Severin Films make their return to the UK home video market with the Blu-ray release of two Jess Franco films in their library, She Killed in Ecstasy and Vampyros Lesbos – erotically charged Euro-horrors starring Franco fave Soledad Miranda which mark the pinnacle of Franco’s career. The former, a revenge thriller, is considered the best of the 200-odd films the Spanish auteur has made, whilst the latter is a crowd-pleasing slice of sleaze (who doesn’t love lesbian vampires) that is also an oddly-faithful adaptation of Dracula.
Stars: Soledad Miranda, Ewa Strömberg, Dennis Price, Paul Muller, Heidrun Kussin, José Martínez Blanco, Michael Berling, Andrea Montchal | Written by Jaime Chávarri, Jesús Franco, Anne Settimó | Directed by Jess Franco
Utilising the same cast of performers has always been something of a trait of Jess Franco’s but when you watch two of his films back-to-back (as I did with Severin’s latest Blu-ray offerings) it can be a little disconcerting. However whilst they may share the same actors, She Killed in Ecstasy and Vampyros Lesbos are like night and day thematically – the former is a overwrought revenge flick whilst this movie, despite the sleaze-filled promise of the title, is actually very much a straight-laced adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Albeit with some sapphic love thrown in for good measure! Oh, and guess what? That same over-used soundtrack from She Killed in Ecstasy is back again to repeat its hypnotic disco-funkiness here too!
Vampyros Lesbos sees lawyer Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stromberg) – whilst in Istanbul on business – finding herself having dreams of a mysterious woman. When she travels to the island estate of a Hungarian Countess (Soledad Miranda) she finds herself entranced by the woman who has inherited her fortune from Count Dracula.
Even on paper that sounds like a flimsy plot, and on screen it’s no different. But this is Jess Franco – if you’ve seen any of his movies you’ll know he doesn’t need a plot on which to hang his films, he certainly doesn’t here. Instead he fills Vampyros Lesbos with haunting, oddly hallucinating, visuals. Nowhere moreso than the mesmerising and incredibly erotic in-film stage performances of Soledad Miranda – she contorts and twists around the stage, and her co-performer, in a snake-like manner and, like in She Killed in Ecstasy, its clear she’s giving everything to her role; such is the natural, raw, performance of Soledad Miranda… It’s a damn shame she passed away before either film saw a wide release.
Watching Vampyros Lesbos today, it’s actually quite surprising just how faithful this sleazy film is to the Bram Stoker tale. Whilst Franco make take liberties with the erotic content, the core of the original story is there – the supernatural realtionship between Linda and the Countess reflects Dracula’s relationship with Lucy Westenra; Franco even has his own Renfield in Heidrun Kussin’s mental patient Agra; and Van Helsing in the form of Dr. Seward (Dennis Price).
Not as effective (at least in terms of a comprehensive story) as She Killed in Ecstasy, Vampyros Lesbos is still a fantastic example of Jess Franco’s work and the kind of boundary-pushing eroticism that was prevalent in European cinema of the late 60s/early 70s; add to that a stunning performance from Soledad Miranda and this is a winning package!
Picture quality on both discs is amazing considering not only the age of the films, but the throwaway nature in which many of Jess Franco’s movies were made. Both Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy are presented in fully restored, fully uncensored versions – even if that means some of the inserted footage is of a lesser quality, both in terms of image and audio, but in exchange for having uncut versions of both films? I can live with that. Besides, for the most part, both films have crisp, colourful prints and feature minimal amounts of excessive grain – grain which only really becomes noticeable during the aforementioned inserted scenes – but otherwise both films look stunning in HD.
This new Blu-ray from Severin is packed with special features, including interviews with Jess Franco himself, interviews with Franco experts Amy Brown (Soledad Miranda historian) and Stephen Thrower (author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jess Franco) and the German trailer for Vampyros Lesbos. The disc also contains the alternate German opening sequence featuring the title “Dracula’s Heiress”.
Vampyros Lesbos is released in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD on November 30th from Severin Films.