Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vampyres

Vampyres
(aka: Daughters of Darkness)
Directed by: José Ramón Larraz
England, 1974
Horror/Eroticism, 88min
Distributed by: Blue Underground.

It’s not a Hammer film, but it looks like one… It’s not a Jean Rollin film, but it looks like one… it’s not a vampire film, but it looks like one…

…it’s Spaniard José Ramón Larraz finest hour - Vampyres.


A shocking and violent initial attack that goes two ways, jumpstarts Vampyres, two women are feeding off a man, when a second off-screen character busts in and slays the two women with a series of gunshots.

A man, Ted [Murray Brown] arrives at a bed and breakfast, he checks in, and the night porter seems to recognize him from a previous visit…pretty soon he finds himself being picked up by a mysterious woman, Fran [Marianne Morris] and taken back to her simple abode – Oakley Court – where they get down and dirty. The next morning Ted is weak and finds a deep cut on his arm. Wandering the mansion he finally exits and comes upon a young couple who are “camping” in the near vicinity – this couple have been intercut with the action so far and I’ll return to them later. They tend to Ted’s cuts and send him on his way… but he doesn’t get far. Fran is awaiting him at the roadside and seduces him back to the mansion where Miriam [Anoushka] also has a “date” for the evening… another unsuspecting driver who has given her a lift. The women feed on their prey and finally end up engaging in a heavy lesbian petting session.
As the final act sets into motion, tension builds between Fran and Miriam due to Ted’s presence, the camping couple start to poke their nose into what is going on in the mansion and when a final “date” is invited to the castle the bloody climax comes rushing in at full speed delivering a gore filed and dark ending to a fascinating movie.

I love this movie, I really do. I’ve seen it several times through the years, and still enjoy it, as it’s a wonderful little piece that plays just like a mix of those three key words above, Hammer, Rollin and Vampires, even though not being any of them. I’ll get back to that later.

With a background as a comic book illustrator and fashion photographer, it’s no surprise that Larraz would get into movies and thank god, because Larraz brought some serious oomph to the otherwise pretty tame UK scene during this time period. It may look like a Hammer film, and as much as I love the Hammer films, Vampyres packs all the sexuality into one movie that is lacking from most Hammer films. It’s said that Larraz’s movies ”look” different to others due to his comic book background, but I don’t really see that Vampyres looks much more different than anything else, although it does has a magnificent atmosphere and sexuality that it almost gives off a potent odour of muddy landscapes, damp dusty castles and musky sex.

After having a minor success with his feature Symptoms (1974) – which actually got sent to Cannes as the official UK contribution – Larraz and his editor on Symptoms, Brian Smedley-Aston, clicked so well with each other that they decided to make a movie together. Smedley-Aston taking the role of producer and Larraz writing and directing what would become Vampyres. Shot in three weeks for just under 25.000 quid, the backdrop of Oakley Court gives the movie some great production value and the extra boost of magnificent set. And an obvious aura of Hammer lingers over the movie as they also used Oakley Court on many of their productions just as Amicus did with movies like Roy Ward Baker's And Now the Screaming Starts in 1973.

There’s a rather creative use of a subplot concerning the feeding habits of the girls. On more than one occasion we see police and ambulance taking care of the accident sites, and we the audience know what they are all about. It creates a threat for each driver that is stopped along the way. And also sets off something of an investigation plot that the "Campers" will develop further.
The red herring of Harriet [Sally Faulkner] and John [Brian Deacon] who for some daft reason have parked their caravan just outside the mansion is brilliant. It works for several reasons, and poses several rhetoric questions that add a layer to the drama, and also bring dimension to the narrative. What is the connection between Fran and Harriet? Fran reacts immensely strong when she stumbles upon Harriet during a stroll in the woods… Harriet is puzzled, but the question is how do they know each other? It’s questions that you have to take with you out from the film.
Several questions are posed throughout the narrative, questions that invite the audience to seek answers. What really happens in the shocking initial attack? Who’s point of view are we taking? Why does the porter at the hotel recognize Ted when he arrives on that dark night? What connects Harriet to the women of the mansion? And what does that ending really mean?

