Jess Franco's Wonderful, Woeful 'Vampyros Lesbos'
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because if teen fang flicks have almost destroyed the genre, this campy throwback might be a step back in the right direction.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Jesús “Jess” Franco died last year. At the age of 82.
Which we’d guess you missed. Franco is probably one of the most significant examples of high talent–low performance as you, or anyone you know, are likely to encounter. The Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum glossed him with a sobriquet that stuck in film circles, “the Spanish Ed Wood,” after the notoriously so-bad-he’s-good American film director who once threw a flaming pie tin into frame to represent a crashing space ship.
The soundtrack hit the charts in the U.K. and spawned “sexadelic dance parties.”
“Extremely prolific and generally untalented,” Rosenbaum said a year before Franco’s death from a three-carton-a-week cigarette-induced stroke. “Albeit without Wood’s gift for humorously inane dialogue.”
And still, after 200 films — some weirdly great like The Awful Dr. Orloff, some stunningly bad à la A Penis for Three — Franco soldiered on, undeterred by critical drubbings, confirmed in his belief in his own genius and fueled by his few actual successful and noteworthy gems. Of which 1971’s Vampyros Lesbos, mostly shot on location in Italy, was one.
“Vampyros Lesbos was a fine film,” the wheelchair-bound Franco said at a retrospective showing of his films in Brussels in 2011. “I don’t know that there are any others like it.” Which, while it clearly could have been said about any of the rest of his films, given how popular the vampire genre has been, is saying a lot.
…a perverse hoot for the eyes, and a much more satifsying one for the ears.
What makes Lesbos stand out amidst a body of work that covers not only horror, soft-core porn and historical horror, is primarily non-visual. “The music from this film did well for us,” says Crippled Dick Hot Wax label head Toni Schifer (total disclosure: Schifer also once released my band Oxbow’s Serenade in Red). The soundtrack hit the charts in the U.K. and spawned “sexadelic dance parties” that were throwbacks to ’60s-era bacchanals, as well as a revival of a few of Franco’s more florid works.
Featured in abundance in all of Franco’s work: wooden acting, risqué themes, wonderfully cinematic faces, and scores by Franco and his honestly, non-ironically phenomenal co-composers, Manfred Hubler and Siegfriend Schwab.
But it’s Vampyros Lesbos, the first lesbian-themed horror movie of West German-Spanish provenance, that remains a perverse hoot for the eyes, and a much more satifsying one for the ears. Which is to say: purely ironic watching, sincere listening. And generalized post-modern joy all around.