Review for The Female Vampire
I must have seen at least three versions of Jess Franco’s ‘The Female Vampire’ over the years (aka ‘The Bare Breasted Countess’ aka ‘Erotikill’). They’ve ranged from a highly-censored UK DVD release to a much more extreme version where hard-core footage has been cut into the original. This version sits somewhere between the two – an uncensored version of the original perhaps, certainly a lot to expect to get past the UK censors of the day.
‘The Female Vampire’ is unfairly classed as little more than ‘euro-sleaze / sexploitation’, but it can be argued that, as a homage to the poetic and often melancholic eroticism of Jean Rollin’s work, which this unarguably is, that it has merit beyond merely sleaze. It’s actually a strangely engrossing film, paced to reflect its simmering eroticism, portrayed with vampiric blood-lust as a metaphor. To modern audiences, it may be deemed to lack pace and narrative but if you are in the right mind-set, and happy to drop into an almost dream-like state, it’s an enjoyable watch. That said, if you are offended and embarrassed by an abundance of female nudity and simulated sex, then you should probably give this a miss.
Countess Irina Karlstein (Lina Romay) is a beautiful, other-worldly vampire whose blood-lust has been translated (by Jess Franco) into just plain lust, feeding on blood and other bodily fluids, during the course of erotic encounters. As is common with Franco’s world, the heroine is as likely to engage with women as men; it’s all the same to her in attempting to quench her insatiable desire. So the first ‘victims’ are her Gardener and a local Madame. Go figure.
Before long, a forensic pathologist, Dr. Roberts (played by Jess Franco) is on her trail, ably supported by Dr. Orloff, his blind side-kick (Jean-Pierre Bouyxou). When the Countess then falls for the charms of a handsome Baron Von Rathony (Jack Taylor), things get ever more complex.
From its opening scene, with a soft-focus Lina Romay walking slowly towards camera, with sunlight behind her, wearing only a cape, a large belt and thigh-length leather boots, it starts as it means to go on. It’s very much an erotic study of Romay, a partner (literally) of Franco’s for many years, using the exotic mythology of vampirism as its foundation – a formula that was extremely popular at the time of release.
In common with Rollin’s films, like ‘Lips of Blood’ and ‘The Shiver of the Vampire’, dialogue is of little importance. Whilst not quite the near silent-film approach adopted by Rollin, the film does rely far more on facial expression and body-language than dialogue. It’s a very visual film.
This print looks in fairly good shape, if not stunning. There are plenty of scratches and debris, particularly on the opening reel, and the picture looks a little washed out, lacking in definition and contrast. That said, the ‘softness’ may well have been intentional though it certainly adds to a fairly dated look throughout.
Apparently, the DVD (which I haven’t seen – just a link to a streamed version of the film) includes a “Horror Version” of the film, under the title Erotikill; two features: Destiny In Soft Focus, and Words For Lina; plus trailers including other release like Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg; and Elsa Fraulein SS.
In summary, I really enjoyed watching ‘The Female Vampire’ again, though I appreciate it may not be for everybody. One burning question for any right-minded viewer might be, is this in any way politically incorrect? To a schizophrenic degree, yes – of course. In many regards, it’s pure sexploitation. But there is also a marginally defensive angle to be considered too. Released at the height of a liberating sexual revolution, it can be seen as a celebration of female sexuality. It also shows women firmly in a more dominant, driving seat, sexually exploiting the males they encounter for their own gratuitous pleasure – a twisting of the classic vampire tale.
Of course, there is no doubt that the film is also highly derivative – a transparent homage to the films of Jean Rollin, of which Franco was a great admirer, with the dreamlike, almost silent-movie sensibility and highly charged female eroticism.
If this looks like the sort of film you might enjoy, then you probably will.