Female Vampire~ 1975, Jess Franco, France
There is no agreed upon consensus regarding Jesus Franco, the now deceased, and maddeningly prolific Spanish director responsible for Female Vampire. Numerous respected academics have weighed in on him, and Franco has been called one of the greatest minds in cinematic history, and also the single shittiest hacks who ever lived, and in both cases, more than once. It’s safe to say that the jury is still out, but even the most fanatical Franco-phile is usually willing to admit that Jess shot more than his share of total stinkers back in the day. This man’s first priority seemed to be making absolutely certain that he was always working on a movie, and whether or not anyone would ever want to watch it really didn’t seem to be a concern. He was sort of like those kids in school who always turned up so they could dick around with their friends, but gave no shits about their GPA. Perfect attendance, never turned in an assignment; that’s Franco all over.
Female Vampire is a fairly typical example of Franco’s work from the mid 1970’s. It stars Lina Romay’s naughty bits, and costars Lina Romay herself, albeit in a small, supporting role. Both Ms Romay and her erogenous zones are longtime collaborators of Franco’s, on and off screen; and in fact, Romay was Franco’s common-law spouse!
Yeah, I don’t know how, either. Maybe he was funny.
Regardless of any social or romantic commitment the two may have had to one another, Romay would continue to be a common feature in the director’s work for years and years, often appearing nude, and occasionally even performing in Franco’s hardcore pornographic films. Female Vampire really showcases Franco’s easy going attitude toward nudity and sex, as well as his apparent disinterest in the quality of his finished work, and as a result, we now have a frustratingly incoherent festival of boobs and jet black pubic fur that some would dare to call a movie, and which is today widely available on Blu-ray throughout most developed countries. Sex sells.
THE PLOT~ Lina Romay plays Countess Irina Karnstein, a vampire who gets sexy with folks all day, every day. Countess Karnstein is totally a vampire, you guys, but she doesn’t drink blood to live… She… Well, she get’s her sustenance through… other methods… SEXY methods. You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down? It’s semen.
Really, there’s not much of a story here. Shocker, right? Franco does do a little bit of work to try and paint the vampire as a tragic figure, constantly groping for intimacy, by ultimately hollow and alone, but this isn’t new terrirory for vampire fiction by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s been done better elsewhere. For the most part, it’s a movie that volleys back and forth between gratuitous sex scenes featuring Lina Romay and whatever person or object happens to be in the room with her, and then flowery, romantic French bullshit, which we already have enough of that in the world. Occasionally, we might get a token exposition scene tacked on in a desperate attempt to give Female Vampire some vague illusion of story, but calling these scenes half-assed would be generous. Female Vampire is not a movie to search out if you crave intellectual stimulation. It plays to a different part of the brain, if it plays at all.
It’s pretty common to see Franco fans talk about Female Vampire as being an example of “erotic” vampire cinema, and to me, calling this film “erotic” is worse than wishful thinking, it’s downright embarrassing. Female Vampire’s sexual content is handled with the subtly and grace of an elephant high on methamphetamines and LSD, barging through a hospital burn ward. This thing is clumsy, tactless, exploitative, shameless, lecherous and crass.This is not erotica, this is pornography that never pulls the trigger. It does succeed occasionally at pulling off a haunting, poetic sort of vibe, but honestly, it’s sort of hard NOT to feel poetic when you’re filming a nude woman in a black cloak frolicking about the mist shrouded forests of rural France. This would have been an excellent place to call “cut,”, but of course, Franco finds a way to ruin even these brief moments of genuine beauty by launching right into an eye-rollingly juvenile zoom shot straight into Romay’s pubic mat. Why don’t you just paint monster trucks onto the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel to jazz it up, you bumbling, artless pornographer? Dammit, Franco. I’m just angry now.
But is it fair to come down so hard on Franco, a man who, like you or I, had bills to pay, and who was making movies in an environment where sex was increasingly in demand? It’s certainly reasonable to assume that a lot of the sexual content in Female Vampire was integral in securing financing from investors, who expected this to greatly enhance the films commercial appeal, but adding nudity to Franco’s work in order to make it more commercial is like putting chocolate sprinkles of a tire fire; it’s never going to be a delicious treat. There’s nothing less accessible than the mad celluloid ramblings of Jess Franco, and that’s a fact of life. It’s a lesson financers learned the hard way, but clearly they made enough money to justify decades worth of budget, because Franco kept going and going long after this mess hit the screen. Now we can only furrow our brows in confusion, because it’s too late to stop him.
It’s also amazing just how much this film could have been improved by just purchasing a decent tripod. The camera is constantly moving throughout the entire picture, and the pans and tilts are terribly awkward and jerky, which is super distracting. Technical issues like this are probably just one more thing that Franco couldn’t be bothered to give two shits about. Female Vampire’s first and only objective is to exist, so in that regard, it’s was successful.
To me, it’s always been tough to figure out if Franco is, in fact, a mad genius, or if this is actually just the single best example of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” phenomenon ever. Yes, his wild, jazzy, off-road attitude towards motion picture production is certainly fascinating, but at some point, this starts to feel terribly self indulgent, and the art is quickly swallowed up by the director’s personality, for better or for worse. Franco made movies for Franco… I guess I can accept that, but now we too are a part of this equation, and I think that in extreme cases, the audience has a right to throw up their arms and say “What the fuck, dude?” Again, it’s too late for answers.
In the end, Female Vampire is barely even a movie. It’s just Lina Romay in her birthday suit wearing a cape and a belt, sexing up France with a trail of corpses in her wake, and even as I type this, I know that sounds a lot better than it actually ends up being. Art, or smut? We can sidestep that argument, because clearly, Female Vampire is both. Genius, or shit? I’m really not sure.