Female Vampire (1975)

Posted: May 5, 2014 in Movie Review
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Female Vampire (1973)

Director: Jesús Franco

Starring: Lina Romay, Jack Taylor, Alice Amo, Monica Swinn, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou

J’adore les films d’horreur Français! In the last few years, when American horror has been depressing the hell out of me by either coming up short or otherwise completely lacking in creativity, France is always there to cheer me up. Granted, not every French film I’ve seen has inspired a “C’est fantastique” reaction. Some have been quite terrible, actually. You have to take the bad with the good, I suppose. Yet, even with the bad… and this is true of any genre from any country… there is that little subset known as the “so-bad-its-good” movie, or the “guilty pleasure.” Coming across “Female Vampire” while browsing for titles on Netflix, I was immediately drawn in by the poster art (the same as above) and the fact that I like most horror movies from the mid-70’s to early 80’s. Still, with such a plain-sounding title, there wasn’t much I could make of it, and I knew that to watch it would be taking a chance. The most I could expect was that I would be in for some cheap B-movie with very little story and actors with grade school-quality talent. “Female Vampire” is all of these things, but there is another layer to it which I was unprepared for… and I don’t mean the French language dialogue with English subtitles.

Countess Irina von Karlstein (Lina Romay) is a young, beautiful woman whose favorite wardrobe choice consists of a long black cape, black boots, and a belt that has no real function whatsoever. Seeing her walking in this state of undress towards the camera in the film’s opening shot, my immediate reaction was that this was a perfectly reasonable way to begin any movie as far as I was concerned, but I was sure it was going to be the high-water mark. Boy, was I in for a shock! When the movie gets going, one of the first things Irina does is locate her first victim, a young man whose reaction to her appearance is likely the same as mine would be. Now, one of the very basic elements to any vampire tale is that the creature kills its prey by draining their blood, generally from a bite to the neck. This is not at all what Irina does. She wants your lifeforce, but she doesn’t take it from that red stuff flowing in your veins. Her attention is focused further down south as she performs oral sex on those whom she murders. That’s right: Irina’s victims die at the climax.

Watching the first few moments, I was resolved that the movie would work best if Irina never spoke. Incredibly, actress Lina Romay plays the entire thing as a mute, albeit with a few brief inner monologues. After seeing that first scene, it was clear there wouldn’t be much in the way of horror here. It was going to be one of “those” movies. My suspicions were correct, as the rest of the movie follows a pattern set up by its opening. Each situation she initiates is progressively steamier than the last. Very early on, it also becomes obvious that there is no real story to be found here. Anything resembling a plot is merely an impediment to the more “pleasurable” parts. There’s an out-of-nowhere scene where Irina encounters two women that seems to exist just so that the movie will have a lesbian threesome. The movie’s ending feels so rushed that I’m still not sure I fully understand what happened. Not that I cared by this point, as I had been too busy being slack-jawed with amazement that “Female Vampire” had so entirely fooled me as to the true nature of its content.

Had I been aware that “Female Vampire” is not the film’s original title, or that the version I saw was not the only one in existence, I might have had a better idea of what to expect. There are three distinct cuts of the film, distinguished by the amount of explicit material present. There is the R-rated version, titled “La comtesse noire” (or “The Black Countess”) in which Irina has more clothes on and acts as a traditional vampire in sucking the blood of her victims. The Unrated cut is “La Comtesse aux seis nus,” or “The Bare-Breasted Countess,” a more appropriate and descriptive title than “Female Vampire,” which is what it was later changed to. This one can best be described as softcore porn. Somewhere out there, a hardcore version also exists, called “Les avaleuses,” or “The Swallowers.” That would help explain why, in the softcore version, much of what goes on looks as though it has a certain authenticity to it. I have read that the director, Jesús “Jess” Franco, is considered by some to be France’s answer to Ed Wood. Like Ed Wood, Franco made a lot of movies which were universally considered to be “awful,” produced these films on the cheap, and had a cast and crew of regulars that he worked with often. Also like Ed Wood, Franco’s films retain a certain cult following despite their bad word-of-mouth from critics. I believe that my experience with “Female Vampire” was enhanced by my ignorance of these facts. For that reason, I apologize if my being so open about this movie leads to anyone, now having been spoiled, finding it difficult to enjoy what they see.

Of course, there will be those for whom “Female Vampire” simply was not intended, who consider it and movies like it to be trash. Some folks require a bit more substance to their cinematic experience. Hey, it’s okay. I need a healthy portion of that, myself. I also like the occasional schlock, especially when it takes me places I wasn’t expecting to go. To that end, “Female Vampire” may well be my favorite of its ilk. In a world where most horror films go overboard with the buckets of blood they throw at the screen, it’s nice to find one that takes a path to a much more pleasant extreme. I don’t feel sorry for any of the dead male AND female characters in this movie. Honestly, I think that has to be one of the more preferable ways to check out! As for this movie’s status as a “guilty pleasure,” I’m not sure it really qualifies because I don’t feel the least bit guilty about enjoying it. I just wouldn’t entertain the idea of watching it together with a group. Praise be to France for the creation of this exploitative, cotton candy gem, and here’s to hoping that I find more like it. Vive la France!


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