Vampyres (1974) is Spanish director Joseph Larraz's entry into the 'lesbian vampire' cycle of films popular in Europe at the time. Full of nudity and violence, the movies were exploitation house favorites, though most have fallen into deserved obscurity. Anchor Bay has recently released Vampyres as part of its 'eurohorror' line of videos and DVD. Uncut and restored from the negative, we have been given a second chance to appreciate a rare and thoughtful film that combines vampire mythology with graphic violence and sensual sexuality.
The spare, moody story concerns a pair of woman (the mature, sensual Marianne Morris and sleek, somber Playboy model Anulka) who haunt an abandoned castle and the English country side around it. They prey on passing motorists, whom they seduce, and murder. One such victim is Ted, played by English actor Murray Brown. There is a strange bond between him, and the older of the two woman, Fran. She is unwilling to slaughter him outright, and keeps him alive to serve her sexual and sanguary needs. Though he is free to leave in daylight, when the woman are no where to be found, he finds he can not bring himself to leave,. His presence begins to threaten the relationship between Fran, and the younger and more blood-hungry Miriam. Meanwhile, there is that nice English couple camping on the castle grounds, who are trying to figure out just what is going on in that supposedly empty castle.
Director Larraz has stripped away many of the gothic trappings of vampires. The woman go about freely in daylight, they drink.. wine, and lack fangs so that they must cut their victims and drink blood from the spurting wound. Like George Romero's Martin or The Blood Spattered Bride by fellow Spaniard Vicente Aranda, there is nothing overtly supernatural about the 'vampyres'. What he has left us with is a brooding mystery, a dark, moldering castle, and haunting images of his black-dressed heroines fleeing across the moors.
Larraz's film is strong stuff. He has taken the soft-core conventions and cheap titillation of Hammer's 'Carmilla' films, and turned them on their heads. Sure, there is lots of nudity and onscreen coitus. But instead of cheap thrills, there is an air of threat, desperation, and pathos both in the film and in the characters. Instead of using it to fill screen time, Larraz makes lust and sexual obsession and central theme in his film. What transpires in that dark castle, with its empty rooms and mysterious cellar can be explained in terms psychosexual as easily as supernatural.
Larraz plays ambiguously with the nature of the two women as well as Murray Brown's confused prisoner. The screenplay hints at past secrets that bind the characters together, and never makes explicit their connection. Larraz has his own ideas, though, and a the patient viewer will be able to peace together the secrets that the script only hints at.
Vampyres is a unique film. While superficially it resemble any of a dozen other 'blood and breast' films of the 70's, it puts a mature, thoughtful spin on the material. Larraz has taken material that could have played for camp and soft-core titillation, and instead, has delivered and thoughtful meditation on sex, obsession, and guilt.