Monday, April 5, 2010

Female Vampire (1973)

A half-naked Lina Romay comes out from the fog. She wanders slowly towards the camera. Stops. The camera zooms in her breasts, then her... crouch, pans up and we see a close-up of her eyes. Wide shot again, Lina continues to walk and directly into the camera with a bump. Cut.

Female Vampire is one of Jess Franco's sloppiest productions from this time, shot probably over a couple of days and it seems improvised more or less. There's whole sequences out of focus, and Lina even looks into the camera at one moment. The story is mostly Jack Taylor walking around with a voice over, Lina having sex and long slow scenes of people just doing nothing. 

But that's the genius of Female Vampire. It's one of those movies that seem like dream, a hallucination. It's the whole movie that's important, not the details. Because when you take few steps back and ignore the mistakes and the very uneven acting, you'll see a wonderful little dream of a movie. Something that probably is closer to Franco than very few of his other movies. Like Bo Arne Vibenius Breaking Point, this is something that seem very personal to the director. Here Franco found his new leading lady after the death of Soledad Miranda, and I wonder if Female Vampire is his goodbye to Soledad? Because it's such sad story, a lot of sorrow in both Francos direction and in the character of Countess Irina Karlstein. Is Jack Taylor's character a symbol of Jess himself?

I'm hardly the first person to say that Lina Romay is a great actress, at least not here early in her career, but she's an essential part of Female Vampire and perfectly balances the innocence and the death in her character. I doubt a trained actress could have done the same thing with out over-acting or spoiling the character with just "acting".

Female Vampire is not my favorite Franco-movie, but it's a fairy tale that grows every time I see it. What makes it powerful is the intimacy to the mind of Franco, something that both is a bit disturbing to watch, but also feels like an honor. 


CiNEZiLLA said...

Yeah that is a great movie. Sometimes even "bad" movies can be great and this is one of them. The movie definitely grows on you over time. I remember that I completely fell in love with Lina during the bath of blood scene way back in the day. An amazing piece of work from the great Jess.

There's an Ed Wood movie, I can never remember which one, where you can see him walking into frame just before the cut. It's just one of those moments where you feel his love and passion for making movies flow over in his enthusiasm. That's just what I felt when I saw, and think about that great scene in FV. That beautiful shot used to the very last possible frame, and one can almost see Franco smiling the most satisfied smile about that great shot. And it is a great shot, or we wouldn't still be talking about it almost forty years later.

Damn I want to re watch that movie now.



dfordoom said...

For me the quintessential Jess Franco-Lina Romay movies are Female Vampire and Doriana Gray. Yes, they're totally sex-obsessed. But they're among the very few erotic horror movies where the eroticism and the horror are equally important. If you cut the sex, you'd lose the film. They're about the overwhelming obsessiveness of sex. And Jess and Lina were sexually obsessed with each other at that time, and the sexual tension between director and star really sparks.

One scene in Female Vampire that is often criticised is Lina's masturbation scene. For me it's the key to the movie. She's being driven crazy because she can't get sexual release without killing. And Lina's terrifyingly unselfconscious performance in that scene makes it work. A more experienced actress might have worried about that scene. She just did it the way she felt it. And she trusted Jess enough to just do it.

Doriana Gray pursues similar themes, but with some fascinating sexual doubling. An awesomely difficult movie to get hold of, but worth it.