Sex and vampirism have always been strongly associated. Christopher Lee made seduction and animal sexuality the central components of his portrayal of Dracula, while Hammer starlets such as Barbara Shelley and Ingrid Pitt fashioned performances of electrifying predatory sexual allure from their, often rather thinly written, roles. In the process, they identified a symbolic theme for the female vampire that was to take on greater and greater prominence in future portrayals of such creatures: namely, a male subconscious fear of the destructive power of female sexuality and consequently, an ambivalence toward the hypnotising effect of it's calling card — the siren call of female attractiveness.
It wasn't long before lesbianism began to play more and more of a role in these films until it became another sexual element that is now automatically associated with female vampirism. Hammer films started off the trend with it's Karnstein trilogy; but, what was originally just an easy way of spicing up the vampire formula with the occasional boob-shot quickly developed it's own thematics under the idiosyncratic directorship of euro-shock guiding lights such as Jess Franco and Jean Rollin. Their dreamlike tails often see femininity portrayed as a conspiratorial cult — desirable, yet eternally impenetrable to masculine understanding. The male is an ineffectual and sexually powerless entity who's only useful role is as a source of life-giving blood.
Of all the many lesbian vampire films to be made during this time, José Ramon Larraz's "Vampyres" stands out in particular. It seems to perfectly encapsulate all of the themes and undercurrents of the sub-genre and combines the theatrical stylishness of Hammer with the surrealistic lasciviousness of Franco/Rollin to great effect. The film is beautiful, sexy and disturbing in equal measure, and like it's mysterious blood-crazed antagonists, is seductive enough to keep the viewer coming back for more!
Beginning with an apparent double murder — as a pair of female lovers are shot to death by an unknown assassin — the film takes us into the remote English countryside where the same two females, raven haired Fran (Marrianne Morris) and blonde haired Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska), now stalk the dark woods and quiet country roads. They hitch lifts from male drivers, luring them back to their otherwise deserted estate for casual sex and, afterwards, murdering them -- drinking their blood in a crazed fit of mutual sexual ecstasy. Their victims' bodies are then arranged in car crashes to be quietly carted off by the apparently unconcerned authorities. Into this vortex of lust and depravity drift John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner), a couple taking a holiday in a caravan on the grounds of Fran and Miriam's estate, and a businessman called Ted (Murray Brown), who picks up Fran on one of the country roads. Fran decides she quite enjoys Ted's sexual vigour and instead of killing him straight away, keeps him a willing prisoner, slowly draining him of a little blood each night in return for sustained bouts of rampant rumpy pumpy. Fran and Miriam continue their killing spree but Ted eventually escapes and gets help from Harriet and John. He just can't resist going back to the house though, despite the nasty wound on his arm from which Fran and Miriam persistently feed. Harriet's curiosity is aroused and she too becomes more and more obsessed with the strange, black clad duo, until events spiral out of control to reach a shocking and horrifically violent conclusion.
Director José Ramon Larraz, with the help of cinematographer Harry Waxman, catches a wonderful dreamlike atmosphere in the film: composing his shots as if each frame were a painting. Particular attention is paid to the way Morris and Dziubinska are arranged in each shot -- with the character of Miriam always lurking in the background while the more dominant member of the duo is placed in the foreground. The two female leads throw themselves into their roles with abandon and aren't shy about revealing their voluptuous bodies in the film's numerous sex scenes. Larraz makes sure he frankly emphasis how the characters are sexually excited by the act of murder as he films them greedily licking the blood of their victims from each other's lips and pawing at their bodies (as well as each other) to get more.
The decision to dub the voices of Fran and Miriam with other actresses voices only adds to the sense of otherworldliness created by the beautifully filmed English countryside. There are some very creepy scenes early on in the film when Harriet first spots Fran hitching a ride at the side of the road while Miriam lurks silently in the woods watching, and the two are frequently filmed scurrying frantically through the woods like a pair of hunting animals. A lot of the movie was filmed around the estate often used by Hammer (appropriately enough you can see it prominently in "Lust For A Vampire") and producer Brian Smedley-Aston also bought a reel of unused footage filmed by Hammer to use in the title sequence.
The relationship between the two women is a complex and ambiguous one and Larraz (who wrote as well as directed the film) always strives to keep their relationship open to interpretation. We never know if the women are really supernatural entities: the vampiric spirits of the two women murdered in the opening sequence, or if they are partners in some kind of folie a deux (a psychiatric condition, usually involving two women, where a submissive sane person acquiesces in the delusions of a more dominant insane person). There is even the suggestion that the whole film might simply be the fevered nightmare of the women's murderer.
Anchor Bay UK bring the film to the UK market in a completely uncut form. All previous cuts have been restored and the widescreen anamorphic transfer is sharp and extremely vivid. The audio commentary from Brian Smedley-Aston and José Ramon Larraz is an entertaining listen and is widely regarded as one of the best audio commentaries out there! As well as US and international trailers and an extensive stills gallery, we also get a fifteen minute interview with Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska which rounds off what must be an essential purchase for euro-horror fans.
Anulka, marry me! (I think I'd better go and have a cold shower...!)