Reviews & Commentary

Vampyres (1974)

Also known as
Daughters of Dracula, Blood Hunger, Satan's Daughters
Thomas Owen (story) and D. Daubeney (screenplay)
José Ramón Larraz
Anulka Dziubinska, Marianne Moris, Sally Faulkner, Michael Byrne, Thomas Owen

This review contains spoilers.

Vampyres opens on a day-for-night shot of a Victorian Gothic country house, then zooms in on a window. Inside the house, we find two naked women in bed together. A man climbs the stairs outside their room, enters, and shoots them to death. You have to admire the efficiency of that opening; it tells us right away what kind of film we’re watching: Zoom and day-for-night? OK, it’s a 1970s British horror film. Naked lesbians? Ah! It’s a 1970s British lesbian horror film.

After the opening credits, a young couple, John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner), are on a caravan holiday and decide, rather foolishly, to camp next to a creepy abandoned-looking house. Meanwhile, a man (Michael Byrne) — whose character name, according to the credits, is “The Playboy” — checks into a hotel where the manager appears to recognise him. Don’t worry about that, though, because the film won’t bring it up again (except maybe it does. I’ll get back to that). Instead, worry about the woman he gives a lift, Fran (the least frightenening vampire name ever? Perhaps. Played by Marianne Morris), who takes him back to the abandoned house she lives in with Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska). The two women are, naturally, the ones we saw shot in the opening, and they turn out to be vampires who lure unsuspecting men to their death by day-for-night and sleep by day-for-day. Harriet, meanwhile, worries that they’ve chosen a bad spot for camping and is ever more curious about the two mysterious women she sees walking in the woods, while John is annoyingly condescending.

One of the problems with the lesbian vampire film is that, much like in Star Trek, only evil women are homo- or bisexual in them, which is a pretty unfortunate message. And it’s indicative of the surprisingly conservative impulse of a lot of horror; there’s a tendency to code deviance from normalcy as evil and dangerous. In this case the deviance is bisexuality, but also female sexuality in general: much like Bellerophon of Greek myth, the Playboy finds that overt female sexuality is a force to be feared. But the film seems to think homosexuality is most dangerous: the Playboy gets to live, but Harriet is killed for her curiosity. And she doesn’t even do anything more than maybe think about it.

The ending is a bit confusing. First we see the vampires running through the forest as the sun is rising, then the Playboy is woken in his car by a real estate broker trying to sell the Gothic-revival house to an American couple. The broker’s mention of two women being killed in the house and of “criminals returning to the scene of the crime” might, taken together with the hotel manager’s insistence that he’d seen the Playboy before, be seen as an indication that the Playboy is the killer from the opening sequence, and that the entire film was just his hallucination upon returning to the scene of the crime. I don’t know that I support that reading entirely, but it would mean that there’s at least some point to the opening scenes.

Despite my misgivings about some of its more unfortunate implications, I quite like at least parts of Vampyres. Harry Waxman’s cinematography is quite good in an understated way, bringing a sense of tension and suspense to scenes that would otherwise just be long and meandering, and while the script is generally mediocre, I quite like the pacing of Harriet’s growing curiosity and the Playboy’s realisation that he’s gotten more than he bargained for. I wish the ending had been clearer, and I wish Harriet hadn’t been killed for her curiosity, but still: quite an enjoyable little film. There’s something oddly comforting about seeing British actors killed. Maybe that’s just me.

Written by Kalle on Monday July 20, 2009
Permalink - Category: Film - Tags: 1970s, lesbian-vampire, vampire

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