Friday, April 06, 2007

Vampyres – review

Directed by: José Ramón Larraz

Release date: 1974

Contains spoilers

Having, on the last posted review, looked at Franco’s Female Vampire, I decided to dig this film out in order that I might look at the other end of the scale in seventies vampire sexploitation flicks.

I’ve read several times that the film makes little sense and, as you shall see, I utterly disagree – though on the surface it might seem surreal in places, just a little scratch under the surface makes the story pretty darn clear.

The film begins with two women, Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska) naked in bed, kissing and fondling – well it is a sexploitation flick. The door creaks open and we see a shadow, a gun and the girls are shot dead. Cue title sequence with bats and groovy soundtrack.

Ted (Murray Brown, previously seen as Harker in the 1973 Dracula - EDIT: corrected as per comments) arrives at a hotel. He books a room for the night but is recognised as a guest from a while back by a man behind reception. Ted says he must be mistaken.

John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner) are in a car towing a caravan. Now can I just say here that, as they are caravaners, they deserve all that befalls them! (That was a joke, just in case I have offended any caravan enthusiast, I wouldn’t dare mock such a noble pursuit). As they drive along John notices Fran hitching at the side of the road and Harriet notices Miriam in the bushes nearby. This is the start of Harriet’s obsessive nosiness about the two women. After they have passed by, Fran is picked up by a driver in a mini.

John and Harriet park near a house (the same in which Fran and Miriam were killed). Harriet thinks the house feels ominous and wonders why the blonde (Miriam) was hiding in bushes. She also notices a light in the window of the decrepit house. Later Harriet is woken by the sound of a man’s scream. The rain is lashing down outside and suddenly a bloodied hand bangs against the window of the caravan, causing Harriet to scream and wake John. She insists he looks outside but no-one is there.

In the morning Harriet sees the women marching away from the house. We see them run towards a graveyard. We also see the mini, crashed and attended by the emergency services. A man is dead and naked. This is the feeding pattern of our two vampires, they pick up men by hitching and getting a ride home, have their wicked way and then fake a car crash. It is here where the complaints that the film makes no sense start. Why aren’t the emergency services suspicious of the number of crashes and, indeed, suspicious of the fact that all the drivers are naked and (presumably as we see this when we see a feed) have knife wounds in their corpses? To me there is an answer, and we’ll get to it soon.

The next pick up is Ted, but Fran changes her pattern with him. She has her wicked way and also feeds, but whilst she cuts his arm she doesn’t kill him. She makes it look like he cut his arm on glass, when drunk, and toys with him over a few days. Ted begins to see what is going on, especially when he sees a man Miriam picked up dead, the day after meeting him, in a faked crash. He also draws the caravanning couple more into the story by going to them for help with his wound and piquing Harriet’s interest in the goings on even more.

There are some clues as to the nature of the events through the film. In a rather sexy shower scene with the two vampires, Miriam comments that Fran plays a dangerous game and should simply kill Ted. Ted seems, vaguely, to recognise Fran but cannot place her. He also seems drawn back again and again, he could just leave. Finally, at the end of the film, as we see an uninjured Ted in his car being berated by an estate agent (Gerald Case) and we hear the estate agent say to the potential buyers that there had been a murder, that there is rumour of the ghosts of the two women killed haunting the house and a fear that the murderer will return (to the scene of the crime). Remember, also, that Ted was recognised at the hotel.

It is my theory that Ted is Fran and Miriam's killer, and the entire unfolding of events is either in his head or a trully paranormal event. Either way it is born from his guilt. That being the case, incongruous things like naked drivers in car crashes can be taken for what they are – events in the psychodrama being played around the murderer. After seeing the film I purchased a recent novelisation of the film by Tim Greaves – an excellent read by the way – and Greaves very much saw the film in the same way.

The vampire rules are a little confused at times. They mainly use a knife to kill but we do see a bite (but no hint of fangs) at one point. Though they appear able to venture out at dusk and dawn it seems that they must hide from the stronger sunlight. Most days they return to the graveyard but on one occasion they are stuck in the house and bunker down in the wine cellar. Some elements are a little more ghost like. The house is decrepit, other then the rooms they use. This was reminiscent of Castle of Blood. Watches seem to stop working in their presence.

Whether Harriet and John are real, or part of Ted’s psychodrama, is not explained. Certainly Harriet seems drawn into the games and at one point is touched on the forehead by Fran who says, “I always knew we’d find each other, by this sign I’ll recognise you.” The fact that this isn’t explored as completely is tantalising, if a little frustrating.

Atmosphere wise this film is great. The vampires pacing through the mist look wonderful, though don’t expect ethereal, they seem very corporeal. The wine cellar is great. At one point, when the vampires are hidden in there, Harriet breaks in and noses around, during this sequence Larraz draws a fantastically sinister atmosphere. Again, in terms of the psychodrama, at one point Harriet is stood with her back to two desiccated corpses and doesn’t notice them. It sounds odd here, but works on film.

There is, in fairness, a very hokey moment when the vampires have a wine connoisseur in their grasp. Much play is made through the film of the excellent wine they have. He tries to place it and Fran informs him he is wrong with his guess, it is a rare Carpathian vintage. That was, perhaps, one reference too far.

Acting wise, the best moment is when a rather ill Ted starts raving as he pieces together what is happening. The raving is reminiscent of a victim in Lovecraft, fear and panic abound but no means of escape seems to offer itself.

The film is available on DVD as a stand alone, but is also one of the films in the Box of Blood set.

I adore this film, it is mysterious, surreal, atmospheric and, as a sexploitation, very sexy. The reason this works so well, and the Franco mentioned at the head doesn’t, is that this film is brimming with story and tantalising hints at further story. A worthy 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK


Edna Sweetlove said...

You like VAMPYRES!? This would probably only get a 5 from Edna. Or maybe a 6 if I'm in a generous mood. It's OK but just doesn't seem a particularly well-made film to me. Ah well, that's warm, friendly France for you.

Edna Sweetlove said...

Oh btw, now it's Edna's turn to correct: I think you'll find that "chunky" Murray Brown actually played Harker in the Palance TV version not the Franco-Lee version.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Edna, your absolutely correct - it was the Palance version - I must have Franco on the brain - correcting the review right after my admission of incorrectness! lol

Anonymous said...

For me, it suffers in comparison to other 'lesbian vampire' movies like The Vampire Lovers and The Hunger. I would give it a 4 on its own merits, but bump it up to 5 due to a) cultural/historical significance, b) the (unintentional?) parody of the seventies ideal of the smoking, wine-appreciating, promiscuous male. They even emasculate one of them by turning a gash they made on his arm into a kind of bloody (menstrual?) cunnilingus. Or am I seeing symbolism that wasn't intended?

Halek ('anon' on Lemora and Blood & Roses comments - forgot to sign)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Halek

I can see why folks would view this at a lower end of the scale but for me it just works.

I think it is a very different piece than the other two you mention. Vampire Lovers is a period piece and the lesbianism is driven by the original story. The hunger is very arty.

I guess the hunger has a degree of the psychosexual storyline but this is brimming with it and I think thats why I love it so much. As for the gash, given that this is a psychosexual piece then perhaps you are not reading to much into it.