By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY — Sex and death – two subjects so taboo and powerful they cause an indescribable, unsettling tremble. The horror genre is widely praised for its ability to play on our fears and embrace our hidden feelings and desires, allowing them to manifest and become real for only a moment’s time. Hammer Films were aware of the sanctimonious aura of pertinent female sexuality in macabre cinema, steering the genre in a direction that undoubtedly attributed to the wave of erotic euro-horror that emerged in the late 1960s. Lesbianism became a staple of many ghastly femme ghouls with films such as Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl (1982). Falling between the release of the two aforementioned films was Joseph Larazz’s Vampyres (1974), a film as hedonistically sadistic as they come.
The film ignites with sudden massacring of two young women in the midst of making love. Much like the lustrous vampiric temptress in polygamous cult horror The Velvet Vampire (1971), Fran and Miriam, our villainous murderesses, are strikingly beautiful and use this to their advantage. Living in an abandoned castle deep within the woods of the English countryside, the alluring duo lure men into their abode. Not unlike the unsuspecting couple in Canadian cult horror Cannibal Girls (1973), a pair of young lovers find themselves unknowingly within close proximity to the blood hungry vixens. Suspicions are raised when the horribly thrashed corpses of men are found within their vehicles shortly after staying a night in the barren castle walls.
Despite all the erotic elements ever-present, Vampyres is sure to tug on the heartstrings of gore hounds. Though not relying on disturbing images alone, the scenes that are cringe-inducing are very effective and relevant to the plot. Flesh is ripped, throats are gashed and blood flows as frequently as the aged red wine the vampires have a seemingly unending supply of. Traditional neck bites become ravenous onslaughts, and deep cuts are treated like ice cream cones by the famished tigresses. Staying true to the romantic tradition of the Bram Stoker Dracula lore, both women are charming and easily woo their victims. Though alike in such a manner, an interesting contrast between the hunger of Miriam and Fran is displayed in great fashion. Fran is seemingly more mature and capable of prolonging a feast of an oblivious man, whereas Miriam lacks self-control and indulges in primeval destruction of her human meals.
Gothic imagery creates a level of aesthetic enjoyment paralleled with many other European films, including Paul Morrissey’s shocking Flesh For Frankenstein (1973) and Blood For Dracula (1974). Cut scenes of the silhouetted castle allude to the earliest Dracula adaptations, both the silent Nosferatu (1922) and the Lugosi classic Dracula (1931). Unfortunately uncommon within the macabre genre, Vampyres is gracefully destructive and offers very little light at the end of the tunnel. Unease is provoked right from the beginning, which is then carried throughout the 87-minute runtime.
Vampyres’ wide appeal to fans of alternative cinema is its greatest quality. People of the sexploitation crowd, gorehounds, Hammer fans, vampire lovers, and horror buffs alike are all sure to get something out of this film. The narrative is admirably strong, which one could arguably say is uncommon in erotic euro-horror. With red herrings strewn about in regard to the murder of the two young women at the emergence of the film, the story is given an undisclosed mystery. Seduction, torment and incredible use of the moody atmosphere make this film a gothic diamond in the rough of the vast failed attempts at vampiric revolutionism.
Vampyres plays January 8th at 11:55 p.m. at the Globe Cinema, courtesy of the Night Terrors Film Society. Tickets are available online at vampyres.brownpapertickets.com or $10 cash only at the door.AB, Alberta, Globe Cinema, Night Terrors Film Society, Vampyres