Vampyres had a rough time with the censors when it was released, which today may seem quite ironic as stuff like True Blood, Vampire Diaries and crap like that live off this shit – nudity and blood. But anyways back in the seventies UK this stuff was the censor’s nightmare and for each new release, the more of Larraz original vision was snipped… Thank god for “fan boy” distributors who take the time to restore movies to the way they where intended to be seen!

I started out by claiming that it’s not a vampire movie… well that’s a theory that could be right, but at the same time probably not. Although bare with me here, and you may see what I’m going for. The main body of the movie is indeed a film that toys with classic vampire themes. The women do seduce men and feed off their blood. But then there’s the several question marks that I keep coming back too… all of those “what’s” and “how comes”. With the movies last moments in mind, Ted awaking from a nap in his car and a real estate agent showing the empty mansion to an elderly couple who ask him about the “legend” of the place – there’s a final question concerning the narrative we have just seen unravel…. Did it really happen? Well no, in my interpretation of the film it didn’t happen, well at least not as the erotic vampire story Ted thinks he’s participated in. Instead what has happened is that two ghosts seduced him. Two ghosts who wander the countryside living out their revenge for being killed in that opening sequence. The legend that the estate agent and old couple wanting to buy a mansion – much like a scene found in Jean Rollin’s La Morte Vivante (The Living Dead Girl) 1982, concerns the bodies of two young women that where found in the mansion some years ago… Making sense of his drunken fantasy, Ted puts the two ghosts into in an erotic vampire setting.

Murray Brown previously portrayed Jonathan Harker in Dan Curtis magnificent Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1973 - the one with Jack Palance, the year before starring as Ted. It’s interesting as Ted definitely holds a lot similarity to the characteristics of Jonathan Harker, even if he’s not quite as driven as Harker. In an entertaining way it’s almost like an alternative Jonathan Harker that takes a different path, a path that leads him into a surreal addiction. Because that is a possible answer to what has been going on. Ted has obvious traits of an addict. He goes through withdrawal, he’s detoxing and when he wakes up in he car at the end, he’s clean. He may be dazed and confused, but he’s clean and had some pretty surreal erotic dreams along the way.

Image:
Widescreen 1.85:1

Audio:

Dolby Digital Mono, English dialogue,

Extras:
Blue Underground have given it all they can with this one, which is filled with loads extra features. International Trailer, American Trailer, image gallery’s Return of the Vampyres: where both Anulka and Morris talk about their time on set, about the movie and what they have been up to since then. A lost scene, gallery of Glamour shots featuring Anulka, Larraz biography and not to forget the great audio commentary with Larraz and producer Brian Smedley-Aston, who certainly have some hilarious stories to share on the movie.


7 comments:

FUKITOR said...

This is one of those flicks I can get "lost" in. It's almost like Franco and Rollin got together and made a Hammer film! The women are hot. The castle is mysterious. The atmosphere is top notch. The actors are all good (because they are European, a constant view I stand by after many years of viewing horror flicks). Oh, and the SLEAZE factor is above and beyond! I still own a store-bought VHS of this and it's a been a few months since I popped it in...time for another viewing!

Hellbilly Hollywood said...

Yet another on my "to watch" list! Thanks for the info on it.

Ninja Dixon said...

God damn, this is one of these movies that everyone tells me to see, but I'm just to lazy! After this review I will!

Jack J said...

In 1989 or '90 I taped an episode of "Stephen King's This is Horror" off TV and the documentary had a clip from DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS and I remember thinking "I must get a hold of that" and every fucken time I've re-watched that tape (4 or 5 times over the yrs) I've repeated the very same line in me thick head, hahaha.

But really, I'm gonna get it now.

Anonymous said...

"VAMPYRES" is a Film that has haunted me throughout my Life. Until I managed to get the "Anchor Bay" DVD.
When the Film was originally released, I saw a review on Barry Norman's Film Show (BBC TV). Those were the days when the that programme showed quite explicit clips.
I was about eleven when I saw the clip of "VAMPYRES", and was hooked!.
I remeber Barry Norman stating something like..."This is the most disgusting piece of filth i've had to review so far this year!". And it was only February or March!.
It would be cool if there were more 'hardcore' footage to be discovered.
But this Film 'RULES!'.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Yeah, It's a damned fine little flick this one is!
Thanks for the Barry Norman anecdote!

J.

forestofthedead said...

Love it.