VAMPYROS LESBOS: Blu ray Review (Severin Films.. 2015)
Short review: Severin’s drop-dead gorgeous Blu-ray presentation of Jess Franco’s iconic female vampire masterwork is destined to become the crown jewel of your Jess Franco collection…
I have collected numerous video and digital versions of this much sought after Jess Franco title since 1991 or so when I purchased a poor quality, uncut German language version, onscreen title-VAMPYROS LESBOS-ERBIN DES DRACULA [The Lesbian Vampires-Heirs of Dracula], duped on VHS by the notorious VSOM. It contained the following evocative quote from Heinrich Heine’s poem, HELENA, in the opening credits, which suggest the film’s theme and clarify its dreamlike action: “Press thy lips against my lips–Divine is the mortal breath–I drink thy soul from thee–Insatiable is death…”
Legal agent Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stroemberg) hears the supernatural call of the Countess Nadine Carody (Soledad Miranda, credited as “Susann Korda” in this erotic German version), leading her to a small island near Istanbul. Linda’s conscious mind tells her she is there to settle the will of Count Dracula, which transferred his property to “the woman who made his life worth living”, the other worldly Countess whom Dracula saved from ravishment by invading hordes in past times. The blood of the enemy transformed her into a female vampire with a lust for human blood. Linda’s trek becomes a journey into the unconscious mind where she will succumb to and eventually destroy the ambiguous Nadine. Dracula may be the “structuring absence” here, felt if not seen, but this is a feminist revision which arrived at the perfect time in 20th Century pop culture.
An oneiric horror poem which unfolds in exotic Istanbul, VAMPYROS LESBOS is prime Jess Franco, with the look of a candy colored fever dream and the sound of a lounge symphony playing in alternate dimension. As writer Stephen Thrower points out in his bonus comments the film is basically Bram Stoker’s DRACULA turned upside down and inside-out. There’s the classic line from the Lugosi DRACULA, “I don’t drink… wine” but delivered in a feminine context this time. Women are the center of attention is Jess Franco’s universe and his females are endlessly fascinating, unpredictable and have a separate integrity from the males in his films, who are usually more conventional, duller and dryer. The exception here is the Istanbul hotel night porter Memeth, played as a hunched over sex-crazed sadist whose mission is to gain sexual gratification by abducting and torturing beautiful women to death, which he attempts to do to Linda. Soledad Miranda gave her most iconic performance here, performing Nadine’s elaborate sadistic/erotic strip shows in a crowded club holding a candelabra as she regards her own visage in a mirror. She’s both distant and ethereal. It’s all very delirious and like so many Jess Franco films it opens with an extended erotic performance by its female lead before finally settling down to Linda’s psychoanalysis session (conducted by frequent Franco character actor Paul Muller). All told a nearly 9 minute, almost wordless sequence which trusts us into this world of swirling crimsons, blinding yellows and aquamarines in which rational consciousness quickly drowns. Brightly colored kites, sub-aquatic scorpions, sudden jets of blood point the way to madness, death and incomprehensible resurrection in this matrix.
A breathtakingly beautiful 1.66:1 HD transfer, this can only be termed an essential Blu-ray of a key Jess Franco film. The colors are absolutely stunning, especially phosphorescent reds, signaling erotic danger, laced with shimmering emeralds pumped in via subtly placed color gels. Considering that, outside of a recent German Blu-ray from the same elements, the two previous US DVDs, from SYNAPSE and IMAGE, were both compromised by flawed video quality and cropped framing, this is the definitive presentation. The detail, definition, picture information and sharpness result in an almost 3D effect, which makes this particular film all the more seductive and mysterious.
Above: the crimson kite and its psychedelic tail skitters across the ancient cityscape of Istanbul signalling other worldly adventure and danger…
Also included are the aforementioned Stephen Thrower interview and a fascinating, detailed presentation of the late star’s singing, dancing and acting career, along with some information on her family and her tragic early death, complete with many rare television, sound and film clips, by Soledad Miranda historian Amy Brown. A 20m interview with Jess Franco in which he discusses the origin of the film, its commercial success, working with German producer Artur Brauner, his difficulties with directing Ms. Stroemberg and his own interest in vampires is also included along with an amusing “Jess is Yoda”clip, the original German trailer and the alternate German opening title sequence. The latter is the only place on any disc presentation where the full main title, in German, and crucial Heine quote appear.
Disc 2 of this fully loaded package contains the alternate, censored Spanish version of VAMPYROS LESBOS. Titled LAS VAMPIRAS this version first surfaced in Spain as a 1974 theatrical release with Jess Franco’s 1971 shot-in-Brazil jungle adventure VUELO AL INFIERNO [X312-FLIGHT TO HELL]. This cut all the nudity and Miranda’s spicy-sadistic strip acts and some of the bloody violence all on display in the German VAMPYROS LESBOS… release. A prosaic, or poetic-prosaic narration was added, voiced by dubber/actor Jose Martinez Blanco, who plays the assistant of Dr. Seward (Dennis Price) in both films. A female narrator is also heard, representing Linda’s (Alice here) point of view. Soledad Miranda is credited under her own name, apparently because the film didn’t contain any nudity/sex which would embarrass her family. She is capably voiced by the prolific Spanish dubber Delia Luna, who would dub actresses in other Jess Franco films (i.e. Andrea Guzon in the Spanish version of SADOMANIA-1981). Film director and dubber Juan Logar (AUTOPSY) voices Jess Franco in this version, effectively adopting a chilling sex pervert’s whisper.
Although presented via a 1.66:1 transfer (still more balanced than the cropped IMAGE disc) from a blurry, color faded, washed-out VHS bootleg, the optional English subtitles provide some interest and make this worth watching at least once for comparison and contrast sake. Information is given at the opening on the strange “Kovek… Trekatsh” incantation along with a backstory of the Princesss involving “a miniscule island not far from Istanbul, in the ruins of an old palace [where] ancient legends… say… a foreign Princess was sentenced to confinement by … a great sultan… surrounded by her slaves…” this Princess apparently evolved in Nadine/Nadia Carody, future vampiress and heiress of Dracula. It’s unclear if Franco or the Spanish censors came up with this exotic tall tale background but it adds another layer to the mystique.
This version replaces the startling, brassy, organ and honky-tonk-piano driven Manfred Hubler-Siegfried Schwab original score with a very different score co-composed by Jess Franco himself. It is much more somber, dissonant and far less memorable, but adds an interesting element of clinical/bipolar depression to this title. A lot of the punch of VAMPYROS LESBOS… comes from that original score, which seems to drive the film at 180 mph. This version also contains an oneiric shot at 24m 40s of Soledad Miranda standing in a small boat which looks like an outtake from SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, which was made right after VL in June 1970.
Please add any comments or anything I might have missed in the reply section. There’s a lot here in this Special Limited 2-Disc Collectors Edition, which is definitely in the running for the best ever presentation of a Jess Franco film in HD. Highly recommended given that VAMPYROS LESBOS was Franco’s most boldly Surrealist excursion into the unknown zone since NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS (1967). Most importantly, it didn’t have producer/distributor interference as did, say, VENUS IN FURS (1970). It remains one of his most personal,
commercially successful projects and is 100% “Jess Franco”…
Special Thanks to Nzoog
(C) Robert Monell, 2015