Cult king of euro-exploitation, Jess Franco, continues to spew out new movies at such a furious rate that even the most committed Francophile must find it a bit of a strain to keep up with the obsessive octogenarian's output. In the last few years, the Frankster seems to have found an understanding home with a small, U.S. based company called One Shot Productions, which appears to have dedicated a large part of it's business almost exclusively to enabling Franco to make quite a few of these micro-budgeted movies, all of them shot very quickly on video tape--and all of them as relentlessly perverse, idiosyncratic and as downright kinky as one has come to expect from the saucy old Spaniard. "Vampire Blues" is one such movie--and a very strange beast it is indeed! As with many Franco films, it's hard to decide how best to describe it. I suppose you could say it's a languid, semi-ironic, erotic study in metaphysical loneliness ... but on the other hand, it might just be easier to say that it's a mucky movie -- FRANCO STYLEE!!
Normally, I would give you a brief run-down of the plot here. The trouble is, there really isn't anything you could honestly call a plot in this movie. Instead we have a "scenario" (recycled from Franco's masterpiece "Vampyros Lesbos") which involves a young tourist from New Jersey (Rachel Sheppard) who, while on holiday alone in Madrid, comes to the attention of vampire seductress, Countess Irina Von Murnau (Analia Ivars). The two become "erotically entwined" shall we say, and the young girl's soul becomes a pawn in a battleground of opposing supernatural forces when a gypsy queen (Lina Romay) tries to use her to defeat the Countess's corrupting influence.
The film takes sixty-seven minutes to get this far (ninety minutes if you're watching the more explicit European version) and for most of it there is virtually no dialogue: just the occasional voice-over and lots of dodgy rock music which serves as a soundtrack for innumerable scenes of Rachel Sheppard wandering around looking confused while Analia Ivars follows, pausing occasionally to rub various parts of her anatomy for the pleasure of the viewing public! Franco is famous for recycling plot lines, chunks of script, props and characters in his films, so much so that it sometimes seems almost impossible to view his works as independent entities in their own right. Whether making action movies, Women in prison flicks, horror or pornographic films, there always seem to be a familiar set of obsessions self-consciously utilised by the director, binding all his films together into one, ever-ongoing, never-ending cinematic project. "Vampire Blues" continues this self-reflexive project. This time the reference points are ostensibly "Vampyros Lesbos", "Female Vampire" and "Virgin Among The Living Dead" (I'm sure there are many others that I wasn't aware of). The Countess performs an erotic dance with a red scarf (just like Soledad Miranda in "Vamyros Lesbos"); a black dildo features prominently (a reference to "Virgin Among the Living Dead") and many images that occur repeatedly in the Franco oeuvre are also here as well (like that of a ship in a vast expanse of ocean shot from a distance).
The trouble is, of course, that the films referenced repeatedly in "Vampire Blues" are some of Franco's best loved: over the years their charm has only increased for those of us who are fed up with the homogenised Hollywood product. Franco has ploughed the same lonely furrow repeatedly -- making movies that only a very small number of people would ever want to see in a million years! At the time these movies were made, this small group would have mostly consisted of the patrons of European porno theatres--these days, it's us fans of cult Euro-Horror! We view these often ridiculously strange movies through a mist of nostalgia for a time when an oddball director could actually make these bizarre celluloid excursions into the unconscious and still have a career (however hand-to-mouth it may have been in reality); and we simply go weak at the knees at the thought of those legendary "Euro-Babes"-- called upon time and time again to bring these unearthly cinematic creations to life (a process that invariably involved shedding all of their clothes at some point): the young Lina Romey, Christina Von Blanc, Maria Rohm and especially the mysterious and wondrous Soledad Marinda -- all have a special place in the heart of every Euro-buff!
So when those dearly-held classics of European exploitation cinema are alluded to in Franco's more recent output, its hard not to compare the modern films with their sexier, more enigmatic cousins from the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties and find them severely wanting! And furthermore, the pseudo-porno actresses called upon to enact these re-formulations of Franco's former glories cannot hope to compete with the incomparable otherness of those fabulous Euro-Starlets! Quite simply, they don't make 'em like that anymore! They belong to a time long before silicon breast-implants, obsessive waxing regimes and a pathological aversion to cellulite. In "Vampire Blues" Analia Ivars has the thankless task of trying fill the role of predatory vampire sex-kitten previously taken by the willowy Solidad Miranda and the voracious Lina Romey. The heavy-breasted Ivars throws herself into the proceedings with abandon but cannot hold a candle to her illustrious predecessors. When Franco's infamous "crotch-zoom" kicks in during the European cut's extensive soft-porn scenes, the film starts to look more and more like a training film for gynaecology students thanks to the extensive shave-and-wax job Ivars has had done on her "plumbing" region! Meanwhile, goofy-looking Rachel Sheppard is called upon to play the young virginal innocent (a la Christina Von Blanc) who becomes corrupted through vampiric lesbian groping! This requires walking around semi-nude and looking all confused and vulnerable which she is relatively good at but, unfortunately, not as good as Christina Von Blanc!
But, in the final analysis, I have to say, I rather enjoyed this latest offering from Mr Franco--and I'd rather watch any number of these bizarre video projects of his, than a lot of the generic claptrap that clogs the screens. It makes perfect sense that Franco should be making films this way once you think about how his career has developed: Films like "Eugine De Sade" and "Vampyros Lesbos" were quickies, shot for next to no money to be played in theatres for punters who were expecting to see sex films. Franco gives them enough T&A to satisfy them and then fills the rest of his screen time with his own obsessions and odd preoccupations. If anything, this is even more the case with his shot on video work. It is hard to imagine that your average viewer of pornographic videos would have much patience for this strange, lilting collage of sound and image, with it's garish video effects and freaky soundtrack interspersed with the occasional scene of female masturbation (true: I suppose you can just skip through the disc until you come to the sexy parts if push comes to shove). A lot of the movie is just ambience -- something which Franco is able to create almost effortlessly -- and the camera spends an inordinate amount of time exploring old, run-down amusement parks or the streets of an off-season Spanish holiday resort. The harsh video image actually works to Franco's advantage as the film plays like a delirious daydream in bright sunlight. Eventually the constant, ironic references to his own previous work for the benefit of the Euro-Horror crowd, and the need to provide enough explicit sex to satisfy the dirty-mac brigade, culminates in one of the most freakishly surreal moments in Franco's cinema, as an ageing Lina Romey "stakes" the vampire queen by ramming a nine inch black dildo up her shaven orifice!!! "They don't like it up 'em" as Dad's Army's Corporal Jones used to say! Blimey O' Rilley, I don't remember that being part of vampire lore!
Sub Rosa Blue give us both the American and European versions of the film. The difference is that the European version's sex scenes go on for much longer and are slightly more explicit. Extras wise we get a stills gallery and a video of the theme music from the film performed in a club and shot on a camcorder. The cover states that there is behind the scenes footage but I couldn't find that particular feature anywhere on the disc.
"Vampire Blues" is a beguilingly odd soft-porn vampire flick from the indefatigable Frankster. Long may the world's most prolific pervert reign!