Color, 1971, 89m.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Soledad Miranda, Ewa Strömberg, Dennis Price, Paul Muller, Heidrun Kusin, José Martínez Blanco
Severin (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), ELEA (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Second Sight (UK R2 PAL), Image (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Synapse (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)
Though widely known in cult circles today, this hyper-stylish sexy chiller from director Jess Franco was almost entirely unknown in most English-speaking territories for decades after its initial release. Franco had just come off a string of unusually ambitious, highly-budged productions for Harry Allan Towers when he embarked on this German-Spanish co-production, the ultimate star vehicle for short-lived screen siren Soledad Miranda (whom he had just worked with on Sex Charade, Nightmares Come at Night and Count Dracula). Here he allowed her unique allure to run riot and dominate the entire film, generating a hypnotic power outside of what barely passes for a coherent plot.
The title alone causes the imagination to swim with images of slinky vampire vixens skulking through castles and biting their sapphic prey, but the film actually delivers something else entirely. Basically a transition piece between the Franco classics Succubus and Female Vampire, the film begins in familiar Franco territory with an elaborate nightclub-style sequence relying on unabashed female nudity and surrealism. The lovely Countess Nadine Corody (Miranda) presides over her vampiric realm on an Iberian island, where unlucky travelers can often stumble into her web. Her latest prey, the lovely Linda Westinghouse (Strömberg), falls under the Countess' charms after dreaming of her for several nights, unaware that she is a descendant of Count Dracula. Meanwhile the intrepid Doctor Seward (Muller), a recurring Franco character lifted from Bram Stoker's novel, investigates the mysterious episodes of blood-drinking which plague the otherwise tranquil, sun-washed paradise.
While Miranda doesn't get the chance to function as much more than a sexual object here, she does so quite magnificently and gives the film much of its visceral power. Of course, there's also the funky lounge soundtrack, which became something of an underground club legend and popped up unexpectedly in Jackie Brown, and Miranda's appearance and stage routines have become an inspiration for exotic dancers worldwide. Both Miranda and composers Manfred Hübler and Sigi Schwab would team up again right after this for the equally hypnotic She Killed in Ecstasy, whose video history identically mirrors this film's.
The saga of Vampyros' release on home video has been somewhat tangled, as it originated on the videotape circuit in the early '90s usually culled from a German PAL master without subtitles. The first legitimate English subtitled version cropped up on UK VHS from Redemption, and a cleaned-up and very attractive variation on the same transfer (the original and most explicit German version, which contains far more exposed flesh than the mild Spanish cut titled Las Vampiras) was released on DVD in the US by Synapse in 2000. The Synapse DVD itself is quite a beguiling treat, lovingly packaged and presented. Apart from the menu screen (which doesn't clearly show the options selected), Franco fans should find no room to quibble here, considering the film's bizarre pedigree (a Spanish film with French opening titles, dubbed in German and subtitled in English!). The optional subtitles don't offer much clarification for those who haven't seen the film in English, as this is definitely a visual-driven work from start to finish. The disc mercifully omits the silly fake "music video" from Redemption's VHS release, opting instead for the very long German theatrical trailer. The Second Sight DVD in the UK was mastered from more pristine materials and sports a much more colorful appearance, enhanced for widescreen TVs and boasting razor sharp detail. The only drawback is slightly tighter framing, which knocks some of the compositions out of balance. The UK disc also has the trailer, an extensive photo gallery, and a particularly psychedelic cover. The anamorphic transfer was later used as the source for the domestic Image release once the Synapse one went out of print and still retains the German trailer, plus a still gallery and a trailer for She Killed in Ecstasy.
A German Blu-ray was released (sans English options) in late 2014 as well with a remastered HD transfer, but you're far better off with the 2015 edition from Severin containing a region-free Blu-ray and a bonus DVD containing the softer Spanish cut as a bonus. The film itself looks gorgeous and is presented in the roomier, much more satisfying 1.66:1 aspect ration; it's also considerably cleaner than any of its predecessors, and as expected, the elevation to 1080p results in far more satisfying textures and other details in every scene. The omnipresent bright shades of red also fare far better here than before, and the DTS-HD mono track (with optional English subtitles) sounds terrific with more presence than before; the bass in the last eight minutes is guaranteed to grab your attention on a good sound system. The Spanish alternate version on the bonus DVD is, not surprisingly, pretty dupey quality-wise and features optional English subtitles as well. However, this 74-minute version is still definitely worth a watch as it omits all the nudity and features some fascinating alternate scenes, most notably the nightclub performances which now have a different, distinctly more Spanish slant.
Now, on to the extras. The 20-minute "Interlude in Lesbos" features Franco speaking in his usual heavily-accented English (with welcome subtitles) talking about how he got generous German backing at this point in his career, the reason for the story's locale, his unorthodox approach to depicting vampires on film, and of course, the considerable star potential and sweet personality of Miranda (and the not-so-sweet personality of Stromberg). "I like the lesbian relations between two women," he explains about his angle on the story, which obviously proved to be a solid foundation. In "Sublime Soledad," film historian Amy Brown covers the actress's wide-ranging career for 20 minutes complete with some great rare film and TV clips as well sa samples of Miranda's lesser-known career as a pop singer. Then the always articulate and insightful Stephen Thrower puts in his two cents with an 11-minute analysis and history of the film as a key entry in Franco's move to the abstract style that would come to define his work from this point onward. He also does a great job of breaking down how the film inverts and twists the familiar narrative elements of Dracula, even explaining the rationale behind that skinny dipping scene. Running just under three minutes, the goofy "Jess Is Yoda' is an interview outtake with the maestro holding a Santa Yoda doll(!) and discussing his favorite makeup effects artist. The German title sequence (different from the pristine French-language credits seen on the main feature) are also included here in a fuzzy VHS-sourced bonus, and the German trailer is also included in all its funky glory. (It's also way more satisfying than the fake modern trailers and music videos that have graced releases of the film in the past.) The deluxe slipcover packaging is also a nice touch, too, featuring striking painted artwork on the much-missed Miranda. There's no excuse for any cult movie fan to pass up the chance to see Soledad strut her stuff in HD, and this release definitely doesn't disappoint.