Thursday, September 4, 2014

Female Vampire / La comtesse noire (1973)

If you haven’t noticed, female vampires in movies have been a long-running theme I’ve enjoyed exploring with this blog. It’s an appealing aspect of fiction to me, and I just can’t get away from the archetypical idea of the vampiress: her gothic image, seductive power, hidden feral side, and deadly sexuality. Some time ago, around the time I reviewed The Blood Spattered Bride, I finally gave Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla a read and wasn’t too surprised at realizing how much Carmilla’s influence is felt in a large number of cult female vampire films. Although, there seems to have been a bit of a debate as to whether or not the perceived erotic subtext in Le Fanu’s novella has been misinterpreted by non-Victorian readers, yet many filmmakers have nonetheless taken the subtext at face value, taking whatever supposed eroticism is there in the writing of the book out of the implicit and into the explicit; and, for its time, Jess Franco’s Female Vampire (a.k.a. La comtesse noire, Bare Breasted Countess, Erotikill, and many more) has to be the most erotic lady vampire piece, even more so for the XXX version Lüsterne Vampire Im Spermarausch. (On the opposite end of the spectrum is perhaps, and also recommended, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death — a Carmilla influenced movie that hardly features any eroticism).





As should be obvious from the various aforementioned titles, Female Vampire is about a killer nymphomaniac lady vampire, Countess Irina Karlstein, played by Franco muse and Eurocult legend Lina Romay, born Rosa María Almirall Martínez.

Irina is a mute vampire and somewhat sympathetic. As the occasional mental reflection voiceover suggests, she is a remorseful and trapped victim herself. Lina plays Irina with an appropriately somber face, with languid mannerisms and simple gestures. Despite being accompanied by her creepy, hulky manservant (Luis Barboo), her existence feels lonely.

Lina has the right look and talent for what is a kind of double sided role: unabashed, bare-breasted creature-of-the-night one moment and a humble, ethereal creature in a white gown the next.





Irina isn’t quite the typical sexy femme fatale vampire, either, due to a few interesting nuances and variations, such as her need to feed, not just on blood, but on the hormones in the sex fluid of her victims. It’s an odd idea and a little gross, but it sure does set Irina apart from other vampires and makes sense from the commercial sexploitation angle. The idea of being killed in mid-orgasm does have a lot of macabre erotic potential, and in the end, the idea does end up working, primarily thanks to the way Lina handles her sexual kill scenes with an enthusiasm and finesse not found in too many other actresses (seriously try to imagine someone else in the role – you can’t).




Some would fault the movie on its use of out of focus shots, but, as with the soft-focus effect, they are used deliberately to achieve a mystical, dreamy feel. There has been one instance where I was annoyed with deliberate out of focus shooting with Jess Franco in 99 Woman (a sex scene with Rosalba Neri), but here the technique feels natural and adds to the experience. It’s therefore rather unfortunate that some would say certain shots in this film are “out of focus” like it’s a bad thing or poor, sloppy technique. I find it ironic that in more recent times “out of focus” digital photography has been considered an art form and an advanced technique.





The narrative is punctuated, in familiar Jess Franco fashion, with a number of macabre, as well as erotically poetic, sex scenes that tend to pad out more than would seem necessary, hence the most likely reason for the trimmed down “horror” version Erotikill. This will be nothing new to the initiated, but it might be a deal breaker for some. There are, nonetheless, strokes of genius throughout that keeps things interesting, such as Irina’s necrophilia indulgence after finishing off the hotel masseur (Raymond Hardy a.k.a. Ramon Ardid – Lina’s then husband who she eventually left to be with Jess Franco), which, again, works primarily on account of Lina’s commitment to the scene. Also, who could get bored of watching Lina get freaky with one of those elongated bolster pillows.




