In a career that began in 1953, Spanish auteur Jess Franco was involved in well over 200 films. Inventive, provocative and often controversial, the director is renowned for his exploitation films that covered a multitude of genres from zombie and cannibal films to science fiction and historical drama. Franco is probably best remembered, however, for his sexploitation productions which focussed on women in prison, sadomasochism and lesbian vampires, with one of his most famous being Female Vampire (1975), and what an experience it is.
A thinly constructed plot centres on the vampire Countess Irina Karlstein (Romay – Franco’s long term muse and latterly, wife) who lures several men and women to their bloody deaths. Less a narrative exercise than a surreal erotic horror, Female Vampire is, in its most basic form, a repetitive compilation of graphic, “performance” sex scenes as Irina sucks - in the case of her male victims, very literally - the lifeforce from her victims at the point of climax. Often wearing little more than a cape and a large leather belt, Romay is an engaging actress, and one who shows few inhibitions in the pursuit of her art. Regular close-ups - a Franco trait - of her seventies-style hirsute lady parts, simulation with a phallic wooden bed post, and energetic solo cavorting on a gothic-styled bed demand little from the viewer’s imagination. But there is also an engaging, atmospheric grace with how Franco has constructed his film.
With Female Vampire, Franco created an ethereal vision; one that presents the film as detached from reality. Romay wanders from locale to locale, stalking her victims as if browsing at a boutique butchers, as a small group of eccentric academics discuss the impact of having a potential vampire in their midst. Only one man, another Franco regular, Jack Taylor seems to be on the same wavelength as Irina, but for most of the film it seems like he has stepped in from an entirely different production altogether. After spending the majority of his screen time thoughtfully staring into the distance, Taylor finally confronts Irina and while she clearly has more of a connection with him than her other victims, the end results are inevitable.
As a piece of cinematic history, Female Vampire is essential viewing as it demonstrates the style and focus of genre legend Jess Franco, in considerably more clarity than mere words ever could. It is an indulgent, excessively uncompromising work of art that is synonymous with a time that will never be repeated.
FEMALE VAMPIRE (1975) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: JESS FRANCO / SCREENPLAY: JESS FRANCO, JOSYANE GIBERT / STARRING: LINA ROMAY, JACK TAYLOR, ALICE ARNO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW