Attach the name Jess Franco to a film and unless you’re already a super fan it’s likely you’ll have your broad, generalised expectations of what that film will be like – crash zooms, extensive T&A, and, if there’s a plot, it might not make much sense. Sometimes, this expectation is not met, and in the best possible way – I’m still something of a Franco neophyte, but films like Virgin Among The Living Dead (even with that title) and Venus in Furs have proven to be enjoyable and beautifully made films. Along comes Female Vampire, then, out now on UK Blu-ray from new Euro-sleaze imprint Maison Rouge, arguably one of Franco’s most well-known, tentpole films. I think it’s fair to say that Female Vampire did indeed meet all of my expectations of a Franco film, and unfortunately for me that wasn’t a good thing.
I’m probably being unfair to poor old Franco, but for me Female Vampire really did epitomise the worst (best to some, I’m sure, and that’s fine too!) of Euro-sleaze – under the title The Bare-Breasted Countess the film is probably better represented, as there’s far more bare-breast than vampirism going on here. I don’t think I’m a prude – José Larraz’s Vampyres features plenty of bare-breast too, but I love that film – but I think if the sleaze doesn’t also include a healthy dose of horror, or something else, I’m going to lose interest very quickly.
Lina Romay is, naturally, magnificent, so there’s at least that, and without her magnetism and charm the film would really have been a dud. In the film she plays Countess Irina Karlstein, last in a long line of vampires, morose that her peaceful and loving nature is at odds with her primal urges. The film unfolds as a series of Irina’s softcore encounters with her victims – it’s not their blood she sucks – interspersed with scientists investigating the murders, a poet determined to meet her, and Irina’s own existential monologues.
Honestly, aside from Romay’s performance and the period detailing of things like wallpaper and bed-spreads, very little held my attention in the film. Nice enough as a curiosity piece, I otherwise found it to be just painfully boring. This Blu-ray release of the film does also include Erotikill, the 70-minute ‘horror’ version of the film, which I do wonder if I’d enjoy rather a bit more (particularly having been disappointed in realising the most famous still image from the film is, indeed, not from the ‘full’ version of the film).
While there’s something to be said for the equal-ops male and female nudity in the film, as well as the fact that at least women in films from the past look decidedly less air-brush perfect than the stars you might find now, it’s still somewhat uncomfortable sitting through what feels like hours of Franco lovingly zooming in on Romay’s nethers, even if the soft-focus and 70s-era bush-coiffure means detail is obscured even in full-HD. In fact, what I found most interesting watching the film is an increasing curiosity in how the BBFC draws lines in the sand between hardcore, softcore, and what’s passable at an 18 certificate.
While Female Vampire isn’t necessarily a film I’d recommend, then, it’s also so important as a film from Franco, and of an era that it still manages to feel somehow essential. I would certainly sit through it again in its Erotikill form, out of curiosity, so I surely can’t claim it’s a film I outright disliked. However, recommendation certainly comes from a place of completism and curiosity, rather than quality, so take that for what it’s worth.
The Bare-Breasted Countess is out now on UK Blu-ray from Maison Rouge.