Reviews

José Ramón Larraz

UK, 1974

Credits

Review by Megan Weireter

Posted on 23 February 2011

Source Blue Underground DVD

Categories Lesbian Vampires

The lesbian vampire films we’ve been covering this week all mingle eroticism with horror, but Vampyres might be the film among these that ventures furthest into the territory of pure erotica. When you’re only halfway through the film and you’ve already hit the fifth sex scene – without even a hint of a vampire fang yet – it’s easy to wonder if you accidentally rented some kind of softcore fetish porn instead of the vampire movie you intended to check out. As the sex-drenched atmosphere grows in intensity, though, scenes of increasing violence start to naturally emerge from the scenes of sex, as if they’ve both sprung from the same source. What makes Vampyres work as a horror film is that the lust on display is so overwhelming that it can’t help but also be completely destructive. While it’s not exactly groundbreaking to point out the thin line between sex and violence, Vampyres almost doesn’t see a line at all. In this film, sex is violence.

The premise of this sexy nightmare is simple enough: Fran and Miriam, our gorgeous vampire heroines, wander out every evening in voluminous capes to hitchhike, always convincing some young man to pick them up and drive them back to their derelict old mansion, where they live in a few lushly appointed rooms deep inside. The men never seem to need much convincing to come inside for a glass of wine to thank them for their trouble, and what follows is an unforgettable evening of luxury and seduction. The very red wine flows freely, the women make for charming company, and their companions are likely to end up at least getting laid before getting killed. There are moments of great comedy that arise from all of this, including one long scene in which the ladies entertain a snooty self-described connoisseur who exclaims over the well-stocked wine cellar and nakedly angles for a threesome. To dispose the bodies of their victims, they simply put return them to their cars and park them back out on the road in staged car crashes, albeit car crashes that have mysteriously drained the drivers of their blood. Over and over again, policemen cart away the bodies and tow the cars, apparently never stopping to wonder why this seems to happen daily in their otherwise sleepy little hamlet.

Things only start to go sour when one particularly charismatic man intrigues Fran enough that she keeps him alive a little too long, leaving her and Miriam at risk of being discovered. Ted is introduced as a surly out-of-towner, and while there are early hints of his backstory, it’s all quickly dispensed with once he picks up Fran by the side of the road. The two seem to have a rapport, although it’s hard to tell whether Fran is merely practicing the art of seduction or whether she’s genuinely interested in this guy. When they inevitably make it to the bedroom for the first time, Ted proves a bumbling but aggressive lover, and perhaps it’s that aggressiveness that Fran responds to positively. At any rate, she refrains from killing him that first night, merely cutting a long gash into his arm. Throughout the film, she licks and nibbles at the blood oozing from the cut, eventually weakening Ted to the point at which he no longer has the physical power to even leave the house. Not that he’d necessarily want to do so anyway—though he’s too weak to initiate, he seems perfectly responsive during his final sex scene, in which Fran and Miriam make out with each other across his body, lick his wound fervently, and otherwise pretty much ignore him. Still, Miriam senses that it’s dangerous to keep Ted around for too long, and warns Fran of this while they shower together—right before she dives between her legs. Yes, whatever else happens in the film, Vampyres is always ready to veer suddenly into more sexy sex. (By the shower scene, though, even the most enthusiastic viewers might start to look at their watches.)

Although it’s an unabashedly erotic film, Vampyres does pay homage to the conventions of horror in which it’s rooted, and eventually finds a uniquely horrifying voice of its own. Most of the action takes place in and around Oakley Court, the famous Victorian house that appears in several Hammer films (including 1960’s The Brides of Dracula) as well as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To amp up the gothic feel, the film is peppered with scenes of Fran and Miriam striding dramatically through the melancholy English countryside with stony expressions, the wind billowing their capes out around them. Meanwhile, a typically naïve young couple decide to camp on the grounds of the house for several days, the boyfriend laughing off the girlfriend’s discomfort and strange, ultimately prescient nightmares by reminding her that it’s clearly just an old abandoned house. Waiting for these two idiots to eventually get knocked off is all in good classic horror movie fun.

The mythology of vampirism is a bit nontraditional here, and in some ways might also be influenced by gothic haunted-house stories. The opening scene, for instance, finds Fran and Miriam shot and killed mid-coitus by a mysterious gunman. While it’s never entirely clear what the significance of this is, other than to begin the movie in the most bombastic way possible, it appears that this is a flashback, and that the two of them have been haunting the house ever since—which would make them strange ghost/vampire hybrids, or perhaps not even true vampires at all. It also raises the question of why they might have been killed—is it because they were lesbians in life? Was this some kind of early hate crime, and is their metamorphosis into undead monsters a form of revenge on a world full of hostile men? The movie doesn’t spend much time fleshing this out – there’s another sex scene to get to, after all! – but the opening casts a provocative shadow over what follows.

Other vampire rules are off-kilter here, too, most noticeably the lack of fangs. Rather than bite necks, Fran and Miriam tend to attack their victims with giant knives and suck blood from their wounds. To say that they “suck” blood, however, doesn’t quite do these scenes justice. The stereotypical vampire film portrays blood-sucking in a highly stylized, even polite way—the victim’s tightened intake of breath, the prick of the teeth, the small stream of blood down the neck, the intimacy of the whole action. Not so in Vampyres. Here, Fran and Miriam literally rush their victims—several scenes boast POV shots in which they run right at the camera into your living room. Their eyes sparkle with demonic energy as they stab their victim again and again with the knife, then fall onto the body to drink the blood from the wounds. The blood gushes over them, and they smear it all over their faces and bodies, moaning, before leaning in to swirl blood onto each other’s tongues in passionate kisses.

What it looks like they’re doing is actually tearing their victims to pieces, less like vampires and more like crazed serial killers. There’s no denying the intense eroticism of these scenes and the none-too-subtly implied dangers of out-of-control female sexuality, but that aesthetic has been injected here with a bit of grindhouse flavor. Only the final killing more or less dispenses with the sexual element, and without that element, death comes much more clinically and humiliatingly to the victim than anything that came before. In fact, that final death is more disturbing than one would expect in a movie like this: it feels like a simulated rape. This all seems to reference the nihilistic brutality that was becoming more pronounced in the horror films of the 1970s in exploitation classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the later I Spit on Your Grave.

Rather than end on that bleak note, though, Vampyres instead gives us a bewildering and, frankly, stupid conclusion that further confuses the issue of the exact supernatural makeup of Fran and Miriam, even suggesting that the entire film might have been a dream. It’s a disappointing cop-out for a film that so flagrantly ups the ante for sex and violence, but for a film this bizarre, it’s almost the only ending that would work at all. After all, this is one lesbian vampire film that truly has all the sex, nudity, gore, and camp that a viewer could want, which means it could only have been dreamed up by a deeply deranged mind.

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