Well...at least I didn't have to take a lot of notes. Kino Lorber's Redemption Films imprint has released Female Vampire (original title: Les avaleuses...as well as The Bare-Breasted Countess, The Black Countess, The Loves of Irina, Erotic Kill, Erotikill, and The Swallowers), Jess Franco's 1973 soft-core porn vampire flick starring his future wife Lina Romay, Jack Taylor, Alice Arno, Monica Swinn, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, and Franco himself. Basically plotless, Female Vampire heavily relies on two of Franco's mainstays―atmosphere and sex―and judged on those counts, it still doesn't work (and god help me if I ever have to hear that horrible "Debbie Does the entire Peanuts® Gang" score again). The shorter, sexless, more bloody Erotikill version of Female Vampire is included here, along with some other helpful bonuses.
The Island of Madeira, February 22, 1974. Infamous Countess Irina Karlstein (Lina Romay) emerges from the foggy island forest and comes upon a farmer (Roger Germanes) who, after spying Irina's outfit―black leather go-go boots, a black-leather belt, a cape...and zero clothes―politely asks if he can help her before he willingly allows her to pin him up against a chain-link fence, where she performs oral sex on him, killing him at the climax (apparently they never discussed this scenario at 4-H). His death/pleasure screams are heard across the island by Baron Von Rathony (Jack Taylor), an author who has written a poetic account of his meeting Countess Irina...before he's ever met her. Irina arrives at a luxury resort hotel, and proceeds to sexually devour a paid escort, before granting an interview with blonde, busty journalist Anna (Anna Watican), who's fully aware that Irina is descended from vampires. Anna questions the mute Irina about the farmer's murder but gets nowhere, but meeting Irina turns out to be a deadly mistake for Anna, since Irina soon psychically calls out to the increasingly disturbed journalist that night. Meanwhile, Dr. Roberts (Jess Franco), the doctor who performed the autopsy on the farmer, tells the local police detective that the farmer was killed by lethal hummer (Latin term: mortis Hoover®itis), which cracks up the disbelieving inspector. Too bad the inspector didn't listen, because more people soon wind up dead, before the Baron finds true love with Irina...or does he?
I reviewed Franco's The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff last year, and as much as I touted that film for relying on atmosphere above all else, Orloff's thread-bare plotting looks like a David Mamet puzzle compared to the empty-but-tone-heavy Female Vampire. Now, my DVDTalk colleague Ian Jane reviewed the Blu-ray version of this release, and found Female Vampire quite moving (his excellent review can be found here). I, on the other hand, found it a fairly repetitive exercise in soft-core sex scenes (edited down from full-on hard-core, from all accounts) and bargain-basement vampire ennui. If you're comparing Female Vampire to most other hard/soft-core grind efforts from that time period (at least the ones here in the States), of course you'll give the nod to Franco for trying to do something different with the genre's low expectations. Franco's obsessive fetishisms are resolutely incorporated into his moody, dark, cramped visual schematic, creating a claustrophobic, even oppressive mood that, before it wears out its welcome, is miles above the garishly-lit, no-story/no-characters/no-logic grind efforts that make up 99% of the genre (trade that truly gawd-awful score for something appropriately sinister, and maybe things would have been different...). Judging the movie on its soft-core elements alone (because they obviously dominate), you also have to give Franco credit for finding a performer like Romay who can convincingly convey personal erotic satisfaction when she's performing. Clearly, Romay enjoys what she's doing here, and it translates on the screen―a rarity. It certainly doesn't hurt that she's also so much better looking than a lot of the women featured in hard-core at the time, with a combination lush, full body and an intriguingly mask-like countenance that provide blanket fantasy projections for most horny viewers.
That being said...had Female Vampire contained just one or two of Franco's and Romay's celebrated extended sex scenes (they do go on a bit...), then the viewer might have gotten more out the storyline than just a boner. As it stands in this extended cut, the sex scenes become overkill out of repetition (sure she's hot...but she's doing the same thing every time), with the viewer rightly suspecting that Franco doesn't really have anything else to say during this 100 minutes except, "check out my hot girlfriend's crotch/ass/breasts." And that's fine for Franco. Quite a few interviews he's given indicate he shoots for his own pleasure (the physical act of shooting and watching his wife have sex was more pleasurable, apparently, than actually creating a movie). So I say more power to him. But obsessive fetishism without a meaningful context ultimately becomes, well...boring, frankly, and the warmed-over, half-baked "lonely vampire" philosophizing he throws in as mortar for the sex scenes, doesn't compensate. We've all seen the "tortured vampire who despises his fate and his inability to stop feeding" jazz countless times before (after all, it's built right into the central myth), so Franco isn't giving us anything new when he has Romay (or whomever might be dubbing her) lamenting her curse in phony existential terms. By the end of Female Vampire, that whinging-on doesn't feel tragic or sad or even blue, but rather tacked-on for obvious reasons: the sex scenes have to be linked-up somehow, so why not have Irina vamp (sorry) about depression, and sorrow, and destiny, inbetween her getting drilled? That will seem...artistic. It's a calculated move on Franco's part, to say the least...and not at all effective.
Aside from Franco's penchant for deliberately going in and out of focus, the anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 transfer has been "mastered in HD from the original film elements"...film elements that are pretty badly scratched in places, faded-out here and there, and darker in other spots. Still, overall, this looks quite good with a sharpish image and no compression issues to speak of.
The extended version of Female Vampire carries both a French and English-dubbed mono audio track (adequate, with slight fluctuations but nothing crazy). English subtitles are available.
First, a U.S. release version of Female Vampire, re-badged Erotikill, is included here. It runs only 70 minutes, dubbed in English (with no subtitles), with almost all of the sex scenes drastically cut or eliminated, and a few bloody inserts included to make you think Irina kills the old-fashioned way for vampires. Zero atmosphere, with only skin and no sex equals "so long Erotikill." Next, 2012's Destiny in Soft Focus: Jess Franco Remembers Female Vampire, running 13:35, has Franco discussing the film and his love for Romay. Next, 2012's Words for Lina, running 12:38, has co-star Jean-Pierre Bouyxou discussing the love affair of Franco and Romay, apparently only days after the star died. Finally, several original trailers are included:
Maybe I needed my filth a little less dirty.... Jess Franco's Female Vampire has broody, morose atmosphere to spare...but then he just keeps senselessly laying it on, with no let up either from the repetitive sex scenes or the clichéd "I hate being a lonely vampire" tripe. Give him credit, though, for taking a thoroughly disreputable genre and trying to do something with it. A rental is best for Female Vampire.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.