Another star in the film has to be the Madeira Island shooting location, which I’ve come to heavily appreciate a lot more after watching Al otro lado del espejo / The Other Side of the Mirror. Irina walking through the misty forest in Madeira, towards the camera, has to be one of Lina Romay’s most iconic images. Even the way she bumps her chin into the camera seems oddly natural. The otherworldly feel of the misty forest location (also seen in The Rites of Frankenstein) causes it to feel more like a representation of the spiritual plane, with Irina’s lone dark figure emerging from the mist, indicative of her solitude and gloom in an immortal life. In addition, consider the way Irina and the journalist Anna (Anna Watican) are walking the forest plane together after Irina has killed her, as if she is guiding Anna’s soul into some sort of afterlife.




Franco babes Monica Swinn and Alice Arno are on hand as some kind of gothic princess and her servant, respectively, for a nifty little de Sadean segment. It’s unclear why the princess and her servant were expecting Irina when she arrived (it would seem that something Irina did with the pieces in some kind of game of esoteric chess caused them to recognize her), but this lends a charming mystique to the segment. Irina is taken to a dungeon to be chained and whipped, putting her into somewhat of a predicament. It’s a little disturbing that another lady’s chained, tortured, unconscious body is already present when the three enter the dungeon, a nice gruesome touch that reminds me a little of Inquisition strappado torture, a theme not far off from Franco’s The Bloody Judge and Les demons.




Arno’s character kind of looks like a biker chick and is in charge of whipping Irina in a bondage scene, and like Irina she does not speak a word, making her seem mute, a common trait between the two that made me think she might be a vampire as well. It might have been some kind of seductive mind control, but I like to think that the two seem to recognize the similarity in one another, which ends up turning the tables, as the servant turns on her master, freeing Irina in the process, so they can double team the princess.

Something else going for the movie is the chemistry between Lina Romay and a poet, played by film genre favorite Jack Taylor, who seems to be deriving inspiration from the mystical elements in Madeira, predicting his meeting with Irina in his writing, emphasizing a kindred soul like bond between the two that is another take on the romance fantasy between human and vampire; and its inevitable conclusion certainly does emphasize the ennui and loneliness of Irina’s malediction. While they are connecting as lovers atop the misty mountains, as Irina struggles to come to terms with her feelings for her new love and what she is, Lina's portrayal of Irina's sadness is genuine and should be a testament to her ability as an actress outside of erotica.




Longtime fans of Lina Romay have no doubt already seen Female Vampire; it was her first starring role for Jess Franco, and it can definitely be considered a good starting point for anyone interested in Lina Romay. She’s been in an ungodly amount of movies, and I still have a lot of exploring to do, but so far I’ve not been disappointed by any film with Lina in a leading role (I even enjoyed Mansion of the Living Dead). I think I’ll forego recommending any additional Lina Romay titles and just say happy exploring to new and longtime fans, because, for many, there are most likely still plenty of pleasant surprises to track down and experience for the first time, not to mention the fact that the films usually seem better after second viewings.

As Wm R. said on Facebook “Lina FOREVER”

© At the Mansion of Madness


 

13 comments:

  1. I really liked Female Vampire when I first saw it, but it's been way too long and now I hardly remember it, so I think it requires a revisit. My curiosity got the better of me so I had a look at Lina Romay's filmography, and am pretty shocked at how few of them I've seen (Barbed Wire Dolls, a couple of the Orloff movies, Oasis of the Zombies, and Lorna the Exorcist...and I think that's it). It's probably time I should fix that. So... you gonna kick off the Lina-thon?? Lol.

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    1. Hi Jonny! Female Vampire is a good one to revisit. I had seen it a while ago and had also forgotten a lot about it; despite having a positive memory of it. Revisiting it for review reconfirmed for me that it is a good movie and a classic in its own right. As for a Lina-thon, with my pace, it would take me years to complete, heh heh. It would probably have to be its own blog too. Plaisir a trois (How to Seduce a Virgin), Macumba Sexual, Exorcism, and The Hot Nights of Linda are a few more essential Lina Romay films.

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    2. I forgot to mention that Female Vampire is currently available to stream on Netflix.

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    3. I noticed it was on Netflix instant after I went to add it to my queue for a rewatch. Lol, so I'll be watching it again soon.

      I'll also make sure to add all the Lina Romay films you mentioned to my watchlist and get to those asap, thanks for all the great suggestions Giovanni! If I'm ever in need of a Eurocult fix you're always the man to turn to, haha.

