The 70s were a wonderful cinematic time. As the studio system crumbled to pieces and the 60s sexual revolution screamed for attention, exploitation reached one of its peaks, with hardcore porn going mainstream in 1972 with Deep Throat. In Europe, a territory by nature (and law) more open to naughtiness, the Nordic erotica had been kicking out for a while, but was far from being the only sleaze geographical centre. France soon entered the game, investing in a more aristocratic kind of nudity, selling sex and high class. Female Vampire, directed by the prolific Jess Franco, is a fine example of a time when porn still thought there was a chance of being seen as high art.
In the island of Madeira (where, for some reason, everyone speaks French), mute and clothes-less countess Irina Karlstein (Lina Romay) is back to her family home. As a series of freaky deaths start happening (people sucked off their life through, well, mostly their genitals), some start wondering if the Karlstein curse is back to threaten them. Meanwhile, lonely horny vampire Irina struggles between her desire for blood and life juices (pun intended), and her yearning for love and companionship.
If Female Vampire feels patchy, it’s because three different versions of the film were shot – a hardcore porn one, a straight horror and this one, a mix of both, now released by Maison Rouge for our personal enjoyment. One of the best films by Franco, and the first with his muse Romay, who fills the screen with her enigmatic face, Female Vampire has beautifully shot tableaux (in the precious moments the cinematographer stops zooming around), a catchy soundtrack (you’ll find yourself humming it in the shower), and a partial disregard for narrative conventions. Bonus: fade in and out using close ups of pubic hair.
It’s no Misty Beethoven – we wonder if more humour and less poetry wouldn’t make for a better film – but Female Vampire holds its own, as Romay makes us feel sorry for a creature of darkness, as if this was the erotic sequel of Let the Right One In. True, the simulated sex scenes are ridiculous (and don’t get us started on Romay sexually abusing room furniture), but if you are a fan of exploitation, and you know what you are getting into, this film can be a great watch. With hints of sadomasochism, a romantic interlude (as Irina finds a man with a death wish), and the greater moral that you should never accept sexual favours from a mysterious naked stranger, Female Vampire is as 70s and as sleazy as they come, and deserves a place on the hidden shelf of cult cinema.
Female Vampire is being released in DVD on 6th March 2017 by Maison Rouge, a new Euro Cult Label by Screenbound focused on sexploitation.