(Les Avaleuses, 1973)
Belgium / France
101 min, color, English (dub)
Review © 2007 Branislav L. SlantchevMy claims to forsake Franco forever notwithstanding, I spent last evening yet again dozing off while attempting to watch one of his outings. This time I cannot be blamed for picking an obscure Franco film (well, okay, more obscure than his generally world-unknown oeuvre), for if there's a film of his that people know, then Female Vampire would be it. Maybe under one of its many alternative titles, like Erotikill (contrary to what that title suggests, it's actually the horror-only version) or The Bare-Breasted Countess (which actually is quite faithful to content), not to mention Insatiable Lust (the X-rated version with scenes neither shot by Franco nor featuring the same cast).
|The loneliness of a backwoods ranger||Do these robes make me look dead?|
It's hard to tell what one is supposed to make of this film. It was made in the same year viewing porn in theaters was legalized in France, so obviously Franco would push this as far as it could go while still being unsure just how much an non-raincoat audience would take. Unfortunately for us, for Franco this essentially means showing public hair. Lots of it. Also, unlike some of his earlier work where there are glimmers of him actually being able to make a film without the vertigo-inducing zooms or focusing on anything by the subject, this one has the usual cheap look we've come to associate with Franco. It's true that he may have done this on purpose (no way the funny scene in which the black-caped Lina walks with a serious face in the woods and bumps into the camera could have been an oversight), but then again do we really care whether something that looks crappy was done on purpose or not?
|Aaaaah! This is genuine horror||Miss, that's not what we meant when we said you could check out our posturepedic mattresses|
Despite the nearly constant nudity and risque behavior of the female lead (making the film as unlikely to be seen in an American theater now as it was back then), it is a softcore fantasy of the type you may see late at night on HBO. Contrary to claims, this is not a horror film (unless you count Jack Taylor shaving in the buff as scary... which I do). It's not really about vampires, at least not about any vampire that fans of the genre would recognize. This Countess is immortal but that's about where all similarities with vampires end. Although mute (and in a sense dead to the world because she cannot communicate with it), she is quite alive both during the night and during the day. In fact, she has no problem with sunlight: she even sunbathes, just to prove the point. She does turn into a flying creature but instead of a bat it's (I think) a swallow. She drinks no blood in this version but sucks... well, I am not actually quite sure what for it seems to come out from a penis just as readily as a vagina, so let's call it "life force" or something. Whatever it is, it kills people who lose it.
|Why is this blind man wearing prescription glasses?||That's what psychic rape looks like|
This Countess Irina (Lina Romay in her first main role) appears to be somewhat conflicted with her existence. She seems bored with immortality and spends most of her time humping everyone and everything, starting with a random schmuck in the forest, going through a hotel masseur (her then-husband Raymond Hardy), psychically and physically violating a journalist (Anna Watican), teaching a lesbian couple into S&M how to do it properly, before finally draining Baron von Rathony (Jack Taylor) of his life juices. When I said she humped "everything," I also meant to include inanimate objects, such as a dead masseur, a bedpost, a decorative pillow, the fingers of a dead journalist, as well as liquid that I surmise was blood despite it lacking either in color or viscosity. In short, Irina is insatiable and cursed to kill everyone whom she tries to use to satisfy her desires, even if she actually likes them.
|Unidentified "life juices" that Irina sucks from men and women alike||One NC-17 death and an itty-bitty dose of necrophilia|
Of course, there's the usual "hypnotic" stare which paralyzes victims and turns them into robot-like creatures who obey Irina's every command (ok, I can only guess they would obey every command; in practice, the only command she ever gave was "Take clothes off. Fuck me.") I think one potentially intriguing venue that the film ignored was to have Irina meet and fall for a homosexual man. Imagine the deep tragedy: she is finally in love with someone who could not care less about her charms as a seductress, so there's no danger in accidentally sucking his life juice, and at the same time she can never have him for that same reason. Kinda cool when you think about it. Instead, we get the Baron who does look sufficiently gay: one can clearly see in his scenes with Lina that (a) they never French-kiss and it's all strictly "rub tightly pursed lips" pretend-kisses, which is a bit odd given how Lina does hump everything else in sight, and (b) in the supposedly highly erotic scene in which he finally beds the Countess, his little member remains stoically limp despite her determined efforts to awake him (you can see this if you watch closely when he rolls over her).
