Redemption and Kino Lorber release Jess Franco’s erotic cult film on Blu-Ray

Director : Jess Franko
Starring: Alice Arno, Jack Taylor, Lina Romay
Type: Color
Year: 1973
Language: French with optional English subtitles or English dubbed audio
Length: 100 min
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Disks: 1
Region: A, B

One of my all-time favorite Euro-horror exploitation films is Juan Piquer Simon’s 1983 gorefest Pieces. The movie has a simple, pedestrian plot. Awful performances. A misogynist attitude. Random, pointless nudity and sex. Slight racism. Scenes that go nowhere, and some that make absolutely no sense. And of course, buckets and buckets of blood.

I’m completely aware that there are no discernible reasons to like such an inept film, and I’m at a complete loss as to how to defend such a trashy, low-rent schlock-fest. It’s “junk food” cinema – void of any nutritional value, yet sinfully delicious.

I mention my fondness for Pieces when considering Jess Franco’s Female Vampire, not because the films share a co-star in cult actor Jack Taylor, but because I truthfully believe that it’s possible to have an indefensible affection for “bad” horror movies, and I imagine fans of Jess Franco’s sleazy body of low-budget work know exactly what I’m talking about here. Many of them hail Female Vampire as one of his best efforts. Unfortunately, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t share the same sentiment this time. Sometimes a bad movie is just that.

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The Film

We’re introduced to Countess Irina Karlstein, a mute vampire who wanders the foggy Portuguese island of Madeira wearing nothing else but a black cape, some knee-high leather boots and – for no other reason than to draw attention to her slender hips, I suppose – a black leather belt. Played by the very lovely and oft-used Franco actress Lina Romay, Countess Irina is certainly a gorgeous girl with a beautiful body that she’s clearly not shy about, and somehow Franco manages to present her in an alluring, erotic way. Maybe it was Romay’s nubile figure. Maybe it was the secluded woods she glided through. Maybe it was the dream-like score by Daniel White. Whatever the reason, Franco finally shot something tastefully “erotic”.

But then you remember that this is indeed a Franco movie, and moments like this only go so far – about the length of the opening credits, actually.

The “plot” (I suppose you could call it), centers on Countess Irina’s woefully depressing existence as the last in a line of descendants cursed by vampirism. She pouts silently around Madeira, looking for lovers to seduce (not difficult – she’s mute and generally naked already, which cuts down on awkward small-talk). Once she has them in her sights, she sets to work draining them of their blood and…semen? Yep, you read right. She feeds on her victims at the precise moment of orgasm, and sustains her life through their climax. When she’s not feeding on men (or women) through her insatiable sexual hunger, she’s usually writhing around naked in bed or in bathtubs of blood while her (also mute) henchman leers on from a comfy chair. Such is the depressing life of the female vampire.

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Jack Taylor (who always looked to me like a haunting cross between Christopher Walken and John Holmes) plays a writer who spends his time lost in melancholy and somehow managing to hear every scream of Irina’s victims from his mountainside home – to which he does little more than acknowledge that he heard something. He never goes to the police, which makes some sense when you finally meet the island’s seemingly lone detective. Hardly a Sherlock by any stretch, he believes that these “murders” are the cause of mouse bites and nothing more (feel free to laugh openly at that – I sure did). On the polar-opposite extreme of the theory scale, the coroner (played by Franco himself) believes it to be vampirism and sets out to find and destroy the bloodsucker.

The performances range anywhere from stiff to awkward and the dialogue (particularly during the scenes between Franco’s coroner and the inept detective) is truly inane. Many sequences end abruptly with no closure (and I’m not just talking about the Erotikill version of the film – more on that in a minute), and it’s all capped off with a terribly anticlimactic finale.

But hey, the scenery was nice!

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The Video

Female Vampire’s print. Simply mastered in HD from the original film elements, it’s presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, with a 1080p/AVC encoding.

While the movie is certainly clear and watchable, it still has a rough, grainy look to it, complete with film hairs, flecks and specs. I never found it distracting, and only one brief moment of the film looked a little too dark near the end, but overall it’s just fine. Exploitation films from this era retain a certain amount of grindhouse charm in their rather roughshod presentation, so some might even prefer it this way.

The Audio

DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo tracks are available in both French and English. It sounds pretty good considering its age, with some minor pops and hisses. It’s very clear though, and frankly I only found the English dubbing to sound slightly obtrusive and high-level. It also comes with English subtitles.

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Extras

Provided with the film is the heavily edited cut, retitled Erotikill (1:10:57), that censors all of the explicit sex contained in Female Vampire, thus rendering the comments about Irina’s “seminal” diet odd and pointless. What’s left is a nudity-abundant vampire film with even more scenes that end strangely and abruptly than in the original 100-minute cut. If you didn’t like the film with all of its sex intact, you’ll certainly want to avoid this censored cut that leaves in all of the plodding pacing in between and none of the sleazy perks.

Destiny in Soft Focus (13:37) is an interview with Franco about the making of the film, and his memories of his relationship with Lina Romay, who unfortunately passed away this past February. I found this feature quite interesting and touching, as he recalled how he and Lina met and fell in love over the course of their many projects together. Regardless of my thoughts on the film itself, Jess and Lina’s relationship off-camera was a real one, and it’s clear that they loved and adored each other very much.

A second interview titled Words For Lina (12:39) reiterates much of what is said in Franco’s interview, this time with film critic and co-star Jean-Pierre Bouyoux, who played the blind Dr. Orloff in the film. A good friend of Jess and Lina, he expresses his shock at her passing, and fondly remembers his friend as a funny, vibrant woman who truly cherished her relationship with Franco and appreciated the work they put into each film. Bouyoux shares some intimate anecdotes about a “secret film” Lina performed under Franco’s direction, and how she remained his one true love clear to the end. Again, very fascinating, heartfelt words from the people who knew her best.

Last are trailers for Female Vampire and assorted other Kino/Redemption Films titles including Franco’s Exorcism, and Jean Rollin’s The Rape of the Vampire, The Nude Vampire and Requiem For a Vampire.

Bottom Line

Female Vampire – though easy on the eyes – just wasn’t my cup of tea. As I mentioned at the start of the review, I adore good, quality trash when done right. But the unapologetic glee in films like Pieces was missing from a lot of Franco’s work, with Female Vampire coming off almost too serious for its own good. A bad movie is one thing – a bad movie with an art-house approach is something entirely different, and somewhat tough to get entertained by.

For fans of Female Vampire, however, this remastered Kino/Redemption Films release is a welcome addition to their collections. It’s the first time both the original Female Vampire and its censored cut Erotikill have been released together in their entirety, and the exclusive supplemental material for this edition does a fine, respectable job of remembering Lina Romay.

While I can’t recommend the film itself, this new edition from Kino and Redemption is a must-have for Franco and Romay enthusiasts.

– by Jason Marsiglia