Saturday, July 4, 2009

Vampyres (1974)

Directed by Jose Ramon Larraz
Starring Murray Brown, Marianna Morris, Anulka Dziubinska
Rated X (Uncut version)

They shared the pleasures of the flesh, and the horrors of the grave!

Vampyres is one of the finest examples of the early 1970's lesbian vampire cycle. This very welcome exploitation micro-genre is firmly rooted in the mythos suggested by Camilla, an 1872 novella by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu about a female vampire and her powers of same-sex seduction. Sapphic-minded vampiresses were first introduced into the cinema with 1936's Dracula's Daughter, but the lezbo-ball really got rolling in 1960 with Blood and Roses, Roger Vadim's relatively subtle Camilla adaptation. The blood, tits, and girl-on-girl antics that we all know and love, however, is a specifically 70's-centric affair. British horror-gods Hammer produced an amazing, explicit, highly erotic trio of lez-vamp flicks in rapid succession: The Vampire Lovers (1970), starring Ingrid Pitt; Lust for a Vampire (1971), with Zeta One's Yutte Stensgaard, and 1972's groovy Twins of Evil, starring Playboy playmates Madeline and Mary Collinson. Europe was busy churning them out, as well. Daughters of Darkness (1971) was a Belgian lensed retelling of the Countess Bathory tale with bonus girl-girl action. Always one to sniff out a trend, prolific Spanish Z-movie auteur Jess Franco jumped into the fray with the psychedelic Vampyros Lesbos in 1971, and loony Frenchman Jean Rollin spat out an almost endless stream of them: The Naked Vampire (1970), The Shiver of the Vampires (1971), Lips of Blood (1975), etc. There are others, as well, but the first wave of lesbian vampire films capped off with 1983's drowsy The Hunger. They came roaring back in the 90's with a pile of low-budget softcore flicks, most of them starring Misty Mundae, or at least one of Misty's friends, and they show no sign of going away any time soon, as evidenced by 2008's blatantly titled Lesbian Vampire Killers.

Surely, these films have some psychosocial significance, and they've been analyzed to (un)death by post-feminists and cinema-snobs for decades, but let's be honest about it: guys like watching chicks make out with each other. And if you can throw a little blood around while you're at it, well, you've just sold a fuckin' ticket, sir.

Above: Lust for a Vampire

Vampyres arrived around the end of the initial spurt of lez-vamp films, so it contained all the tropes blueprinted by the Hammer films. It also boasted a uniquely continental flavor, since it was shot in England but directed by a Spaniard. A sleaze-beast from the get-go, Jose Ramon Larraz began his directorial career in the UK, but relocated to Spain in the mid-70's. He has a jaw-dropping resume piled high with primo exploitation: The House that Vanished (1973), The Violation of the Bitch (1978), Madame Olga's Pupils (1980), Edge of the Axe (1988), and so on. If you're looking for salacious stories slathered with sex and violence, layered in atmosphere and shot with an eye for the surreal, than the underrated Larraz is your man. Vampyres is easily his most well-known film, and for good reason: its got lots of blood, lots of tits, and lesbians.

Vampyres opens in a very arousing/alarming manner. Two big-breasted Betties lez out in a big fluffy bed, but are rudely interrupted when some maniac with a gun shows up and blows them into splattery smithereens. Cue the acid-rock guitars, garishly colored credits, and wildly flapping bats that denote a proper 70's vampire flick.

Cagey Ted (Murray Brown) checks into an inn for the night. The creaky old bellhop recognizes him from 'years ago', but he denies ever being there before.

Meanwhile, a young couple, John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner), drive down a country road on their way to a campsite. They pass by a beautiful woman in a flowing dress who appears to be hitchhiking. Harriet - who sports a Helen Reddy style bowl cut - swears she saw another woman hiding behind a tree, as well. John shrugs them off, correctly assuming that some other chump will pick up the hot hitchhiker. Sure enough, some mustache guy in a blue Mini-Cooper ambles up and lets the woman in.

Later on, our happy campers find a cozy spot deep in the woods, directly across from an ominous, seemingly abandoned mansion a (Oakley Court, a frequent Hammer house, and, more famously, the house where the Rocky Horror Picture Show was shot). They settle into their camper for an uneasy night of sleep, but Harriet is woken by some strange noises.

She looks out the window and sees some lights on in the supposedly abandoned mansion. Worse still, she is startled when a hand smacks the window of the camper. She demands that John get up to see what the fuck is going on. He dutifully trudges out into the pouring rain with a flashlight, but sees nothing. He comes back in and tries to convince Harrriet that she was just dreaming.

Amazingly, Harriet survives the night. When she wakes up the next morning, she looks out the window to see two young women in black dresses marching through the woods toward the mansion.

Meanwhile, the cops are investigating a deadly crash on the country road. Looks like mustache guy wasn't as lucky as our friends.

Harriet harps on about her morning vision, but John is frankly sick of listening to her. "Since we've arrived at this spot, everything seems strange to you," he pish-poshes. "You see phantoms and ghosts just about everywhere." So that's the end of that discussion. After a healthy breakfast of toast and Sultana Bran (?), Harriet goes outside to paint a landscape while the brooding John fishes and chain smokes down by the riverside.

Meanwhile, Ted is out for drive when he happens upon a busty, doe-eyed hitchhiker (Marianna Morris, The Amorous Milkman). Naturally, he picks her up, and she asks for a ride home, as it's getting dark. He agrees, and off they go. She tells him her name is Fran, but she doesn't tell him much of anything else.

They drive to her home - the spooky mansion, of course - and Ted invites himself in. They wind through the labyrinth of rooms until they finally get to Fran's quarters, which are festooned with weird accents like a zebra skin rug and Hindu statues.
They have a nonsensical discussion about what, exactly, Fran does for a living ("I search for interesting people", she finally tells him), and then they make savage 70's love. Twice.

As you would expect, Ted then falls into a deep slumber. When he wakes, he finds Fran still in the bed beside him, either dead or in some sort of trance. He stumbles around the room, but is too tired to leave, and he falls back to sleep. When he wakes the second time, it's morning, he's got a nasty gash on his arm, there's blood on the sheets, and Fran's gone. Groggy, weak, and soaked with cold sweat, Ted gets dressed, lights a smoke and Scooby Doos around the joint, looking for Fran. But Fran split, man.

Ted leaves, but finds that he's still quite groggy. He visits John and Harriet at their camper and asks for some help. They bandage him up. He thanks them and heads out. As he's leaving, Harriet asks him if anybody lives in the weird old house. "That's a question I've been asking myself since last night," he says, mysteriously. And I still don't know the answer."

Instead of going back to the inn - or home, or anywhere else sensible - Ted just goes back to the mansion and stakes the place out all day. Fran finally arrives at some point that night. She apologizes for leaving so abruptly, but tells him she had to be somewhere at dawn and couldn't make it back until now. He shrugs it all off. The sex must have been phenomenal. She invites him back in, but sheepishly tells him she's got company - blonde beauty Miriam (Playboy's Miss May 1973, Anulka Dziubinska) , and some dude in a tweed jacket named Rupert (frequent Larraz collaborator Karl Lanchbury). "I'm sure you'll like them," she purrs.

The four have a lovely time smoking cigs and gulping down goblets of red wine, but they start to run out, so Miriam and Rupert head down to the wine cellar to fetch some more.
While they're gone, Fran tells Fred that Miriam also live there, that she's her girlfriend. Not her 'girlfriend' girlfriend, just, you know, they like to hang. Rupert, on the other hand, is just some dude who gave them a ride. Ted is slightly alarmed, but mostly aroused, and somewhat drunk.

Meanwhile, in the camper across the way, Harriet is still bitching about their horrible camping spot and its approximation to whatever wickedness is going on in the old dark house. John just wishes she'd shut up about it, already.

