Vampyros Lesbos – aka Las Vampiras – is a 1970 West German-Spanish horror feature film directed and co-written by Jesús Franco. It is, arguably, Franco’s best-known film today, having reached a certain cult audience through the success of the mid-1990s soundtrack release, which became a favourite of the easy listening club scene of the time and then filtered into mainstream media.
Vampyros Lesbos stars Franco’s early 70s muse Soledad Miranda as Countess Nadine Oskudar, a beautiful female vampire who seduces her victims by performing a sensual and erotic nightclub act (a recurring theme in Franco’s films). She takes a fancy to American Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Strömberg) and makes her both a lover and a victim, appearing to her in a series of sexual dreams.
When Linda travels to a remote island to claim an inheritance, she meets the Countess in the flesh and is soon under her spell. Dr Seward (Dennis Price, in a character reference to Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula) investigates her case, and on discovering the truth, attempts to use her to become a vampire himself.
Shot between June and July 1970 in Turkey, the film was one of Franco’s more successful films, both financially and artistically. Coming to the film straight from his most mainstream era (working with the likes of Harry Alan Towers on films like Count Dracula, Venus in Furs, The Bloody Judge and the Fu Manchu series), Franco at this stage seemed to reveling in a new sense of freedom. international censorship allowed him to explore erotic themes more openly.
His movies of the era – others include A Virgin Among the Living Dead and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein – increasingly eschewed conventional narrative structure in favour of hallucinogenic and psychedelic imagery and music. This is cinema at its most free and often feels closer to experimental arthouse production than conventional horror.
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The lesbian theme as suggested by the title was something that had, only a few years earlier, been taboo in cinema, and Franco certainly exploits it in this film. However, it would be unfair to suggest that the film is just softcore titillation, as has often been claimed. Rather, this is erotic horror, both elements complementing each other.
The film would slip from public view by the 1980s, remembered only by Euro-horror cultists. But it would have an unexpected revival in 1995 when the soundtrack album was released. In the mid-1990s, easy listening – or ‘loungecore’ – was the big thing amongst London’s so-called hipsters, and soon spread across the UK and beyond.
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The film’s score – Manfred Hübler, Siegfried Schwab and Jesús Franco (working under the alias of David Khune) was perfect for these clubs, suffused with sitar and offering a mix of the exotic and the kitsch. The album – originally released as 3 Films By Jess Franco and aimed squarely at soundtrack collectors – was repackaged as Vampyros Lesbos – Sexadelic Dance Party , and was a compilation of the albums Sexadelic and Psychedelic Dance Party, and featured music from three Franco Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy and The Devil Came from Akasava.
It was released by German cult soundtrack specialists Crippled Dick Hot Wax on CD and vinyl. In 2006, an extended version was issued as a double LP. In the UK, Redemption Films re-issued the film using the artwork featuring Soledad Miranda instead of their usual distinctive black and white covers, to capitalise on the popularity of the film.
On 30th November 2015, Severin Films released Vampyros Lesbos in the UK on Blu-ray and on DVD with the following extras:
- Vampyros Jesus: Interview with writer/director Jess Franco
- Sublime Soledad: Interview with Soledad Miranda Historian Amy Brown
- Stephen Thrower on Vampyros Lesbos: Interview with author of Murderous Passions The Delirious Cinema of Jess Franco
- Jess is Yoda clip
- Alternate German Opening Title Sequence Dracula’s Heiress
- German Trailer
- English subtitles
Cast and characters:
- Ewa Strömberg as Linda Westinghouse
- Soledad Miranda as Countess Nadine Carody
- Andrés Monales as Omar
- Dennis Price as Doctor Alwin Seward
- Paul Müller as Doctor Steiner
- Heidrun Kussin as Agra
- Michael Berling as Doctor Seward’s assistant
- Beni Cardoso as Dead woman (uncredited)
- Jesús Franco as Memmet (uncredited)
- José Martínez Blanco as Morpho (uncredited)