(A.k.a. VAMPIROS LESBOS; LESBIAN VAMPIRES; THE HEIRESS OF DRACULA; THE SIGN OF THE VAMPIRE; THE STRANGE ADVENTURE OF JONATHAN HARKER; LESBOS)
Pretty blonde Linda (Ewa Stromberg) is plagued by a recurring dream in which a sultry brunette beckons her by name. While visiting a club one evening with boyfriend Omar (Andrea Montchal), Linda becomes entranced by the exotic, semi-clad dancing occurring on the stage. The woman at the centre of the act is the double of the vision in her dreams.
She is so perturbed by these dreams and the sense of arousal she experiences from them, that she visits psychiatrist Steiner (Paul Muller) for advice. He insists she's simply suffering from sexual repression and suggests an affair will sort out her anxieties.
Contrary to this advice, Linda decides that her and Omar need more quality time together. Alas, the Gods are against her and the legal firm she works for swiftly send her to Istanbul on business. While there, she is to obtain a binding signature from a certain Countess called Nadine (Soledad Miranda). Ignoring the warnings of sleazy hotelier Memmet (director Jess Franco), Linda ventures out to Nadine's remote chateau - and quickly finds herself falling under the spell of the alluring brunette ... who, incidentally, is also a dead-ringer for the woman of her dreams.
Nadine welcomes Linda into her abode and offers her a room for the evening. Our blonde protagonist accepts, clearly intrigued to learn more about her appealing hostess. But one curious night later, and Linda finds herself washed up on a local beach suffering from amnesia. Fortunately, Dr Seward (Dennis Price) takes her into his care. He has his own ideas about what Nadine may be.
As Omar finally tracks Linda down and takes her back to their hotel room for a spot of therapeutic bonking, Nadine confides to a servant that she has suddenly fallen under the spell of Linda - and feels the desperate need to inaugurate her into their vampire circle...
Taking the backbone of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" novel and subverting it by changing the main characters' genders, and consciously relocating classic scenes to sunny environs, Franco marked his break away from producer Harry Allen Towers with this trippy, visually arresting 1971 mindfuck. While staying true to the more popular aspects of his Towers-financed flicks - skin, violence, exotic locations - Franco entered into a fresh contract here with new producer Artur Brauner and was freed to indulge even further into surreal, psychedelic territory, the plot often taking a backseat to dazzling scenes of dreamlike oddness.
The result is a film to immerse yourself into. If you don't, I daresay you'll struggle to grapple with this one in conventional terms. On a narrative level, it could be argued that VAMPYROS LESBOS is slow and further hampered by wildly inconsistent performances. And horror fans looking for jump-thrills or gore are to be advised that Franco has no interest in delivering either. Rather, this is all about the dense atmosphere.
All of which is rather fabulously achieved via beautifully gaudy use of colour, a sexadelic jazz-lounge score to die for, Manuel Merino's meticulously considered cinematography and - of course - a captivating central turn from the late great Miranda.
She dominates every scene she's in, her casual beauty rivalled only by her ethereal deportment. Commanding and vulnerable in equal measures, she delivers a key performance. Price seems more sober than usual for the era; Stromberg is an agreeable heroine. Seeing the likes of Muller and even Franco in support roles just keeps things interesting in-between.
From hip dancing, to lesbian cavorting and sun-kissed foreign landscapes, VAMPYROS LESBOS is a joy to get lost in: just disengage from reality and let it absorb you with its bright red hues, swanky sounds and truly odd dreamlike ambience.
What about Franco's renowned penchant for zooms and dissolves, you may ask? The director behaves himself to a large extent here...
VAMPYROS LESBOS makes its way onto UK blu-ray, thanks to the efforts of Severin Films. Having recently also released this title in the US, it's unsurprising to find that the UK disc is a direct replica of its American counterpart - even down to the opening FBI copyright warning (the same is true of Severin UK's two other recent Franco blu-ray releases, BLOODY MOON and SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY).
The film is presented uncut (89 minutes 19 seconds) and in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The 16x9 picture is housed on this disc as an MPEG4-AVC file with full 1080p HD resolution, and has been restored from original negative materials. It looks superb.
For a film that relies so heavily on its distinctive visual elan, the picture quality is paramount to an audience enjoying the most out of VAMPYROS LESBOS. Here, the transfer - struck from a largely clean print - boasts pin-sharp detail, gloriously garish colours and a natural filmic texture which can only be described as "rich". With deep blacks, true flesh-tones and a light layer of natural grain retaining the integrity of this most authentic presentation, this is by far the best LESBOS has ever - and most likely ever will - looked.
German 2.0 audio is clean, clear and noise-free throughout. Separation of channels is handled well, allowing for reliable dialogue and a fine avenue for that iconic score to shine through when it needs to. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easily readable at all times.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 13 chapters.
A fine selection of bonus features begins with a 21-minute video interview with Franco, filmed shortly before his 2013 death. He speaks in English (but with the benefit of English subtitles, thankfully) about the joys of working with Brauner and Miranda, shooting on location, and how LESBOS came about only after an initially more ambitious adaptation was shelved. Chain-smoking throughout, of course, Franco makes for a good interviewee here - while that iconic score continues to play quietly beneath his dulcet tones.
"Simply Soledad" is a 20-minute homage to the late actress, in which biographer Amy Brown (check out the excellent site soledadmiranda.com and pledge towards Brown's forthcoming book on the beauty if you see fit) gives us both a history of the woman and a convincing argument as to her enduring charm. Bolstered by most welcome clips from Miranda's career, this is a must-see for fans.
Author Stephen Thrower provides an excellent 11-minute appraisal of the film, expanding on Franco's further ventures into abstract filmmaking when freed from Towers' narrative leash. He also makes the links between "Dracula" and VAMPYROS LESBOS more explicit, along with contextualising it alongside the commercial failure of Franco's previous COUNT DRACULA.
"Jess is Yoda" allows the late director the opportunity to tell an amusing, quite fascinating, 3-minute anecdote about his ties to the little green sage that will have STAR WARS fans creaming.
We also get VHS-quality German language opening titles (the opening titles on the print used are French). These run for 86 seconds. The original German trailer, at 2-and-a-half-minutes in length, is fun too: though it paints the film as being more salacious in the horror department than it actually is.
Currently available at a nice price online and in stores, it's great to see one of Franco's signature films make it onto blu-ray in the UK. Loaded with extra features and looking fantastic in HD, this really is a bargain for discerning genre fans.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Severin Films|
|see main review|