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read another review of Vampyres

cast: Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Murray Brown, Brian Deacon, and Sally Faulkner

director: José Ramón Larraz

87 minutes (18) 1974 widescreen ratio 16:9
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
Spoiler Alert!
For years unavailable only in a version infuriatingly shorn of three minutes worth of sex and gore, Vampyres (aka: Daughters Of Dracula) finally makes its uncut appearance in the UK market in its handsome Anchor Bay edition, with all extras flying. A classic slice of 1970s' bloodsucking terror, José Ramón Larraz's film is still rare in that it convincingly shows erotic horror - a combination notoriously difficult to bring off without appearing coy or camp, as those who have waded through the acres of second rate celluloid from that period can testify. That its bloody lesbianism is still effective can be gauged by the length of time the film has taken to reach us here in all its glory, as well as by an ever-strengthening cult reputation.
   Vampyres is the second, and strongest, entry in a loose trilogy by Larraz that includes Scream And Die! (1973) and Symptoms (1974). Some of its high regard can be attributed to the innovations Larraz brought to the traditional vampire film. Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska), the delectable draculinas, are rarely affected by the time-honoured restraints familiar in the genre, codified as far as back as the 1930s. Although they keep mirrors covered, they seem reasonably happy in daylight, or at least the tail ends of the day, when it is clear enough to see well. They appear fangless (using cutting or stabbing, rather than biting, to secure their blood), while the threats offered by garlic, crosses, and stakes and all the other traditional paraphernalia never arise. In addition, their genesis as bloodsuckers is ultimately unorthodox and interesting. This fresh, unconventional nature of Vampyres, just as much as the more obvious exploitative elements, is what makes it still watchable today. It is all the more remarkable an achievement when one knows that the film was shot in just three weeks, and with a �40,000 budget - just over the amount typical for a contemporary adult movie.
   It begins with a particularly striking sequence, setting the tone for much that will follow. Provocatively nude, a lesbian couple consort together on a bed. While they are preoccupied, an ominous figure slowly opens the door, slips into their chamber, and pumps bullets into them. The two women slump back, bleeding and lifeless. Cue some distinctive 1970s' guitar theme music and the main titles over some bats dancing in the dark. Next we are transported forward some years and to a young couple Harriet (Sally Faulkner) and John (Brian Deacon), looking for a place to set up their camper. En route they notice a couple of young women, one hitchhiking, the other lurking mysteriously further back in the trees. Harriet finds this intriguing, while her husband dismisses her curiosity as fantasy. Meanwhile another man, Ted (Brian Deacon) arrives at a hotel. Brushing off suggestions that he may have stayed there before, he soon ventures out and shortly encounters Fran on the road. After giving her a lift he is invited back to her grand house in the woods where, despite audience misgivings, they end up in bed together...
   Most of Vampyres centres on these key activities of observing, seducing and bloodletting. For the men who come across Fran and Miriam, the women are initially like the fine wines they proffer: something to be admired then, just as casually, indulged in. But as Phil Hardy in his Horror Film Encyclopedia has rightly noted, they and their victims are more properly, amour fou - those capable "of loving, and of being loved to death." Vampyres' strength lies in the way the blood drinkers are presented so uncompromisingly. They are at the same time irresistibly attractive, as well as irresistibly destructive to the male sex, combining lust with bloodlust.
   The action of Vampyres takes place in a small number of locations, most notable of which is Fran and Miriam's house, a suitably decrepit pile, reeking of decadence. The mise-en-scene as Ted (and with him the camera) explores the empty rooms one morning, peering in cabinets and rooms, is almost overwhelming. The extensive cellar contains further secrets. It's apt that, as we delve deeper into the activities of the two vampires, we explore their house to a greater extent, and eventually spend more time in the cellar. It is here where the later victim, wine snob Rupert (Karl Lanchberry) is despatched for instance, where Ted is at one point imprisoned, where the final scene of horror is played out.
   While Fran and Miriam pursue their carnality and carnage indoors, newlyweds John and Harriet are cooped up in their caravan outside. Some have objected to the intrusion of this other couple into a dreamlike world of corruption and bloody promiscuity, a distraction from the main thrust of the film. In fact the two can be seen as an effective comment on the fiendish activities elsewhere. Emphatically domesticated, monogamous and heterosexual, John and Harriet balance the goings on inside the gothic pile in a way that the succession of male victims cannot. As a 'closed' sexual unit it is a long while until they succumb to the vampires, and even then practically as an incidental event (although Harriet is previously 'marked' by Fran). This fact makes the wife's fate even more disturbing. Sensible and alert throughout, her inconsolable screams are surely the most disturbing to be heard in the English horror film since the end of Witchfinder General (1968).
   Vampyres' own close is also notable, not least for introducing a last minute narrative circularity rare in the horror genre. That evil should remain unpunished is even more unusual (and Hollywood and audiences remain conservative in such matters) and can still startle. Just as Fran and Miriam's bloody predations are left unresolved so their past is murky. What was, at the start of the film, taken to be a flash-forward, is now apparently something else. The introduction of a reincarnation theme is mysterious and, to be fair, has had its detractors. But at the very least its unsettling note is in keeping with the tone of the piece. That Larraz is able to introduce such a final twist with confidence is a tribute to the vision he brings to his unique (and best) film, as well as an indication of how highly recommendable it still is.
   The DVD is done to Anchor Bay's high standards and features an enjoyable commentary from the director as well as interviews with the two leads, a trailer, stills gallery and a selection from Anulka Dziubinska's private (and less exciting that it sounds) 'glamour gallery'.
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