Blue Underground // Unrated // $19.95 // May 27, 2003
Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 19, 2003
Highly Recommended
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Graphical Version
"Naked girls and lots of blood. That's what Vampyres is about."

So says director José Ramón Larraz, and that's as solid a plot summary as any for this thinly-plotted film. Since I have plenty of space to fill, I suppose I'll be a bit more descriptive. 1974's Vampyres begins with two lovely young lasses groping each other as an unseen murderer trots into the room, shooting them both dead. Characters who earn a prominent place on the cover art generally aren't so quickly dispatched, and their bodies don't appear to be riddled with bullets when we see Fran and Miriam (Marianne Morris and former Playboy playmate Anulka Dziubinska, respectively) again a few short minutes later.

Vacationing couple John and Harriet pass by the skulking sirens on a lonely stretch of road. John doesn't give them much thought, but Harriet is instantly intrigued, convinced from her brief glimpse that something nefarious is lurking underneath the surface. Harriet's right on the mark, of course. Miriam and Fran scour the roadside, posing as hitchhikers and seducing their victims into a fatal visit to their run-down palatial estate. It's typically a screw-and-stab affair in which the ladies violently attack their newfound lovers, indulging their thirst by lapping the gashes in a blood-crazed frenzy.

This time around is a bit different. Much to Miriam's chagrin, Fran takes a shining to her latest victim. Every night, Fran feasts on her lover Ted, drinking from a gaping wound on his arm. With every meal, Ted finds himself increasingly weakened, torn between his carnal lusts and his will to survive. Ted and Harriet eventually cross paths, compelling her further to investigate the odd happenings at the seemingly abandoned mansion.

The titular beasts in Vampyres (and feel free to interpret "titular" however you'd like) aren't the usual creatures of the night, and the word "vampire" isn't uttered once throughout its 88 minute runtime. There are no coffins, stakes, fangs, crucifixes, strings of garlic, or transmogrifications. Fran and Miriam avoid the daylight whenever possible, and although their motivations for doing so remain unexplained, the film makes it clear that it isn't out of fear of bursting into flames.

Vampire mythos have typically been thought of as sexual in nature, from the seductive gaze of the undead to the imagery of fangs penetrating flesh. Vampyres isn't quite so subtle in its metaphors. Sex is a passionate, almost violent act, followed by -- and sometimes part of -- the feasting of blood. Miriam and Fran don't lightly drink from a couple of pinholes in a neck. They tear into their victims, lapping up blood with ferocity, writhing with pleasure, and exchanging crimson kisses with one another.

Vampyres was shot on the shoestring budget of £40,000, but despite the limited resources available, it looks much better than the bulk of direct-to-video lesbian vampire cheapies that litter store shelves nowadays. For one, it benefits from the presence of cinematographer Harry Waxman, who had previously lensed such notable films as The Wicker Man, A Bridge Too Far, and Sapphire, the latter of which garnered a award from the British Society of Cinematographers. The production makes the most of its stunning surroundings, from the lush British countryside to one notable exterior that ought to ring familiar to Hammer Films devotees.

In a movie like this, I would normally expect the less lurid moments to be excruciatingly dull. Although the film is certainly guilty of moving at a leisurely pace and can be rather repetitive, I never found Vampyres to be at all boring. Perhaps it's just that the elements that have garnered Vampyres such adoration in genre circles give the movie enough momentum to plow through the slower stretches. I wouldn't consider Vampyres to be a 'scary' movie, whatever that means, but these scenes are certainly intense. Miriam and Fran turn feral during the murders and love-making, scarcely recognizable as human. The lengthy sex scenes between the two young women are similarly unflinching, steering clear of the lace and soft lighting clichés. These portions are integrated into the film seamlessly and come across as part of a greater whole, rather than merely exploitive or out-of-place.

Vampyres is one of two lesbian-tinged vintage vampire flicks being released by Blue Underground on May 27th. Like its sister release, Daughters of Darkness, Vampyres had previously been released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment, a company over which Bill Lustig reined before moving shop to Blue Underground. Rather than merely repackage the previous releases under a new label, Blue Underground has provided new transfers and supplements for both titles. In the case of Vampyres, an additional thirty seconds or so of formerly-excised material was reincorporated into the film, making for the first genuinely uncut release on home video.

