In the 70's, with the rising stature and power of the independent woman came a slew of Dracula alterations. Christopher Lee was out, and raging lesbian vampires were in, thanks in the most part to many of Hammer's sleazy productions like Countess Dracula and Twins of Evil. Hammer would not be the only ones to dabble in the female vampyre mythos however, there would be several other European productions. Perhaps the most recognizable is the José Ramón Larraz erotic horror film, Vampyres, released in 1974. Due to its violence and sexual content, it has been faced with intense butchering on every film medium, and finally, Blue Underground takes the garlic off the original negative and presents the film in its true uncut form. But does it have any bite?
Fulfilling their carnal lesbian desires, Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka) are brutally shot dead by the hand of a presumably male, gloved killer. After an undisclosed period of time, the two have been inexplicably resurrected, with the apparent thirst for blood. Enter the neo-Jonathan Harker, Ted (Murray Brown), who is up in the forest-clad wilderness for some business. A pair of travelers are also venturing into the fall outskirts of civilization, and their worries are struck early on as they witness Fran and Miriam, standing alongside the road. The two women are picked up and disappear mysteriously to their gothic castle.
While in the castle with their lovers, the lustful Vampyres indulge in wine, sex...and death! Fran and John engage in passionate sex, and when he awakens he notices a gaping cut on his arm. He leaves the castle and gets it stitched up by the aforementioned pair of travelers, but his sensual uncertainty about the two beautiful mistresses brings him back to the castle. His questioning gets the best of him, as Fran and Miriam drain him of his red and white cells.
Drained nearly entirely of life, John must witness the deeds of the diabolic duo as they tear into more men and women with increasing bloodlust. Will he be able to reunite with the travelers and save himself from the erotic evil of the two Vampyres, or is survival merely an idyllic dream?
Shoddy all the way, the only real draw to Vampyres is the beautiful bodies of Marianne Morris and Anulka. Both actresses had substantial success in modeling, and to their roles they bring ample amounts of nudity and sensuality, as they unclothe themselves as much as possible. Both ladies project an oblique mystery to their caricatures, and Morris' alluring stare is both scary and erotic. I say caricatures not only because director José Ramón Larraz is a comic book aficionado, but also because the characters are about as thin as the pages of a comic strip. There is really no development as to what makes them the temptresses they've become, nor is there any mention as to why they were initially killed or most importantly, why they are Vampyres in the first place.
Extending not only from the two leads, but also to the rest of the characters, the film is incredibly simplistic in its lack of any real development. The whole film is so simple: sexually hungry vamps pickup, screw and kill consenting men. The fact that all the men pick them up by car could be read as a parable to prostitution, but given the meandering and amateur nature of the film, such a reading is about as Marianne Morris keeping her clothes on.
The film flutters around with a dream-like discontinuity, never establishing its sense of the past or the present, but such an effect appears more to be as an incompetence rather than a planned synthesis. The tacked on and indistinct ending attempts to give the film seeming sophistication, but really only discloses further the clumsiness of the production.
Deemed a cult film, I suspect that the only real reason Vampyres has garnered any following at all is because of the breasts of the two leads. It offers nothing new to the Dracula sub-genre, failing to develop the misogynistic beginning or the inner thoughts of its two lesbian focus points. See it for the nudity, but be prepared to sift through several lengthy segments of plodding boredom. And don't even try to take it for anything else than face value, because this is just another lesbian vampire exploitation film, nothing more, nothing less.
Blue Underground presents the film in uncut, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the resulting image is burdened with grain. The print used here lacks polish (like the film) and contains a grainy haze throughout. The colors are much better though, very strong and well saturated. Scenes that initially appeared off colored and washed out in the original Anchor Bay disc are much better the second time around. The print has been cleaned up nicely to ensure maximum visibility of Marianne Morris' voluptuous composure. Considering the grainy nature of the print (evident from Anchor Bay's previous release), Blue Underground has done a good job at retransferring the film.
