The Bare-Breasted Countess / The Black Countess / Erotikill / Female Vampire / The Loves of Irina / Insatiable Lust / The Last Thrill / Les Avaleuses / La Comtesse Noire / La Comtesse aux Seins Nus (1973/1981) -****
It was bound to happen. Sooner or later, a review of a Jesus Franco (or Jess Franco, if you prefer) movie simply had to appear in these pages. I think itís probably fair to say that no one on Earth with so little talent has ever spent so little money making so many movies-- depending on how you count them (more on this later), Francoís total comes to anywhere between 150 and 200-plus films. In fact, itís said that even he canít remember all of them! The manís career has been all over the map, both artistically and literally. (And yes, I do recognize the irony inherent in applying the term ďartisticĒ to any aspect of Francoís work.) Heís made movies in his native Spain, in France (this one, for instance), in Italy, in Germany-- even in Switzerland!-- and in the process, he has contributed to just about every genre of low-rent schlock that you could care to imagine, from zombies to devil-cults to women in prison. He even directed a couple of Italian cannibal movies around the turn of the 80ís. But Jesus Francoís principal claim to cinematic fame is his astoundingly voluminous corpus of softcore porn. In case you hadnít figured it out from any of the phalanx of lurid, sleazy titles, The Bare-Breasted Countess / Erotikill / Female Vampire / et cetera ad infinitum can be counted in that corpus.
This may prove to be the shortest plot synopsis Iíll ever write. The countess Irina of Karlstein (Lina Romay, whoís been in just about every movie Franco has made since 1972, appearing here in her first starring role) comes back to her ancestral home and immediately begins killing people. Sheís a vampire, you see, but of a slightly different variety than youíre probably used to. Not only can she go about in daylight (like J. Sheridan LeFanuís vampire with the very similar last name), she drains your life-energy not by drinking your blood, but (and I hope youíre sitting down) by fellating you to death; somehow, she has also developed a lethal form of cunnilingus to use on her female victims. (And by the way, just guess what Les Avaleuses means-- ďThe SwallowersĒ!) Her activities naturally attract the attention of the police (who are worse than useless in this movie), as well as that of a pair of doctors, called Roberts (played by Franco himself) and Orloff. (Orloff?! As in The Awful Dr. Orlof, perhaps? That was a Franco movie too, you know.) The doctors at least figure out that Irinaís a vampire, but they donít really accomplish much of anything either. Instead, Irina ends up drowning herself in a bathtub full of what is probably supposed to be blood because she is unable to stop herself from killing the only one of her victims that she has ever had any feelings for.
But all of that-- indeed, the entire story-- is completely beside the point of this movie, which is, of course, more naked Lina Romay than you can shake a stick at. I donít know how Miss Romay would go over with a modern audience-- her physical type seems to have gone out of fashion sometime in the mid-1980ís. Sheís quite short by current sex-symbol standards (all of the men in this movie are at least a full head taller than her), she isnít blonde, her skin looks like it was last touched by direct sunlight some time during the Johnson administration, her breasts are merely medium-sized, and she has a rather higher percent body-fat than most guys seem to go in for these days. But then again, Iíll happily contend that most men these days are complete fucking philistines when it comes to the female body. Lina Romay is exactly the sort of woman I like to look at-- her jawline alone makes me so horny I could pole-vault. If all the guys who are out renting Shannon Tweed movies canít appreciate her, hey-- fuck Ďem. It just means Iíll have less competition the next time I go looking for one of Romayís seven-dozen or so other movies.
But as smitten with Lina Romay as I am, I must confess that sheís not much of an actress. Franco uses an ingenious strategy here to circumvent that difficulty, though. Irina Karlstein is a mute, so Lina never has to open her mouth for any reason other than to lick her lips or to suck some guyís dong. And that right there should give you some indication of the kind of filmmaker Franco is. This is a director in the finest Woodian tradition. Our star is dead? Well, my chiropractor has the same hairline... Our star canít deliver a line of dialogue to save her life? Well, why donít we make her a mute? But the madness doesnít stop there. The fact that The Bare-Breasted Countess is a virtually dialogue-free movie only serves to draw attention to the hilariously stupid incidental music, which is the very living essence of early-70ís Euro-smut. This movie is more than half over before it bothers to explain who that guy who keeps wandering around his mansion reading bullshit philosophy and shaving in real time is. (What do you know? Heís Jack Taylor, from Pieces, and he's the male lead!) Most of the characters have exactly one costume to wear for the entire film, despite the fact that it takes place over a stretch of many days, and even Lina Romay (who switches between them far more often than seems necessary) only has four-- and one of those is her skin! (Gotta love the outfit she wears when she goes hunting for victims, though...) Ever seen a girl masturbate with a bedpost? You will if you watch The Bare-Breasted Countess. But the very best illustration of Francoís almost complete indifference to accepted filmmaking technique comes when the opening credits have scarcely ended. Irina walks slowly out of the mist toward the camera, dressed in her aforementioned hunting costume, finally coming to a complete stop close enough to the camera that only her face is visible. The camera then zooms in on her eyes (Jesus Franco loves his zoom lens) before passing up and down her torso to ogle her, the cinematographer (Franco himself?) stiffly and erratically adjusting the various settings to keep the relevant parts of the countessís body in the shot and in something like focus. But weíre not done with this amazing scene yet. After the camera finishes leering at her, Irina resumes walking, right into the fucking camera!!!! I repeat-- Lina Romay actually crashes into the goddamned camera, and Franco didnít even care enough to edit out the last 3/4 of a second of the shot!!!! If that doesnít make you want to rush right out and watch The Bare-Breasted Countess, I must question what youíre even doing reading this.
Ah, but letís say you do want to rush right out and watch it. Which version are you going to get? The startling fact is that there is no definitive version of The Bare-Breasted Countess, or indeed of many of Francoís movies from the 1970ís. Instead, there are three basic prints of this film, each of which exists in a bewildering variety of edits. The version on which this review is based is Redemption Videoís Female Vampire, which appears to be the most complete softcore version. There are also several hardcore edits-- The Loves of Irina is the American edition, Insatiable Lust the German-- at least some of which feature a lesbian bondage/S&M scene involving Irina and a coven of witches, but all of which are missing footage found in most of the softcore versions. Then there are Erotikill and its cousins, which have most of the sex replaced with more conventional vampire-movie violence. (In fact, Iím pretty sure Irina just drinks blood like a normal vamp in Erotikill, though if I understand correctly, she always makes a point of fucking her victims first.) Neither set of porno edits contain any of that footage. By now, I think youíre beginning to see why itís been so difficult to arrive at an agreed-upon figure for how many movies Jesus Franco has to his credit-- is The Bare-Breasted Countess one movie, two movies, or three? Multiply the confusion here by the staggering number of productions Franco has worked on over the course of his long career (and the son of a bitch is still at it, by the way), and you can see how one ends up with an unhelpful total like ď180, plus or minus 25.Ē