Video: Although the Anchor Bay release of Vampyres was enhanced for widescreen televisions and generally well-received, Blue Underground opted to provide an entirely new transfer for this DVD. Vampyres looks wonderful, though its age and low-budget origins remain evident. The palette has an unmistakably drab '70s look to it, occasionally tinted a light brown. Film grain is present to greatly varying degrees throughout, as is to be expected from a movie shot on such a slim budget. The movie is compressed such that the grain doesn't devolve into a blocky digital mess, and mild film grain is obviously greatly preferable to an artificially smoothened appearance. Speckling and the like are infrequent and never intrusive, and the source material used exhibits little in the way of wear and tear. Blue Underground's release marked my introduction to Vampyres, and though I don't have a direct point of reference, I'd imagine this disc is representative of the way the film appeared during its theatrical run.

Audio: The monaural audio is reasonably robust, free of any underlying crackling or similar distortion. Dialogue and sound effects are clear and discernable, if somewhat dated. I've recorded a sample line of dialogue (192kps mp3; 42.2K) to provide a general idea. No concerns or complaints.

For those to whom it matters, there are no subtitles or closed captions.

Supplements: Vampyres features quite a bit in the way of extras, beginning with the audio commentary from the Anchor Bay release. The discussion pairs director José Ramón Larraz with producer Brian Smedley-Aston. Larraz' thick accent, his admitted lack of familiarity with the English language, and basically his being an all-around lech make for a pretty entertaining commentary. Vampyres, with its discussions of sharing balls (64kps mp3; 60.4K) and Anulka's naughty bits (64kps mp3; 59.2K), ranks only behind Evil Dead Trap as the most unexpectedly hysterical commentary track I've ever listened to. Notes about the casts' genetalia aside, there is quite a bit of substance to the commentary. From financing to art design to reusing Hammer locales, most every possible topic of discussion is touched upon at some point.

The anamorphic widescreen "Return of the Vampyres" (13:39) interviews stars Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska. The topics tackled include their background in entertainment, their introduction to the project, the peppermint taste of the stage blood, the contrast between the volatile director and the impeccably polite producer, dealing with the extensive and somewhat unexpected amount of nudity, and concludes with their career moves after production wrapped.

A pair of theatrical trailers are presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The international trailer is two and a half minutes of clips chosen almost at random from the movie, lacking the expected narration and teetering on frightfully dull. The U.S. trailer (3:06) is more appealing, stringing together virtually every shot in the movie with any nudity or grue. Even better is the unusually scripted voiceover work: "Succulent...sinister...theirs is the ultimate lust. They are vampyres...very unnatural ladies!"

The "'Lost' Caravan scene" uses a series of twenty-three photographs to reconstruct an excised scene from the final moments of the film. Photos also feature prominently in two of the disc's other supplements. The comprehensive "Poster and Still Gallery" is divided into various categories, featuring six posters, 27 shots from press books and advertising materials, 71 publicity stills, 82 behind-the-scenes photos snapped on-set, and three shots of video releases. My favorite of the lot is a photo of the two leading ladies lying naked on a bed, each eating a sandwich, though I probably shouldn't admit to that. Finally, the "Anulka Glamour Gallery" features twenty-two selected shots from Anulka's modeling career.

The last of the set-top accessible extras is a biography of director José Ramón Larraz. The DVD-ROM portion of the disc includes the second edition of Tim Greaves' 67-page "Vampyres: A Tribute to the Ultimate in Erotic Horror Cinema" in its entirety, in Adobe Acrobat format.

Vampyres sports a set of 16x9-enhanced menus, beginning with a series of nicely-battered clips from the film as well as animated transitions throughout. The insert card offers artwork from a Spanish one-sheet, with the disc's twenty-one chapter stops listed on the flipside.

Conclusion: The darkly erotic Vampyres has been improved further in its second release on DVD. A fully-uncut film, newly produced supplements, and attractive price point may convince owners of the well-liked current release to upgrade. Vampyres is also entertaining and accessible enough to make for an early addition to the collections of budding Eurohorror enthusiasts. Available online for as little as $12 shipped, Blue Underground's DVD release of Vampyres is highly recommended.

Related Links: Blue Underground's Vampyres page includes the U.S. theatrical trailer, for those who want to get a glimpse of the film before plunking down any cash.

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