DVD Review: Vampyres

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Victor Matellano’s remake of sex horror classic Vampyres reviewed

When the censors loosened their belts in the late 1960s and early ’70s, European horror cinema indulged its Freudian ID and suddenly overt sex was everywhere. And in the pantheon of vampire sub-genre, their gaze turned to girls, specifically girls on girls. Indeed, the lesbian vampire movie was inescapable during the period and, although movies like 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter and Roger Vadim’s 1961 art-ghoul flick Blood and Roses suggested sapphic shenanigans (all roads lead back to Le Fanu’s Carmilla of course), it was with movies like Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos, Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers and Vincente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride that the sub-sub genre really found its footing.

One of the most important – and hottest – entries in the Lesbo-vamp canon is Jose Larraz’s 1974 Spanish/British blood and body pumping masterpiece Vampyres, the tender tale of a pair of vampire lovers who lure men to their British countryside mansion for softcore (and enthusiastic) sex and then, graphic, gruesome death. Post-coitus, the ladies indulge each others passions together. It’s an atmospheric, melancholy and insanely hot piece of pulp and one that is rightly considered a classic of its kind.

And although the indie Spanish horror film has gone to sleep over the past 30 years, filmmakers like Victor Matellano (Wax) have resurrected its sensual spirit, paying homage to the country’s sticky past while pushing ahead into the present and future. That said, Matellano’s Vampyres remake is a mixed bag, a lower budgeted film that faithfully mimics the original but with the absence of Larraz’s comic book-weened sensibilities and devoid of the original’s sumptuous location work. Still, what it does get right it gets very right, namely sex and death. And believe me there’s plenty of both on display here.

The same sex rum-pumping begins during the opening credits and, for the next 80 minutes and change, essentially does not let up. It’s the same set-up, with the original girl ghouls Marianne Morris and Anulka replaced by Marta Flich and Almudena Leon, luring prey to their manor with the promise of sex and soiree and murdering them (after shagging them, naturally). There’s also a hapless lad who is in love with one of the ladies and whose affections are somewhat reciprocated, leaving her unable to kill him. Instead he just mopes around in a half-drained, heartsick daze. Like the original, there’s also a gaggle of tourists camped near by who suspect that the women are not what they seem. And that’s about it. What the movie lacks in plot it makes up for in sloppy bloodletting and endless nudity and it’s that visceral dedication – along with the terrible, phonetic-spoken English by the European cast – that make the film feel authentically like a vintage Eurohorror movie. And for that we applaud it.

Still, there are some problems. For one, Matellano is trying very hard to be slick and state of the art, a conceit that hampers the movie because for one, he doesn’t have enough money to convincingly make the sort of glossy, commercial picture he’s aiming for and two, this HD sheen betrays the bright, earthy and naturalistic approach that made Larraz’s movie so mesmerizing. The movie’s big set piece is “borrowed” from Eli Roth’s Hostel II, with a naked victim cut open and left to bleed out on the bathing and copulating vampires. No harm in quoting another movie, but the staging of the gag is off, with the murdered girl hanging about a foot to the left of where her blood spray is meant to hit, leaving the Flich and Leon struggling to awkwardly frame their bloody breast-licking and wriggle beneath the drip. Matellano tries to “fix” this by rotating the frame in post but it doesn’t quite work.

Those quibbles aside, Vampyres is lots of fun and its nice to see horror legends Caroline Munro (who looks great but really has nothing much to do in the film) and Tombs of the Blind Dead‘s Lone Fleming appear on screen, a touch that proves Matellano has nothing but affection for the genre’s history. Artsploitation‘s DVD release features a nice “making of” doc, showing the director in action as well as nifty interview with Munro. The lady’s still got it!

Sexy, bloody and endearingly silly, Vampyres is definitely worth a watch and we will continue to follow Matellano’s career with interest.