iriana is asked if she feels that her muteness is to do with the alleged family curse (she nods yes) and the fact that she is from a line of infamous vampires is mentioned. The murder is also mentioned, as is the fact that there were footprints leading from the scene that then vanish as though the killer flew away. Later we discover that Iriana has telepathic powers as she informs Anna, in a mind to mind communication, that she is marked forever by meeting her – and indeed one version of the journalist is killed in a lesbian tryst. There is also an indication of mind control during a gratuitous S&M scene later.

Investigating the deaths, and frustrated by the lack of belief from the police, is coroner Doctor Roberts (Jess Franco). It is via he, and his colleague Dr Orloff (Jean-Pierre Bouyxou), that we discover more about the vampire’s killing methods. At first Roberts reports that the first victim was drained of semen and life. Later we hear that the vampire drains hormones and finally, after some necrophilic fumbling by the blind Orloff, we discover that the vampire pierces the genitalia of the victim with her fangs – how the sighted Roberts missed this is beyond me – we shall return to the theme of necrophilia later.

Then we have the Baron, a poet who is drawn to Iriana and wishes to be with her, hinting that he was suicidal anyway. Iriana seems wary, maybe even scared of him, but what scares her? Is it the presence of a willing victim? Is it the love he feels for her? I suspect it was the bad moustache. Be that as it may, their relationship is more drawn out than others she feeds upon but, ultimately, she snacks on him to.

The ending of the film is a damp squib. Roberts goes after the Countess, murdering her mute manservant (Luis Barboo) and finds her in the bath. Now it might have been some sort of bath oil but one suspects that it was meant to be a blood bath. If so, it was the most diluted blood bath in the history of blood baths, looking more like very weak blackcurrant cordial. Roberts then does nothing and the film ends.

Of course ultimately this is meant to be an erotic (ish) movie. The film misses the mark in most respects. The feeding upon a masseur (Raymond Hardy) had all the hallmarks of a bad porn setup. Iriana is meant to be seductive but, when the camera lingers upon her face and she licks her lips Romay looks bored.

There is a musical refrain through the film that, one feels, was meant to give an air of romance and it didn’t really work. It sounded too romantic, killing off any horror aspect and not being sensual enough for an erotic movie. It gave the impression of a silent movie at times (which for the most part this is, so perhaps that didn’t miss the mark as much as I thought). The silent movie simile is important as this is where some of the gaps in story can be found, there is not enough exposition and the visual exposition is weak, especially compared to something like Requiem for a Vampire.

What really killed the eroticism was the necrophilia overtones, which fails to do it for me. I’ve mentioned Orloff but the worst offender was Iriana herself who, having pleasured and killed her victim was wont to writhe on them, pleasuring herself.

Perhaps Franco tried to build a drama, but we do not know enough of the characters to accept it as a character driven drama piece. We know that Iriana dislikes killing yet must do, because of her voice-overs and yet there is no attempt at redemption (unless that was the point of the Baron story-line, but that is a guess, the film doesn’t elucidate enough to explicitly or subtly inform us). I am sure that Iriana was meant to be exposed as ultimately lonely but she just came across as a nymphomaniac.

Yet despite all I have written there is something hypnotically fascinating about the film, just not enough to give this a brilliant score. 2.5 out of 10 reflects (mainly) that hypnotic draw, plus the (unintentionally) funny moments of cloak flapping and hood ornaments. As a piece of hardcore adult cinema this misses the mark, though whilst I admit that there are probably stronger versions out there I also feel that some of the seedier aspects would always cause it to miss the mark. As an erotic piece it falls flat and as a drama the lack of exposition and character development is a fatal flaw. As a horror piece it falls flat on its face primarily because (as with the idea that this is a drama) the story is flimsy to say the least and we see little that is horrific – to underline this the only place you will see fangs is on the DVD cover and whilst the idea of being bitten in the bits is horrific, the film spoils this by suggesting that the pleasure given is worth the sacrifice.

The imdb page is here.


Edna Sweetlove said...

Thanks for the review, old chap. It was good to read a fresh view on this little baby. Epoch-makingly stinky-bad cinema, of course, but with Franco's redeeming oneiricism in spades, Edna would have to argue. Franco es un loco, en mi libro!!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Edna, I'd have to agree - Franco is crazy. It is the oneirism you mention that probably gives the film its hypnotic effect

Edna Sweetlove said...

Oh, oh, oh. "Oneiricism" not good enough for you, eh? Got to have oneirism. Oh, oh, oh.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

lol :)

mice said...

Sounds dreadful so I put it on my netflix list at the top.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mice, there is no answer to that! lol

mice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.