Vampyres (1974) Vampyres / Daughters of Dracula / Daughters of Darkness / Satanís Daughters / Blood Hunger / Las Hijas de Dracula (1974/1975) ***Ĺ

     Though the earliest vampire movie that I know of to feature signifcant lesbian content was Jean Rollinís Rape of the Vampire/Le Viol du Vampire, it only really became possible to speak of a lesbian vampire subgenre in the aftermath of The Vampire Lovers, the first entry in Hammerís Carmilla trilogy. But despite having brought it to international prominence, the Brits never seem to have been terribly comfortable with the subject (gee, I wonder why), and Continental filmmakersó Rollin and Jesus Franco in particularó rapidly came to dominate the field in the early 70ís. It is thus a bit surprising at first to see that what is probably the best of all the lesbian vampire flicks is of British origin. It makes a lot more sense, though, when you get to the end of the opening credits, and find that Vampyres/Daughters of Dracula/etc. was directed by Jose Ramon Larraz, a Spaniard.

     Larraz knows what weíre here for. The very first image is that of a pair of incredibly beautiful, naked girls in bed together. The fun is soon interrupted, however, by the arrival of a man in black, whom we never see terribly clearly. We can tell heís got a gun though, and on the basis of what he does with it, it seems reasonable to conclude that heís the husband/boyfriend of one or the other of the two girls, and that he takes just as dim a view of her cheating on him with women as he would of a heterosexual dalliance.

     This, presumably, is how one becomes a lesbian vampire, because the next thing we see is the dark-haired girl whom we just witnessed getting shot to pieces (Marianne Morris, from The Love Box and Itís Not the Size that Counts) standing by the side of the road hitchhiking. A couple of young vacationers named John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner, of Alien Prey and Deadly Females) pass her by on the way to their campsite in the woods nearby, but the next driver to come along is more cooperative. The man in question is named Ted (Murray Brown, from Hardcore and the Dan Curtis TV version of Dracula), and he is traveling through the area on some kind of business or other. When he picks the girl up, she introduces herself as Fran, and asks if he would be willing to give her a lift back to her house. Ted thinks he can find the time for such a distraction, and as hot as Fran is, I strongly suspect he would have even if he had noticed her even more radiant blonde girlfriend (Playboy playmate Anulka Dziubinska, from Ken Russellís insane musical Lisztomania, who was probably wise to spend her career pretending not to have a last name) hiding suspiciously in the trees by the side of the road.

     Harriet did spot the blonde, however, and she finds the sight of the girl strangely troubling. Her mood is not improved when she sees that the spot John has chosen for the campsite is overlooked by a brooding, half-decayed castle, and she gets even more worked up when she observes Fran leading Ted up to the chateauís front door. Poor Harriet will henceforth be doomed to spend the rest of the film trying to convince her boyfriend that bad things are going on inside the castle, and that Fran and the blonde are the ones doing them.

     Ted, too, has his pattern for the movie set at this early point in the story. Fran invites him in and turns on the seduction full-blast. She doesnít need to try too hardó Ted appears to be sort of a lonely guyó and before much time has passed, the two of them are rolling around in Franís bed, fucking like rabbits. But when Ted awakens the next morning to an empty bed and a strange, sickly weakness that a hangover alone couldnít possibly account for, he discovers evidence that more went on during the night than he remembers. One of the heavy glass goblets from which he and Fran had been drinking fantastically expensive Romanian wine lies shattered on the night stand, one of the bigger shards is smeared with blood, and there is a long, deep, and curiously precise-looking gash on the inside of Tedís left elbow. And whatís more, Fran doesnít appear to be inside the castle at all. After searching the house for his erstwhile bedmate to no avail, Ted wanders out onto the castle grounds, where he imposes himself upon John and Harriet for a little first aid. Harriet, of course, recognizes Ted as the man she saw with Fran the previous evening, and while she and John tend to their guestís wound, she peppers him with questions regarding the castle and its inhabitants. And though his responses donít satisfy Harriet at all, Ted is only telling the truth when he answers her that heís been trying all day to figure out whether anyone really lives in the old place himself. Ted leaves the young couple, and gets back into his car with the intention of driving off and leaving the whole mysterious business behind him, but he passes out the moment his butt hits the seat, and ends up sleeping until after sunset.

     This time, Fran is around when Ted finally wakes up. In fact, so is her girlfriend, whom Ted has not yet met, and another unsuspecting male driver who, like Ted, had agreed to give the girls a ride home. Fran introduces her companionsó the blonde is named Miriam, the driver Rupert (Karl Lanchbury, from Erotic Inferno and Scream and Die)ó and apologizes for leaving Ted alone all day. Her excuse that she had to go out and was unable to rouse her companion rings only half-true, but be that as it may, both couples are soon hanging out in Fran and Miriamís parlor, getting plastered on Romanian wine. The two pairs end the night by retiring to their respective bedrooms, and for Ted, the result is very much the same as it had been the night before. Rupert, however, has a rather different experience. In the middle of the night, after Ted has fallen immovably asleep, Fran gets up and joins Miriam and her date in the other bedroom, where the two girls slice Rupert up with a big, curved dagger and drain him dry. Fran and Miriam then head over to the bathroom for a much-needed shower and still more sex.

