Thursday, 24 April 2008

Female Vampire (1973)

The Countess Irina Karlstein in Jess Franco’s 1973 film Female Vampire is indeed a vampire, but she doesn’t suck blood from her victims. You could say she sucks sexual energy from them. I’ll leave it to your imagination to figure out how she does this. Even for an early 70s Jess Franco movie Female Vampire has an astonishing amount of sex and nudity. Having said this, given the movie’s premise none of the sex or nudity is actually gratuitous. The Countess Irina really is a slave to her hungers, to the extent that really there isn’t any more to her than those hungers. There’s a scene, a rather chilling and very effective scene, in which the Countess continues to take her pleasure from one of her victims after he is clearly dead. That scene conveys her essential emptiness and her loneliness remarkably well, as does her somewhat compulsive self-pleasuring. Lina Romay’s performance has been criticised but I personally think it’s perfect.

Since vampirism does tend to be a metaphor for various types of sexual anxiety and sexual fears the premise of the movie does make perfect sense. What makes Jess Franco both outrageous and interesting as a film–maker is that he’s prepared to push this idea of sexual vampirism much further than any other film-maker would dare. It certainly goes close to being pornographic, but (whatever the failings of his later films) in the early 70 Franco really did go closer than anyone else to achieving a fusion of art an pornography. The DVD includes footage from the much tamer version prepared for US release. This version replaces the sexual vampirism with plain old traditional blood-sucking vampirism, and judging by these scenes the non-sexual version is inferior in every way. Female Vampire is in fact the best of the half-dozen Franco films I’ve seen so far, and it’s one of the more interesting and atmospheric vampire movies around. It has the typical Jess Franco surreal touches and lack of interest in conventional linear narrative, and they work extremely well. I admit that I’m biased because I’m very much a Franco-phile, but I definitely recommend this movie.

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