'Female Vampire,' a horror erotica film by Spanish filmmaker Jesús Franco, opens with one of the most shocking and titillating credit sequences around. The camera looks out into a forest while a blindly thick fog limits our visibility, establishing a spooky atmosphere. After a short while, we can see what looks like a young woman slowly walking towards us. She's mostly out of focus and blurry, but we can tell she wears a black cape and belt with a large buckle. Soon after, we realize that the cape and belt is all she's wearing. As she comes into focus, the camera doesn't shy away from her. In fact, it does a strange thing by zooming in on the naked woman, carefully examining every inch of her for several minutes before finally pulling away and following her out to the forest.
For those already familiar with Franco's other works and style, the scene is probably none too surprising, as extreme close-ups of certain female body parts can only be described as his particular métier and contribution to horror cinema. But for neophytes of Franco filmmaking, it's surprisingly bizarre and bordering on the uncomfortably awkward. Some might even be inclined to laugh a little at the amount of time spent scrutinizing the woman with such intimate detail. So, it's important to point out that Franco actually works with a great deal of intentionality, from an artistic, creative desire that comingles eroticism and vampire horror while shattering sexual taboos. Funny as it may seem, especially since his graphic style at times reaches a level of the pornographic, Franco tries to explore interesting themes within the traditional vampire mythology.
That opening sequence also sets the tone for the rest of the film — you can't say the movie didn't warn you after those first few minutes. The camera acts almost as if pining after the woman, who we later find out is Countess Irina von Karlstein (Lina Romay), and every sexual encounter she has is shown in similar fashion. Irina is a vampire with a highly unusual hunger for sex — as in, the sexual potency of her victims is the sustenance that allows her immortality. Despite sounding silly and a possibly worthwhile affliction, Franco plays it like the most awful malediction imaginable and has Irina in voice-over explain the anguish she grows through. Her vampire urges hinder and ruin any opportunity for starting meaningful relationships or becoming intimate with another.
Admittedly, the plot is an intriguing idea, especially when romanticizing the image of the forsaken vampire. And to overly dramatize the concept, Franco introduces his eternally-damned star to a hopeless, forlorn poet played by the inexhaustible horror actor Jack Taylor. Meanwhile, a forensic pathologist, played by Franco himself, is on the hunt to destroy her. Sadly, none of this really comes to fruition until well over an hour into the movie, which means having to sit through a series of overtly explicit sexual sequences in the interim. They're obviously meant to get a rise out of the audience, but they take such a long time, and are ultimately pretty dull, that the scenes have us looking at the clock instead, which I'm sure is the opposite of Franco's intended effect. The movie has a great concept at heart, but Franco unfortunately fails at exploring it in any meaningful way.
Originally receiving an X rating due to its graphic nature, Franco avoided controversy by making two more versions of his own film rather than leaving it to the decision of distributors, and both are shorter than his original vision of horror erotica. One goes to the extreme by including scenes of hardcore pornography into the narrative while the other — retitled 'Erotikill' and clocking in a 71 minutes — is a more traditional, straightforward vampire angle but still the same outcome. Of course, only the original and the latter are made available by Kino for this Blu-ray release. Without the boring sexual interludes, the movie has a better pace and arrives at point much sooner. In the end, though, 'Female Vampire' is not Franco's best work in my estimation and is easily forgettable.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'Female Vampires' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase, the Region Free, BD50 disc goes straight to a static main menu with music. The alternate version of the movie can access under "Extras."
The bare-breasted countess makes an appearance on Blu-ray with a mostly good yet unspectacular 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Several age-related issues are problematic, such as dirt and white specks, while scratches, some more severe than others, can be somewhat distracting. There are a couple moments of color degradation, scenes looking faded and one sequence at around the 65-minute mark exposing harsh print damage.
The 2.35:1 image is awash in natural grain, providing a nice film-like appeal, but it also falls on the softer side of things, which is largely due to the original cinematography and not a fault of the encode. Minor details and textures are still visible, revealing a variety blemishes and flaws (stuff that most viewers would probably not care to notice anyway). Contrast is rather mediocre and lacking, creating a flat and dreary look, though whites remain crisp and bright. Colors are largely unimpressive and lethargic, particularly in the secondary hues, but primaries are accurate and cleanly rendered. Black levels are strong and generally true, yet the high-def transfer as a whole feels insipid and dull.
Kino Redemption offers two listening options: the original French with subtitles or an English dub. (The alternate version comes with the English dub only.) And much like the video, both uncompressed PCM mono soundtracks come with issues of their own though not quite as distracting.
The most problematic is the tracks sounding flat, hollow and pretty much lifeless. There's quite literally no extension or movement within the mid-range while still exhibiting moments of awful distortion. Despite being cleanly delivered, everything, from the music and the very few discrete effects in the background, come in at the same decibel level, and there's no bass whatsoever to speak of. Granted, this is not a fault in the codec, but the design creates a very boring and dull presentation. The mix is restrained and limited to the center of the screen from beginning to end, and there's never a sense of space or presence. Vocals feel distant and dry as well. The one positive is that the high-rez tracks mostly lack the popping and hissing often heard in these older, low-budget movies, but aside from that, there's not much else to enjoy.
'Female Vampire' is a horror erotica film that's quite explicit, but for those familiar with Jesús Franco's movies, it may not come as much of a shock. The plot, which Franco wrote, has an intriguing concept for the romanticized, forlorn vampire but is ultimately an exercise in sexual dullness. The Blu-ray comes with a mediocre audio and video presentation, but the few new extras in this release will attract fans of Franco and of the genre in general.