Kino Lorber // 1973 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 31st, 2012
"Channeling his deepest libidinal desires and darkest fears into films."
Sex and death go together like the crimson and clover or the birds and the bees. Sure, it's not to everyone's taste, but there's a reason that orgasms in French are known as "the little death." Of course, there's the usual association of sex and death, and then there's the output of notorious Eurosleaze director Jesus "Jess" Franco whose work has mashed death and eroticism together for the better part of fifty years. Not only has he put sex and death together (something just about every horror movie does to one extent or another), Franco has a surreal edge that is perhaps only exceeded by Jean Rollin in terms of creating a winning combo of old-Europe atmosphere, vampiric obsession, nubile nudity, and gory killing. Female Vampire doesn't quite rise to the level of Franco's masterpiece Vampyros Lesbos, but it does offer fans a trademark dose of surreal imagery, rampant nudity, and vampire lust. Female Vampire (Blu-ray) from Kino even makes the upgrade worthwhile.
The setting is Madiera, Spain, and a whole heap of bodies of young men and women have started to pile up. A doctor (Jess Franco himself) figures out the cause: a young countess (Lina Romay, Countess Perverse) is killing the victims after draining them of their life force through sex. Meanwhile, the countess thinks she might have found love in a writer who is obsessed with her.
The obvious target market for Female Vampire are the Franco faithful. Fans of She Killed in Ecstasy or Vampyros Lesbos will find a similar amount of weird imagery, excessive nudity, and girl-on-girl shenanigans. This is closer to the gothic side of Franco's larger body of work, more like Vampyros Lesbos or The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff than Countess Perverse or some of his other, less vampire-oriented flicks.
Another obvious target demographic for this flick is those who appreciate seventies-style nudity. By 1973, the formerly solid line between mainstream films and pornographic offerings was clearly getting crossed by more and more productions. In Europe, where nudity standards have generally been far laxer than American standards, the line faded even more quickly. Thus, but 1973, a film like Female Vampire didn't need to fear casting a natural young woman in the lead role, knowing that she would shuck her clothes very often. Even more, she would engage in some relatively random acts of sexual pleasure, from self-gratification to Sapphic splendor. So for fans of lots of nudity with nary a surgical enhancement in sight, Female Vampire is just the thing.
The history of that line between mainstream film and pornography is fascinating, and fans of that story will also appreciate Female Vampire, largely because the fine folks at Kino have given us both the 100-minute "Extended Erotic Version" of the film as well as its 70-minute counterpart, the "horror" version Erotikill. (Sadly, a version of the film with explicit hardcore insert shots is not included, but then we can't have everything). On its own, there's very little to recommend the Erotikill version. It's pretty nonsensical, has no sex, little nudity, and almost all of the atmosphere that Franco is known for has been stripped away. However, it shows just how much the slow pace and gothic atmospheres are integral to what Franco sets out to achieve. It also shows just how much interest a few well-placed sex scenes can generate. Finally, Erotikill is interesting because it does include a bunch of alternate footage, including scenes of violence, that didn't make it into the longer version.
Of course, the inclusion of an alternate version is only the first of many tricks that Female Vampire (Blu-ray) has up its sleeve. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is a thing of beauty. Though the print used hasn't been given the full-scale re-master treatment, detail is strong, black levels are deep and consistent, and the subdued color scheme of the film is well-rendered. Even the intentionally soft-focused scenes have a depth and richness to their texture that's easy to appreciate. My only quibble with the look is that the print isn't in the greatest shape, so we get some scratches and specks. It's not horrible, but those who are sensitive to these kind of problems might want to rent first. A pair of LPCM mono tracks in English and French do a fine job rendering the film's dialogue and score. They don't sound as dynamic as we've come to expect from contemporary tracks, but they're good for the period. English subtitles are included as well. The Erotikill version contains only the English dub.
Extras (aside from the alternate version of the film) kick off with "Destiny in Soft Focus: Jess Franco Remembers Female Vampire." The box claims it's a "new documentary," but it's more of an extended interview with the director about this film. He's charming and insightful, offers great stories on the inspiration and production of the flick. Another interview, entitled "Words for Lina," features co-star Jean-Pierre Bouyxou discussing the lovely Lina Romay. The trailer for Female Vampire (as well as some other Kino releases) rounds out the disc.
Jess Franco's particular brand of exploitation cinema is an acquired taste. There's not much in the way of plot, and unless you enjoy watching lots of nudity and/or sex instead, then Female Vampire isn't going to be your cup of tea. The slow, atmospheric approach to vampirism has its fans, but for those raised in the wake of Blade and Twilight, Female Vampire can seem like a film not just from another time but another planet.
Completists will also nitpick that there are no Tim Lucas liner notes like those that accompanied the Image DVD. Though I haven't read them myself, Lucas usually does a good job introducing films of this kind, so their loss is probably felt somewhat here.
Female Vampire is a niche release that's sure to please fans of Jess Franco and European sleaze productions of the 1970s. It's long on atmosphere and nudity, and short on plot and narrative drive. This Blu-ray from Kino is excellent, and the improved picture and sound should make this one an easy disc to upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
* PCM 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Alternate Version