Thursday, July 15, 2021

Legend of the Golden VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971)

Golden Anniversary Dept. - Released on this day--15 July--in 1971, VAMPYROS LESBOS, Jess Franco's trippy, sexy, psychedelic, so-arty-it's-always-about-to-pop vampire epic.

About 13 years ago, I wrote about my first experiences with Jess Franco's movies (which, by then, were, themselves, years in the past). About VAMPYROS LESBOS, I wrote:
"Bela Lugosi's 1931 DRACULA has been sequelized, remade, rehashed and referenced more times than can be easily counted but this is the only time anyone set out to produce a "remake"--if one can call it that--that consciously reversed everything in the movie. Franco's film is like a negative image of it. Night becomes day, cold Carpathian environs fall to warm Mediterranea, hetero Count becomes lesbian Countess, Puritanical vampire hunter becomes a degenerate obsessed with becoming a vampire himself.
The film's heroine, the sad and lonely--but still fearsome--Countess Carody, is essayed by the stunning Soledad Miranda. As I wrote back then, she "dominates the film with her remarkable presence. Bela never drank... wine, but when Franco zoomed into Soledad's exquisite face as she tells us 'I love this wine,' well, I may not have literally danced a jig in joy but the impulse were certainly there." For Soledad, this was one of a string of movies with Franco that led to a studio contract that would have made her a major star. Unfortunately, she died after an auto accident on her way to a party to celebrate signing it--only 27 years old.

This was Franco's follow-up to his own COUNT DRACULA, starring Christopher Lee in the title role, with Soledad as Lucy Westenra. That picture had been an effort to create the first faithful sound adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel[1] but had been hampered by budget issues. It had its flourishes, to be sure, but it was an example of Franco trying to go mainstream, which almost inevitably proves to be the least interesting Franco material. I'd like to think VAMPYROS LESBOS was his palate cleanser. Working from, at root, the same material, Franco just threw out all the rules, went wild and experimental, pursued his own obsessions, made it his own, an utterly unique, hypnotic, hallucinatory dream-made-film--both galaxies different and galaxies better than the earlier picture.

In trying to describe the music for VAMPYROS LESBOS, I'm left at a bit of a loss. "Free-form" is probably the closest I'm going to get. Jazz, progressive, strange stuff from another world. Utterly unique, the only place you'll ever hear the kind of music featured in this film is in the other two Franco/Miranda pictures also scored that year by Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab.[2] The music for all 3 was released as "The Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party," and became a hit decades after the film first appeared. Quentin Tarantino used one of its tracks in JACKIE BROWN (1997).

This is a grossly inadequate write-up for such an extraordinary film. I only realized this was the anniversary of its release too late to do it justice before the day was over! Franco is one of my cinematic heroes, a guy who could take a camera, some friends, a few rolls of quarters and some bologna sandwiches and make something so extraordinary that people are still talking about it decades later. This is one of his best.



[1] For all the sound Dracula movies up until then, the productions had given little attention to--or, more often, had entirely ignored--the original text.



  1. Paisan!

    Reading this, I was delighted to find somebody besides myself who can see through the popular conception of Jess Franco as "Worse Than Ed Wood" as a filmmaker.

    I wrote a brief series of "notes" for a blog here -

    1. Ed Wood and Franco have some things in common. They were both male, they both drank water, breathed air, made movies and they were both artists. Wood was an artist without talent though, and anyone who would describe Franco like that is a clown bereft of judgment, a troll only looking to raise the hackles of those to whom he directs his remarks or just an innocent who hasn't enough experience with the director, probably saw some of his less-than-award-worthy pictures, and who should be pitied and directed by the faithful in a direction that will correct his misperceptions.

  2. I have to admit, it's been a minute since I last watched a Franco film.

    1. Need to fix that! One should never get too far from one's last Franco.