     The castle is deserted again when Ted awakens, even weaker than he had the day before. Heís more determined than ever to dig up whatever secrets Fran and Miriam are hiding, though, so he forces himself to get up and have a look around. First, his investigations take him to the stretch of road where he first saw Fran. There he encounters a police accident cleanup crew, who are busy hauling Rupertís mangled body out of his even more mangled car. (Your guess as to why nobody seems troubled by the fact that Rupert is naked is as good as mine.) Later, a trip down to the castleís cellar turns up a hidden chamber that looks very much like a mausoleum, something which Ted will have much time to contemplate, for he has managed to lock himself in the cellar by accident, and thus wonít be going anywhere until Fran and Miriam return from wherever it is that they go.

     Predictably, the vampires have a man with them when they do. Ted is too worn out by his long confinement in the cellar (to say nothing of all the blood he must have lost during the past two nights) to join Fran and Miriamís merrymaking, and he goes straight to bed while the girls introduce their newest victim (who just happens to be a wine snob of the first order) to their unusually potent Carpathian vintages. Then, after the wine snob goes the way of poor Rupert, Fran and Miriam continue the party with Ted, who doesnít seem to mind having his blood drunk when thereís a threesome in it for him. (Itís just a shame he probably wonít remember seeing Fran and Miriam go down on each other scant inches away from his face when he wakes up in the morning...)

     Meanwhile, John and Harriet are gearing up to enter the story in some meaningful way at long last. The morning after the wine snobís demise, while John is off doing God knows what, Harrietís curiosity gets the better of her, and she sneaks into the castle to have a look around. Starting from the bottom, she goes down into the cellar, and ultimately discovers Fran sleeping in that crypt Ted stumbled upon the day before. Miriam is there, too, but her ďbedĒ is hidden from Harrietís view, and the blonde vampire wakes up in time to find a better hiding place. Eventually, Harriet becomes unnerved by the sight of Franís death-like sleep, and she leaves the cellar. And who should she find waiting for her at the top of the stairs but John, who evidently came back from his unexplained excursion, found Harriet missing, and rightly concluded that her growing obsession with Fran, Miriam, and the castle would lead her to come snooping around. He leads her back to the trailer, denying Ted the rescue he was so close to getting.

     That night, Miriam tells Fran about Harrietís little reconnaissance mission, and the two vampires agree that the campers will have to be dealt with. While this is very bad news for John and Harriet, it might be very good news for Ted, because with his captorsí attention thus diverted, he might finally be able to escape from them. Neither one seems to be able to stray very far from the castle, and though sunlight per se doesnít seem to bother them, they do seem to exhibit a very strong aversion to sunrise. If he can get far enough away from the castle during the night, or if John and Harriet can keep the vampires busy until dawn, Ted might just get out of this situation alive after all.

     Vampyres, at least in its uncut, European guise, embodies something very close to the perfect melding of the British and Continental approaches to the lesbian vampire genre. Though the Continental emphasis on nightmarish atmosphere is definitely in evidence, the demands of the English market prevented Larraz from pursuing visual and situational surrealism at the expense of narrative integrity. The movieís budget, while still comparatively low, was large enough to permit far higher production values than the poverty-stricken Spanish film industry was capable of delivering, especially in the vital but often overlooked department of sound quality. Finally (although the extensive cuts in the US and UK theatrical-release prints obscure this), Larraz brought to Vampyres the more liberal attitudes toward explicit portrayals of sex and violence that prevailed in Continental Europe. The version of Vampyres that played on Spanish screens was simultaneously one of the bloodiest and most erotic horror films of its era, and by all accounts, it was the combination of these two elements that the British censor found so alarming. When the movie crossed the Atlantic the year following its initial release, it was only natural for the US distributors to use the British versionó there would be no need to dub, and the MPAA was less likely to impose an X-rating, which was already coming to be seen as a fate for non-pornographic filmmakers to avoid at all costs. This had the same effect on Vampyres as it had on so many of its contemporaries: the version we in the English-speaking world saw was both extremely confusing and more than a little dull. But fortunately for those of us who care about such things, Vampyres has benefited from the current home video marketís mania for reissued, restored Eurosleaze, and an uncut English-language version is finally available. Anyone who saw this movie before and reckoned it a tragic case of unrealized potential owes it to themselves to give the new edition a try.

 

 

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