Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vampyres (1973)

Vampyres would best be described as Horrotica (if that term has never been used then I hereby claim all rights in it !). The lesbian vampire film is nothing new to the horror film genre. Taking Sheridan LeFanu's "Carmilla" and the true story of Elizabeth of Bathory as inspiration, filmmakers have explored lesbianism and vampirism from it's earliest days. Carl Dreyer's "Vampyr" (1932) and more importantly Lambert Hillyer's "Dracula's Daughter" (1936) are early examples. During the 60s and 70s the lesbian vampire film came into its explicit own. Hammer released a trilogy of films based on LeFanu's "Carmilla." Set in Victorian times, "The Vampire Lovers," "Lust for a Vampire," and "Twins of Evil" all pitted earthy beautiful lesbian vampires against a puritanical male dominated society. These vampires seduced men and women alike. Though nudity abounded in the Hammer trilogy, the films were actually quite tame when it came to the sexual/vampiric act itself. In 1974 Joseph (Jose) Lazzar directed a film which reveled in its subject matter. "Vampyres" is a graphically erotic exploration of two lesbians who have become vampires. They use their sexuality to lure men to their doom. The film puts as much emphasis on the monster's sexuality as it does the horror. The result is a hypnotic original film. "Vampyres" plays fast and loose with the traditional folklore concerning vampires. In fact, the women may very well just be ghosts! We'll talk more about that after a while.

The film opens with Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka) making love to each other. They are lost in their bliss when a dark figure rushes into the room and shoots the women to death. The camera pans their bodies. Fade out. Roll credits. Some years later, Ted (Murray Brown) checks into a motel. An aging desk clerk interrupts the young woman who is helping Ted. "Didn't I see you here many years ago?" Ted says he has never been there before. Cut to John and Harriet (Brian Deacon and Sally Faulkner), a young couple out on a camping holiday. They pull off onto a deserted lane which leads to a decrepit mansion by a lake. They figure that this is as good a place as any to camp and they set up shop. Just before they pulled off the main road, Harriet spied Fran standing beside the road with Miriam hiding further back. Not long after the couple passes them, Fran flags down a car. Ted is driving. He offers to take her home. They end up at the same decrepit mansion that the young couple is camping near. Ted and Fran have a few drinks and end up in bed. What follows is a very explicit lovemaking scene (one of many) which some would say borders on pornography. I think it, as does the entire movie, falls into the category of erotica. Ted awakes the next morning to find himself alone. He also has a cut on his arm.

It turns out that Fran has fallen for Ted. He interests her. Rather than use him up in one night, she keeps him around. He becomes a slave to her, and doesn't make any real effort to escape. The two vampiresses flag down other men on successive nights. Their victims are usually found the next morning in a crashed auto. Miriam pleads with Fran to quit playing and kill Ted. Ted stays and stays. Each night begins with sex and ends with violence. Ted is so overwhelmed by Fran's animal magnetism that he stays even though he realizes on some level that he may soon be dead. Will Ted escape? Will those pesky campers ever leave?!? Isn't Anulka the most beautiful woman you've ever seen? How can I meet these women?

You are either going to love this movie or hate it. Vampire purists may be put off by the fact that these women appear to have become vampires because they were lesbians who became the victim of a hate crime. As I said before, there are many hints that the two are just ghosts who were murdered in the old house and don't realize they are dead. Another theory is that they kill men to exact revenge on the man who killed them. The big hole in that theory is the fact that Fran obviously likes the way Ted makes her feel. In support of the theory is that their victims are almost all male. Are they repeatedly killing the man who broke into their connubial bed and murdered them? Are they striking out at the male dominated society which looks upon their beauty with desire but then hates and destroys them because it can never possess their love? And why the hell do they allow those obnoxious campers to stick around so long?

I'll be honest with you, I read about this movie in Phil Hardy's great book "The Encyclopedia of Horror Films" and wanted to see it because it sounded hot. I like sexy films. This is a sexy film. It is much more than that though. It is one of the few vampire films in which the monsters have emotions and desires other than hunger for blood. As in "Bram Stoker's Dracula," "Interview With The Vampire," "Innocent Blood," and most recently "Shadow of the Vampire" the vampires have a human quality. These two ladies love each other. They enjoy their sex together, and they also enjoy sex with their victims. The more traditional vampire is portrayed as a blood thirsty beast. They use the remnants of their humanity to lure prey into their trap. I've always thought that if I wrote a vampire movie, the sexuality of the vampire wouldn't matter. The vampire wants to eat. The rest of us are just food. "Vampyres" doesn't take that approach. Their bodies may be cold, but their hearts are warm with desire. (Speaking of writing a vampire movie, why hasn't anyone ever set a vampire movie above the Arctic circle, there's 6 months of night!)

The acting is good for this type of film. Ms. Morris has more dialogue than her partner, Anulka. However Anulka's role becomes stronger toward the end of the film. The two campers are unnecessary. Mr. Lazzar's direction is quite good. The sexual content is filmed with passion and class. It is interesting that the feeding which follows the sex is also directed and paced with the same passion. I'd be interested top hear what you think of the beginning and end of the film and any theories you may have about how and why Fran and Miriam became vampires or ghosts or whatever they are.

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