Sunday, October 30, 2016

Vampyros Lesbos( 1971) and She Killed in Ecstasy (1971)

By far the most famous muse of Spanish exploitation filmmaker Jesus 'Jess' Franco was Soledad Miranda, who appeared in a bundle of his movies in the late 60's/early 70's, and was well on the way to bigger and better things, with a career that only had up to go. Then she tragically died in a traffic accident in 1971, cutting her life far too short...

Vampyros Lesbos

Legal agent Linda Westinghouse goes on assignment to a secluded island off the coast of Turkey, where the mysterous Countess Nadine Carody resides. The alluring woman makes quick working in getting Linda naked and putting the moves on her, who she then bites. Linda then has a breakdown, and wakes up in a clinic, run by a man who knows a little too much about vampires. While her memory may be temporarily shot, she can't ignore the call of Nadine to come back to the island, forever...

Vampyros Lesbos is a mixed bag. It looks fabulous, and is entertaining, but on the other hand, the story could be better. It's not necessarily that the film's too short, and could've been longer, but rather that some scenes feel a bit pointless, and we could've delved more into the plot. The film does focus on cultivating a more dreamlike tone and story, but I wish there was more interesting story to go along with that, but ultimately the movie doesn't really explore everything quite as much as it could have. There are still some great scenes though, such as the countesses monologue about her past.

Lesbos is partially an adaptation of Dracula, but more of a spiritual one rather than literal. There are plenty of plot elements shared, from Dracula being a part of the countesses past, to Dr. Seward, a clinic with a Renfield stand-in (of course a frequently nude lesbian woman in this version), as well as the plot of an estate agent going to an isolated property to do business with the owner, and feeling progressively more trapped and delirious as the story goes on. There are just as many differences too, which is ok, because like I said, it's not a straight adaptation (pun not intended).

Coming back to the flaws, there are a few parts of the movie where I felt it missed the mark. One being that we don't see much of Linda in Nadine's company before she goes somewhat cookoo for crazy puffs and ends up in Dr. Seward's clinic. It also feels like there are scenes missing in that section of the film. There's also an odd subplot involving a deranged serial killer played by Franco himself. What makes it so strange is how before coming to the island, Linda witnesses this guy murdering a woman, and he speaks to her, yet next scene there's no mention of this and she does nothing about it.

One thing that confused me was why the violently man-hating Nadine has a male manservant in Morpho. That's not a complaint with the story, necessarily, I just would've been keen to know why.

The direction here is fantastic, with many extremely well-shot scenes. Possibly the best part of this movie, it really helps elevate it beyond your typical vampire cinema.

The set design is wonderful too, and replete with gorgeous colouring. It'll please Franco to no end that some of his sleazy-ass movies could be shown in film classes on how to direct and stage a shot! The dude was seriously talented when he wasn't burning himself out on both ends with making hundreds of films of utter garbage quality at worst.

The score to Vampyros Lesbos is very well-regarded, and built up quite the following. Some tracks on it I really like, while others are weird and somewhat annoying. I'm not sure how to feel about the odd distorted radio piece. Is it effective in building a surreal atmosphere, or is it just annoying? I'm leaning more towards the latter. Had it sounded more overtly distorted and creepy, it could've been effective, but it just sounds like random radio chatter, and doesn't really work.

As for the acting, Soledad Miranda is great as the evil, yet human Countess Carody. The rest is all pretty fine, albeit a bit hard to judge when in another language.

By the way, a random thought that came to mind: This may have been inspired by The Vampire Lovers and its themes and popularity, though I'm not sure. This only came out in 1971, whereas Vampire Lovers was 1970. However, Jess Franco was nothing if not efficient, and I have little doubt that he saw that movie and said to himself "Perfect idea! I can make a movie like that!" and did just that before 8 months had even passed! But then again, pre-Vampire Lovers lesbian vamp flicks were a little more prevalent in Europe than English speaking countries, so maybe the two movies are unrelated. It's likely, I guess.

Vampyros Lesbos isn't perfect, and I don't consider it to be one of the best lesbian vampire movies, but it is still quite a decent flick, and visually fantastic!...

She Killed in Ecstasy

Scientist Dr. Johnson has developed viable stem cell research, using aborted human embryos, and is eager to use his discovery to make a difference in the world of medicine, but the medical board don't see it that way. They brand him an evil criminal, butcher, and murderer, vilifying him as nothing more than a deranged mad scientist. They have him disbarred, and want him in jail too. His whole life completely in tatters, the only thing the doctor has left in life is his ultra sexy wife, but nothing can save him from his downward spiral, and he commits suicide, leaving his wife distraught. Having stood by him proudly while he was alive, Mrs. Johnson plans on getting revenge on the men and women responsible for her husband's death...

She Killed in Ecstasy is a surprisingly simple film. A woman is wronged, she gets her revenge, and that's literally it. After what happens to her husband, Mrs. Johnson seduces and kills off his persecutors one by one, and then the movie ends, quite abruptly too! What's here is pretty well-written, and you really feel for both Dr. Johnson, and his wife. Still surprisingly relevant even today, too, with the ever-present controversy surrounding abortion, stem cell research, etc.

The late great Soledad Miranda delivers a great visual performance, looking both alluring and seductive, as well as nailing down her character's emotions, and growing instability. I say only visual, because like with Vampyros Lesbos, this movie is dubbed into German. No idea if the original Spanish version is available on English DVD's. Whatever the case, Renate Kuster did the German dub acting for Miranda, which is a shame. I want to hear her act for herself. Oh well, better than an ill-fitting American dub, at least.

Now to discuss the ending. *ah-hem* AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! WHY DID NO-ONE WARN ME HOW THE MOVIE ENDS?! WHYYYYYY?! Thus concludes my discussion on the ending. I won't spoil it, but...bewarned!

The look of She Killed in Ecstasy is great! Vibrant and colourful, with fantastic direction and cinematography, Jess Franco sure does know how to make an incredibly stunning visual opus.

The death scenes here are well handled. Pretty violent, but not overly graphic, thanks to low-budget. That is to say, there's plenty of blood, but most stabs are offscreen, and we just see lots of the red stuff smeared on the actors. There's one murder that involves suffocation through a clear plastic cushion, and it's probably the best in the movie. It's also a little confusing though, considering the wig Miranda is wearing, I thought she was a different character before the murder started, and because we'd seen so little of the female board member, I didn't know which of these characters were which. Especially confusing since the Doctor is the one who initiates the seduction, rather than the murderess. You'd think it'd be the other way around! Also, kinda amusingly contrived that said doctor just so happens to be into women!

The soundtrack, re-using some tracks from Vampyros Lesbos (ever thrifty, Jess!) is really good, and lends an air of 70's funk to the proceedings.

Speaking of re-used, much of the cast and crew attached to this movie were also carried over from Vampyros Lesbos. There's Soledad Miranda of course, Ewa Stromberg, Paul Muller (in a bigger role here), and Franco himself playing one of the doctors. Howard Vernon is also here, which isn't a surprise seeing as the man had a career in appearing in Jess Franco's movies. It's frankly more surprising he wasn't in Vampyros!

She Killed in Ecstasy may be a simple movie, but it's one of Jess Franco's best, for good reason. It's well worth a watch...

Soledad Miranda was definitely a sight to behold, and managed to intrigue and captivate many an audience, despite a short-lived career. I highly recommend checking these two movies out! Even if they disappoint, she most likely won't...

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