Back at maniac mansion, Ted and Fran fuck again, and while he enjoys a post-coital snooze, Fran gingerly laps at his oozing arm wound. Later she steps out into the hall to see a delirious, gore-soaked Miriam. She follows her back to Miriam's room, where a thoroughly mangled Rupert thrashes away in a pool of his own blood.

He struggles to get free, but Frank picks up a dagger and stabs him deep in the guts with it, opening him up so the two vamps can get at the red stuff inside. Satiated, they wrap Rupert up in a sheet and drag him downstairs. Then they take a sensual shower together.

The next morning, Ted wakes up alone again. He has a what-the-fuck moment (finally), when he realizes all the mirrors have been taped over.

His growing unease is exacerbated when he vrooms down the road a bit but is blocked off by police, who are pulling the mangled corpse of Rupert out his twisted mess of a car. Ted heads back to the mansion to get to the bottom of this madness. He heads down the wine cellar, and accidentally locks himself in.

Meanwhile, Harriet's out in the woods, painting another picture. The vamps glide up to her to see what she's up to. Instead of killing her, however, Fran rubs her thumb on Harriet's forehead.
"I always knew we'd find each other," she says. "By this sign, I'll recognize you."
You don't really need any secret sign, Fran. Just look at her. I mean, Harriet's pretty butch.

Fran and Miriam head back to the mansion. When they get there, Ted's still banging away on the locked cellar door, whining for help. Fran lets him out and takes him upstairs. She disrobes, and so does her, ready for another round of vampire pussy, but he passes out from lack of blood.

Miriam comes into the room, and they have a bloody three-way, with Miriam sucking out dribbles of Ted's blood and then furiously making out with Fran, their lips and tongues freely exchanging Ted's vital fluids. It's pretty nuts.

Harriet goes sleuthing, and ends up in the mansion's cellar, where she finds Fran sleeping.

Miriam spots her and slinks into the shadows. And then John shows up and asks her just what the fuck she thinks she's doing. She tries to explain that these undead girls are in there snoozing, but he shoos her out. Ted, meanwhile, is up in the bedroom, gasping for help, but he's too weak to alert the campers, so they split.

Darkness falls, and the girls bring home their next victim an international playboy (Michael Bern) in a shiny sports car. Miriam and tomorrow's lunch warm their bones by the fire while Fran goes upstairs to stifle a raving Ted, who has finally figured out the two women are stone-cold, bloodsucking killers. It's about fucking time, Ted.

The playboy is really digging their wine, and being a connoisseur, tries to guess where it's from. He is stumped, and the girls tell him it's from a remote part of the Carpathian mountains. You know, Transylvania. Apparently this guy's never seen a vampire movie in his life, because he accepts their invitation to go down to the cellar to check out the flasks.

Meanwhile, back at the camper, Harriet takes off her shirt, revealing her soft, feminine curves and ample chest. Who knew? She turns down the lights and slips into bed to make gentle big-boned love to John.

While that's going on outside, the playboy is having the time of his life in the cellar, chugging wine and goofing around with the girls.
"It's almost too good to be true," he says.
"Nothing's too good to be true," says Miriam. "The only problem is that life's too short."
Just what are you driving at, blondie? The wine keeps flowing, everybody starts mashing lips, the tits come out, and it's a full-on threeway, right there in the musty basement. Of course, it ends quite badly for the playboy, but what a way to go, right?

Half-dead Ted manages to stumble out of the house while the girls slurp on the playboy. He even makes it to the camper to ask John and Harriet for help. But will they be any match for two pissed-off lesbian bloodsuckers?

Depends. How long is it until dawn?

Bloody, brutal, frequently scary, and erotically charged, Vampyres is a cult-horror classic. Boners will most certainly be popped - I mean, just look at these two - but be prepared to sleep with the lights on afterward.

Clip: Vampyres trailer!

- Ken McIntyre

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