Friday, June 12, 2009

Jose Larraz's Vampyres (1974)

There's a light on in the castle, and behind the curtains, two young women lay on the bed, kissing and caressing. The door squeaks open and a tall, sinister shadow, donning a hat, points a revolver at the two and shoots. The viewer is next treated to a colony of bats flying, while the uber-cool, progressive title theme by James Kenelm Clarke plays in Jose Larraz's Vampyres (1974).
A gentleman arrives at a hotel and requests a room. The old clerk behind the desk says that he recognizes the gentleman from a previous visit. He's mistaken.
A young couple is driving in the countryside with their trailer camper in tow. The man driving sees a brown-haired woman, wrapped in a black cloak, standing at the side of the road. She is the same brown-haired woman from the opening scene of the film. The woman passenger sees also the brown-haired woman but also sees, hiding behind a tree, a blonde woman, also in a black cloak. The blonde woman is also from the initial scene of Vampyres.
So what's up? Within a few minutes of the film, Larraz introduces the five main characters and draws them all together at the film's main location, a large, castle-like house in the country. The young couple, John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner), pull their trailer into the shadow of the large house and make camp for the night. John believes the house is abandoned, but it, nonetheless, frightens Harriet. She cannot get the two women, whom she saw earlier, off of her mind. What were they doing?
A passing car picks up the young woman with the brown hair, later revealed to be Fran (Marianne Morris), who leads him to the large house. Harriet notices a light on in the house and hears a scream. She awakens, believing someone is outside of the camper, but John believes that she's just having a bad dream. The following morning, with ambulance sirens wailing, the same car that picked up Fran is shown turned over and its driver dead. Fran is again waiting at the side of the road and is picked up by the room-renting gentleman named Ted (Murray Brown). Ted drives Fran to the large house and she invites him in. Harriet watches as the two enter the house. Fran leads Ted through the interior of the house, which is decrepit and dirty, to a cozy chamber within. Ted whines a little bit, but Fran puts him at ease with a little wine from her cellar. She gives Ted a serious rogering, and the two fall asleep. Ted awakens in the middle of the night, hearing voices and a little woozy from the wine, and looks over at Fran. She is staring at him with her eyes wide open, yet Fran does not bat an eye when he waves his hand in front of her face. The next morning, Ted awakens, looking a little pale. He checks his wallet (cash still there) and looks at his arm, where there is a nasty gash. Fran is nowhere to be found.Jose Ramon Larraz is truly a unique film maker and no one makes films quite like him. Larraz, like Jean Rollin, loves the traditional Gothic settings and its appropriate characters, like vampires, and mixing them with his own sensibilities and atmosphere. Larraz also doesn't mind getting nasty in his movies. For example, completely sensible Ted gets his wounds treated by John and Harriet and decides to wait in his car for Fran to arrive. Fran arrives with the blonde woman, Miriam (Anulka), and a new fellow who picked them up, Rupert (Karl Lanchbury). The four go up stairs and drink a little wine. Fran gives Ted another serious shagging and while Ted's sleeping, Fran licks and drinks from Ted's arm wound. Fran hears a noise out in the hall and investigates where she finds Miriam, who's a little wobbly and with her face covered in blood. In Miriam's bedroom, Rupert's drenched in blood and the two attack him like sharks in a frenzy. While the scene isn't gut-munching, zombie-gory, it is extremely brutal and unsettling. The final fifteen minutes or so of Vampyres gets pretty nasty, also, in terms of violence.Larraz also shows quite a bit of flesh from Fran and Miriam in Vampyres's numerous sex scenes. While Marianne Morris and Anulka are gorgeous women, neither appears comfortable nude on screen and most scenes come off as artificial. After the Rupert bloodletting, the two bathe together under a slow shower. Miriam warns Fran to be careful in regards to Ted--don't let herself get too close to him. Miriam and Fran kiss and caress, but unfortunately there is nothing sexy about it. These two actresses are not comfortable and are going through the motions. Special notice goes to Murray Brown's Ted, because he is truly one of the most disgusting on-screen lovers that I have ever seen. Ted's not a bad-looking chap, but his moves are totally repellent. When he kisses beautiful Morris, Brown looks like he is slobbering all over her. Brown jumps around in the bed, almost like its a trampoline, and I wouldn't have been surprised if Morris's Fran told him to get the eff out of her bedroom, pronto.

Save the bizarre nasty bits of sex and violence, Larraz really shines with his unique atmosphere and vision in Vampyres. A lot of the initial set-up and mystery could be attributed to incompetence, but Larraz is creating a disorienting, surreal tale. He has a real eye for capturing the eyes of his characters. Morris and Anulka, who both give good performances, really are hypnotizing when Larraz lets the camera linger on their faces. With subtle looks and glances, both are able to convey sensuality and menace. Some of the more surreal touches of Vampyres, for example, like the images of the black-cloaked pair running through the cemetery at dawn to find solace at their crypt are captivating. Harriet, who spends the film with a growing obsession towards the pair, has the most bizarre first meeting with the two. As Harriet is painting a portrait of the house, Fran approaches her and becomes angry at seeing the painting. Fran mumbles some esoteric words and seemingly gives her a "blessing."
In a lot of ways, it is difficult for me to describe the attraction of Vampyres, beyond the sex and violence. Larraz's unique film making is the only source to which I can cite and which is also akin to Jess Franco and Jean Rollin's dreamy, freaky, and hypnotizing films. If you're a fan of films of a more poetic rather than rational film logic, like me, then Vampyres is a film very much worth seeing.

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