Very loosely based on Bram Stoker’s short story/unused prologue to Dracula, Dracula’s Guest, Vampyros Lesbos is the story of Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stroemberg) who, whilst working at a law firm in Turkey, suffers a series of erotic dreams (are they dreams or reality?) in which a beautiful woman (Soledad Miranda) seduces her and feeds on her blood.
Legendary cult director Jess Franco’s 1970 Vampyros Lesbos is arguably his most famous work and among his best. A trippy, arthouse take on the vampire genre, Franco reveals his surrealist tendencies that go for a dream world rather than a film based on heavy plot and realism, producing an abstract journey into horror. Franco always divided critics, seen by some as part of the Eurotrash period that got films made purely because of the commercial viability of sexual content (add Jean Rollin to that list) rather than any true artistic merit. They miss the point. There is a fast and loose aspect to Franco’s work. The curious zooms (a very period camera move); the cut to a scorpion. Ideas that make you wonder whether that was intentional or because he was in a rush to finish on a low budget? Either way, they work. The use of strip clubs and lesbian sex scenes also drew negative responses from the ‘serious’ critics of the time. Amusingly The Vatican denounced Franco as “the most dangerous director in the world” (probably best that the church keeps its head down when trying to draw attention to others, perhaps?) All seemed to forget that vampirism is fundamentally erotic, and always has been since the days of Varney the Vampire, Carmilla, and Dracula himself.
Vampyros Lesbos still has that early 70s chic, before the hangover of the 60s turned Seventies Europe into a place of darkness, austerity, terrorism, and political and financial uncertainty. (How times change!) The stunningly sexual Soledad Miranda (as Countess Nadine Carody) is perfectly cast as the vampire seeking to entwine Linda Westinghouse in her dark world. Franco would cast her again after shooting as he went immediately into production on She Killed in Ecstasy. He felt that he had found his muse and offered her a five-picture deal. Tragically, Soledad would never get to see the release of either Vampyros Lesbos or She Killed in Ecstasy. At the age of only 27, she was killed in a car crash near Lisbon. Franco described receiving the news as one of the worst days of his life.
Vampyros Lesbos remains an experimental and intriguing piece and the work of a man whose surrealistic approach shines through. The cult psychedelic soundtrack that enjoyed renewed success in the 1990s is also available on a separate CD on Severin Films’ release of She Killed in Ecstasy.
For Franco fans, this release provides them with the best version of the film to date as well as a host of special features, including one of the last interviews with Franco before his death in 2013.
For newcomers to Jess Franco’s work, Vampyros Lesbos will introduce them to the crazy, dream world of one of horror’s most unique directors, whose fans came to lovingly call ‘Uncle Jess’.
The Discs (Limited Edition of 7500)
Disc 1 (Blu-Ray):
Newly remastered HD presentation of the feature in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio
“Vampyros Jesus”: Interview featurette with Director Jess Franco
“Sublime Soledad”: Interview with Soledad Miranda Historian Amy Brown
“Stephen Thrower on Vampyros Lesbos”: Interview with Author of ‘Murderous Passions – The Delirious Cinema Of Jess Franco’
“Jess Is Yoda” Clip
Alternate German Opening Title Sequence – ‘Dracula’s Heiress’
Disc 2 (DVD):
Las Vampiras – Alternate Spanish Language bootleg VHS Version With Optional English Subtitles
Specially packaged in dye cut slipcase. Newly created cover art by Wes Benscoter.
David Paul Hellings
Image provided by author