This month, Redemption films brings us two remastered Blu-Ray HD transfers of cult sexploitation director, Jess Franco, both starring his wife, and umm, f*ck muse, Lina Romay. The first, Female Vampire (aka Erotikill, 1973), is the most lauded of their frequent pairing, if lauded is indeed an appropriate word to describe the reverie the title has for Franco fans. Indeed, it has elements that do sometimes justify an article in ‘Video Watchdog’ written by Tim Lucas, which asserts that this title is “one of the most erotic and transgressive works in the genre.” To each his own, but this is clearly overly generous hyperbole.
Most will come away feeling more like we’re all just humoring the director’s Ted Nugent sized obsession with sex. The other is the 1974 film Exorcism (aka Demoniac), that, at best, is a chore to sit through, one of the hundreds of copycats spawned by the magnitude of The Exorcist’s 1973 success. Franco is an interesting cinematic figure, but one whose experimental style (like giallo master Mario Bava on an even more limited budget) never quite translated into watchable cinema. Amidst a lot of execrable entries, he’s made some curious failures, but even these (maybe Venus In Furs, 1969, which is not based on Masoch’s infamous title, only casually copying its namesake, is a case in point). These two remastered titles, which Franco directed under pseudonyms (J.P. Johnson and Clifford Brown), date back to the time when star and director had only recently met, and, for us, we get to watch thinly veiled pornography as a husband and wife engage in an endless carousel of role-playing.
In Female Vampire, Romay stars as a the mute Countess Irina Karlstein, stuck on the island of Madeira, feeding on victims (male and female) as they reach sexual climax. Lonely but wanting to be in love, she kills victim after victim until inadvertently falling in love with Baron von Rathony, a man in search of the strange ghosts told to haunt the island. Everyone knows countess Irina belongs to the undead, it seems, including a nosy but useless Dr. Roberts (Franco), and the blind Dr. Orloff (Jean-Pierre Bouyxou), who converse about her evil presence permeating the island. When the Baron and the Countess meet, it becomes a test of her will, to keep him with her or kill him with the sex she so clearly craves (when there’s no victims around to sex to death, she rapes the bedposts and takes really long sensual baths).
In Exorcism, Romay stars as Linda Mariel, a performance artist who stages kinky S&M Black Masses for the perverted and rich social elite of Paris. But a defrocked priest (Franco), who writes deliciously realistic S&M stories for a porn mag, happens to witness one of these Masses, not understanding that it’s an act. Renting a room across from where Linda and some of her best girl buds live and play, the priest systematically lures the women into his room so he can tie them up, make them admit that they’ve been possessed by the devil, have mild sexy times, and then kill them. This goes on for quite some time.
Of the two, which actually do both have a semblance of plot, Female Vampire stands out as the better title, but not by much. We immediately see a mostly nude Romay at the opening credits, wearing a cape, a belt, and some boots as she wanders a foggy marshy area, the camera literally zooming into her pubic mound, which is basically the centerpiece of the film. We’re never quite clear why her victims die as they orgasm (usually while she fellates them), but, once that “life source” leaves the body, they’re done. Countess Irina is akin to a fatal STD. Her romance with the pained looking Jack Taylor as the Baron consists of lots and lots of close-ups, with eye zooms in the close-ups as they stare at each other. Romay is playing a mute vampiress and the Baron seems to be a man of little words. This leaves most of the ridiculous dialogue between the two doctors, who ponder the existence of the lethal Countess, and of her victims, they wonder “How do we know their pleasure wasn’t worth their life?” Plenty of moody, dream-like sequences punctuate the proceedings, and if only Franco could have maintained a modicum of taste, perhaps he could have made this a more righteous endeavor. Whereas someone like Mario Bava discovered Barbara Steele, a wild-eyed beauty that would grace many a grindhouse, arthouse and giallo effort, Franco’s Lina Romay never seems to light up the screen, never as exciting to us as she is to Franco. Her eyes are as dead as her character here, and it doesn’t help that she’s a mute.
If Female Vampire can be recommended only as a curiosity piece that perhaps best reflects the collaborative powers of Romay and Franco to extreme cinephiles or fans of low grade Euro sleaze, then Exorcism should just be forgotten altogether. It certainly doesn’t help that even this remastered version is only available dubbed, but there’s isn’t even a striking visual scheme to fall back on. Sure, the packaging proclaims this sordid gem is “punctuated with disarming moments of visual eloquence,” which is certainly not true, though we sure get to see a lot of dull things happen in an ornately decorated hotel room. There’s unintentionally funny moments, like Franco declaring to a soon-to-be victim, “I have a chapel in my house. There’s nothing strange about that.” And then some dubbing bloopers, with one young lady yelling, “You know a lot too much about these murders.” Sadly, this doesn’t make up for the time invested watching it.
More work than was perhaps necessary went into remastering these titles into HD, but for fans of Franco or the grindhouse aesthetic, they are certainly packaged nicely. Both films feature shorter, less sexually explicit and differently titled versions of themselves, which, depending on what you’re looking for, may actually serve your purposes better. However, the shorter versions, which focus more on the “horror” elements of the stories, actually fail quiet miserably at inspiring scares or thrills. These films were made to titillate, and without the window dressing, would simply be porn. You can’t have one without the other. Exorcism doesn’t feature any other notable extras, other than a series of trailers that should demonstrate for you the numbingness of Franco’s filmography. Female Vampire is the better disc deal, as you get some scraps of interest, including a recent Franco interview, as well as tribute to the recently deceased Romay from a co-star in the film.
Destiny In Soft Focus: Jess Franco Remembers Female Vampire
A very dilapidated Franco talks about his memories with this feature, saying it was supposed to be about a nice vampire that only wanted love. He intentionally made it unclear if she needed either sperm or blood (so he does enjoy a little mystery with some things) and then has nothing to say but praise for his late wife, a woman so transfixing, she shouldn’t even be required to speak. Franco is very candid about his relationship with his Romay, and reveals other interesting tidbits about other actresses he discovered. Overall, he wants us to know he’s still at it, next looking to make a film about nasty vampires.
Words For Lina
What starts off as a touching and seemingly unscripted tribute to Lina Romay from critic and co-star Jean-Pierre Bouyxou devolves into a rather lengthy and creepy treatise on how the sexy lady loved life and sex and loved being filmed having sex. He refers to the Spanish beauty as a “Parisian guttersnipe,” and recounts the last time they spoke, where he felt she still looked vivacious. She died of cancer in 2012.
For those uninitiated with Franco, Female Vampire presents itself as an item of some interest, but should definitely be forewarned, as patience may be required. Exorcism is certainly one to pass on completely. But if you’re going to take the time to view either of these, these two remastered Redemption packages are certainly your best option, even though the special features are as vacuous as the films themselves.
Film Reviews: Exorcism – 1/5 – Female Vampire – 2/5
Disc Reviews: Exorcism: 1.5/5 – Female Vampire: 2/5