|Romancing the Bed Post||Lina humping yet another inanimate object|
This was a big turn off and it derails the entire film: few things are worse than an erotic film that does not affect our prurient interest in the way it's supposed to. I have commented before on Franco's amazing ability to deprive the best-looking people of any sexual allure, a trick usually achieved by relentlessly focusing on their genitalia. It's much of the same here: the best scenes in the film are the ones where Lina Romay shows up in that flimsy white dress and wanders about with a dreamy look on her face. Even the black cape is better than excruciating close-ups of her vagina from just about every imaginable angle. There are some (unintentionally?) funny scenes in which the erotic element is completely lost and one can only wonder what their purpose was supposed to be.
|Before we go to the torture chamber, please sign the release form right here||If the whipping fails to torture you sufficiently, we are sure the decor will do it|
One such scene is with the Princess de Rochefort (Monica Swinn) and her partner in kinky sex (Alice Arno). The two play chess (of the "pawn from B2 to E24" variety) and occasionally torture some naked woman in their underground chamber that looks like it was decorated by Juan Mirò. Irina shows up and, unlike the pathetic make-believe S&M the two lesbians indulge in, she is literally deadly serious about her pleasures. After signing the guest book (wtf?), she gets stripped and whipped with Franco going crazy on the zoom yet again, and this case clearly managing to establish that Irina never actually gets touched by the whip. At any rate, after hypnotizing the girl, Irina then drains the princess of her life force. The truly bizarre scene then comes when Dr Orloff (Jean-Pierre Bouyxou) examines the corpse by liberally sticking his fingers into her vagina (he's blind, so that's a legitimate forensic technique) and discovering that her clit had bite marks on it (at least that's what I think he discovered). If you are not laughing at this point, you are probably just cringing because of the necrophilia. (I, for one, did not care because by this time we have already seen Irina riding a dead masseur and fingering herself with a dead journalist.)
|Gratuitous shot of Lina Romay||This lesbian has sucking on her mind|
This is not to say that the film is entirely devoid of any virtues (vices?) In fact, if you watch it with a liberal application of the fast-forward on the remote control, it will make for a very nice 20-minute movie. Lina Romay is very beautiful and looks suspiciously like Soledad Miranda, which is probably why Franco picked her. When she's not writhing on the bed, she can actually deliver some poignant looks (my favorite scenes are when she answers the journalists' questions with a faint smile on her lips, when she looks at the girl whipping her with an obvious "if you only knew what is coming next" expressions, and when she runs away from the Baron and struggles not to succumb to his desires which will lead to his own death).
|The mystically-challenged Baron courts the Countess with view of securing own death||One of few genuinely beautiful scenes|
There are also some nice touches, as in the Baron's morbid fascination with Irina and his desire to experience what it is like to be "beyond the mist" even if that knowledge would cost him his life. In a strange way, Irina is mute and yet seems to inhabit a world that is only dimly perceived by the living. The only person who really understand her is, ironically, blind: Dr Orloff who can sense her, her desires, and her existence. The Baron, his poetry-inspired posturing to the contrary notwithstanding, actually has no clue, just like the two lesbians who cannot fathom the idea that their games are to Irina pathetic and unreal. Franco, who plays Dr Roberts, the physician who believes Irina is supernatural and should be stopped, does have his moments. It's just that for each 1 minute of good footage we have to endure 10 minutes of absolute garbage.
|If this guy likes what's happening to him...||...then this guy must be in ecstasy|
For fans of horror films, this will be just another forgettable piece of Eurotrash that is about as scary as a Pokemon episode. For fans of vampire films, the lack of Gothic atmosphere, the highly unusual treatment of vampirism, and the complete absence of fangs will be a major letdown. For fans of European erotica, the reaction will depend on your tolerance to pubic hair. General audiences need not bother: at the very best they will come away bewildered and at worst they will be constructing bonfires of Franco DVDs. One thing Franco never seems to have learned is that just because you can make something, it does not mean it's a good idea to do it.
|The peeping Dr Roberts (Franco) forgetting that he's come to kill the Countess||The Countess bathing in non-stick organic blood approved by the FDA|
The Image DVD presents the erotic but not hardcore version of the film, and it clocks at about 101 minutes. The video is anamorphic at the OAR of 2.35:1, and it is mostly fine, at least in comparison to the dinky tapes we all used to have. It comes with mono soundtracks in French and in English. The French dub is much better (more emphasis on grunting) while the English dub is atrocious (deliveries are flat and monotonous, as if someone is reading without looking at the screen to see what sort of emotion they should be conveying). However, since there are no English subtitles, this is the only way to watch if you don't speak French. The extras include a trailer and several scenes from the horror version Erotikill. These are presented out of order but they do include the scenes with Lina drinking blood. It's funny that these are the pictures most often associated with the film (and the appear on the front and back covers of this DVD), and yet this version has none of them (because she does not drink blood). All in all, an ok DVD that I really do not need to own.
January 12, 2007