The Greatest Opening Scenes in Horror History: 1973’s FEMALE VAMPIRE (NSFW!)

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An ongoing series looking at fantastic prologues from classic and contemporary horror movies.

There are many love stories born and nurtured in the world of cinema and many, nay most, never make it to the finish line. It’s the nature of the business, where mentor meets muse and mates connect based on a common language and understanding of the demands the film industry can make, the tolls it can take…

But ego tends to bruise even the strongest of bonds. And in a world based primarily on appearance, ego in the movie business reigns supreme.

But Spanish-born filmmaker Jess Franco and his wife, actress Lina Romay, played their decades-spanning love out for all to see in all sorts of pictures. Theirs was a love open, uninhibited, devoted and enduring and built on a passion that took them through youth to middle-age, to old-age, to the grave. And, if there is existence beyond this plane, it’s likely that union still thrives, somewhere, everywhere…

Now, as every admirer of the prolific and controversial, multi-pseudonymonous Franco knows, the filmmaker’s output during his tenure making movies for French studio Eurocine, were among his most personal. After the death of his first real muse, Spanish actress Soledad Miranda (star of VAMPYROS LESBOS and SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY) in a tragic car accident, Franco seemed to embrace the lower budgets and minimal commercial demands of Eurocine and made films that were more aligned to the director’s other love: jazz music.

A key film in that early 1970s’ Eurocine cannon was 1973’s dreamy FEMALE VAMPIRE (aka THE BARE BREASTED COUNTESS), one of Franco’s most discussed pictures. It’s a languid, meandering, music and sex-steered tone poem that ostensibly follows the plight of the bloodsucking and barely-clothed Countess Irina von Karlstein and her quest to have sex with and suck the fluids out of her male and female victims. There are three versions of the film in existence, a softer 72 minute softcore horror film (released on VHS in the 80’s via Charles Band’s Force Video as EROTIKILL) in which Irina drinks blood, a harder sex-centric film wherein Irina drinks semen and female lubricant and a full-blown (ahem) pornographic cut.

But no matter the version of the film, the core of the picture is the same: Lina Romay.

Playing the role of Irina as mute, Romay (then only 19 and married to FEMALE VAMPIRE’s editor Ramon Ardid) is a pouting, wide-eyed picture of buxom sexual innocence, uninhibited, beautiful and a bit clumsy. She is like the proto-version of Mathilda May in Tobe Hooper’s decades-later LIFEFORCE. But unlike May, it never seems like Romay is acting. She’s simply being. And Franco is there to enable his lens to prowl around her and obsess over every inch of her curvy frame.

It’s clear when watching FEMALE VAMPIRE just how smitten Franco is with Romay and how trusting she is of him, even if neither really knew it then (and neither, presumably, did Ardid, the poor schmuck). The duo would make dozens upon dozens of films together over the next 25 years, in almost every country and in almost every known genre, including hardcore porn, where Romay became “Candy Coster” and engaged in all manner of enthusiastic, spurting and sucking filth. In fact, if you can find it and you’re reallllly curious, try to watch the Franco/Romay porno LULU’S BUTTONHOLE, in which Romay’s anus “talks”. You’ve been warned…

The point of all this here is that Franco worshiped Romay and she him. In a supplemental interview conducted by Severin Films’ David Gregory for the Kino Lorber/Redemption DVD/Blu-ray release of FEMALE VAMPIRE, conducted just after Romay’s passing in 2012, Franco – looking fragile and lost without his lady-love – talks about their relationship and how, despite the ups and downs and other lovers, theirs was an unshakable bond, forged in film and sex and surrealism; in art and literature and music and food and drink and travel and forgiveness.

It was the kind of love that all of us dream of and few ever achieve. It was real. And it lives on within a large body of work that will endure.

And in those first few moments of the lurid FEMALE VAMPIRE, with the nubile Romay walking towards Franco’s camera, his zoom lens pushing towards her vagina, her breasts, her eyes, her lips, we see the “first bite” of that love, all set to the melancholy lounge music of frequent Franco collaborator Daniel White.

It’s maybe not a great opening for an average horror film.

But it’s an unforgettable and haunting opening for a Jess Franco film.

Watch…and remember…this is NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

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Weekend: Dec. 5, 2019, Dec. 8, 2019

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