Vampyres is presented solely in all its dubbed English mono glory. As it will be reveled on the supplements, the voices for the leading ladies were dubbed in the post-production process, and therefore sound as clear as one would expect. For a film of nearly 30 years of age, the resulting mix sounds flat and dated, but probably as clean as it could get.
Porting over supplements from the previous Anchor Bay release, as well as adding a few new extras of its own, this is a fairly feature packed release from Blue Underground. First up is a commentary by Brian Smedley-Aston and José Ramón Larraz, producer and director, respectively. Although the track lacks much insight, it is an amusing listen, if only to here Larraz freely spit F-bombs on a mile a minute basis. There is talk about the production and how the film got to be made, and other anecdotes are littered throughout the way. As the commentary concludes, Larraz shamelessly tries to give reason to his impenetrable ending.
New to this release is the "Return of the Vampyres" featurette, which interviews the two leading ladies nearly 30 years later. Both have surprisingly little to say about the film (which is expected since neither really have even watched it), but they do offer a nice window into their personal lives. Anulka talks about her life before and after the film, and even talks at length about her relationship with a rocker that ended somberly. Marianne Morris is not quite as vocal about her personal life, but she does have some interesting things to say. Both women still look stunning to this day, and it is great that Blue Underground tracked them down for this release. Although they offer very little background to the film, it is still a worthwhile 13 minutes.
A "Lost Caravan Scene" is partially reconstructed via stills, but is pretty disjointed and meaningless. Thankfully some background is given on some text stills beforehand, but this is a superfluous inclusion. There are two other still galleries, one for the Scandinavian beauty, Anulka, and another for the posters and stills. Like Blue Undergrounds other galleries on past releases, they are extremely comprehensive, and full of great shots.
The international and U.S. theatrical trailers are included, and the U.S. version is hysterically campy. With laughably grave voice, the narrator repeatedly repeates: "Vampyres! Very unnatural women." The international trailer is about as meandering as the film itself. The disc is rounded off with a short but well-written bio for José Ramón Larraz and a single DVD-ROM feature. "Vampyres - A tribute to the Ultimate in Erotic Horror Cinema" is a 36 page Adobe Acrobat document that looks at the cuts the film has had over the years, the making-of, notes from the producer, pictures and a detailed synopsis.
It should also be noted that this is the first time the film has ever been presented fully uncut and uncensored on home exhibition. In fact, during its theatrical run it was cut substantially as well, so if you are going to take the time to see this film, this is the version to get.
Vampyres is a film whose bite barely penetrates the surface. Other than its ample amounts of nudity and blood, it is an empty shell of a film, full of lackluster suspense scenes and annoying discontinuity. The image is grainy but overall a nice improvement over the previous Anchor Bay disc, and the many extras will be sure to please fans. Blue Underground's nice work here in presenting the film fully uncut means that nobody else ever has to release this film again, which is a blessing. Fans of large chested vampires will probably like this film alright, but it is by no means the definitive lesbian vampire picture.
Movie - C
Image Quality - B-
Sound - C+
Supplements - B+
José Ramón Larraz commentary on "Vampyres"
Being a fan of Vampyres, I finally got around to listening to the audio commentary with Director José Ramón Larraz and Producer Brian Smedley-Aston. As mentioned in Rhett's review, Larraz is freaking hilarious with his numerous "fack" words. I was laughing all the way through. A sampling of Larraz's insight includes...
"If Kim Basinger was in that shot, you'd see her poosie right now."
"She was very concerned about showing her teets."
"He's facking her like he's riding a motorcycle."
"I have a video of Vampyres at home that was edited for the Vatican. Fack! I can see Anulka's poosie!"
"Harry! My balls!"
...and so on and so forth. Definitely one of the most entertaining commentary tracks I've heard, one that I'll listen to again. Check it out.
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