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  2. First time I saw this I found it very boring but over time, I've started to appreciate it for its hazy dreaminess and (of course) Lina Romay. This was apparently the first film she did with Jess (before Rites of Frankenstein) and we can really see the director-actress communication. Apparently, during the filming, the two also worked on a private unnamed project. The Countess is interesting, I like to see her as a benevolent but involuntary Grim Reaper, doomed to fulfil her duty. Doriana Grey is a film that's very similar to FV. The ending is just beautiful! Not as emotionally involving but more technically accomplished and just as dreamy.

    I recommend reading The Lina Romay File: Confessions of an Exhibitionist. It's very informative on her filmography and has a hilarious interview with Lina herself. Hard to get a hard copy but you can find scans of the book online.

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    1. Hi Terence! You’re right. When she is not preying on someone, she seems benevolent, and I think that’s a primary strength with the film, and I feel it’s something that is unfortunately overlooked by many a viewer. I noticed it too and basically attributed that unwillingness as the cause of her gloom. Although she does crack a few brief quasi smiles, once when being interviewed about the bloody history of her family and another time when Alice Arno is whipping her, so there’s still a minor issue with uncertainty there, but I think you are right. She also desires love, the kind of romance novel love she finds with the baron/poet, but what you mention about her being an involuntary grimreaper certainly turns this into drama.

      I have recently acquired Doriana Grey and will be checking it out real soon. I’m looking forward to it, and I do recall you recommending it sometime earlier.

      I found one place to download The Lina Romay File: Confessions of an Exhibitionist, but the site wants me to register with my credit card, despite claiming it’s free, and I just don’t trust it. I also found a couple ripoff reports against the company (they apparently have hidden charges). The hunt for that book will have to continue elsewhere. Thanks for letting me know about it though; I honestly had not heard about it before.

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  3. This one is incredibly dumb but entertaining, This is from someone who has Franco-Phobia and usually is bored by this directors work. I did enjoy this film and really poke fun at it in an upcoming review. Please check it out at theaterofguts.com. Here's a link for some other Jess Franco flicks We've covered http://www.theaterofguts.com/search/label/Jess%20Franco

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    1. Hi! Thanks for the link. Lot's of cool Franco films there. I've got to say, you have a talent for funny captions. I tried my hand at funny captions in the early, early days of this blog, but I was no good at it, and decided to forgo the art.

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  4. Thanks Alot, sorry it took me awhile to get back! Yeah we like to kick these films around but its because we love them.

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  5. jervaise brooke hamsterSeptember 20, 2014 at 6:29 PM

    I want to bugger Lina Romay (as the bird was in 1972 at the time this movie was made when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously, which is dead, unfortunately).

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  6. jervaise brooke hamsterSeptember 20, 2014 at 6:37 PM

    Giovanni, just with regards to the pictures that you used from the movie to accompany the reveiw, why didn`t you show the images of the graphic nudity in the film where Franco is zooming in on Lina's amazing arse-hole and twat (especially when shes rolling around on the bed or in the bath or in the lesbian scene with the other bird) ! ?, those images are some of the greatest masturbation-aids ever committed to film ! ! !, it would`ve been nice to see some of them here ! ! !.

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    1. Hi Jervaise! I agree with you. I do enjoy having a sexy side to this blog, and Female Vampire has to be the most erotic/graphic film I’ve covered yet, but I’d rather keep my blog from being NSFW, otherwise I might have to have one of those “content warning” disclaimers, and I can’t help thinking that might deflect a certain percentage of traffic. I figure, if readers want to see the graphic stuff badly enough, they can watch the film. But you’re right, a movie like Female Vampire does call for more graphic images than the ones I used, but I figure the thought I put into the review should compensate for the disservice I’ve done for the film by selecting more frugal images.

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  7. I really like this one. It was actually my first Lina film I ever saw. I first read about it in the Immoral Tales books, back in the 90s, under the name Bare Breasted Countess. I was intrigued and looked for it for years, finally getting it when it came out on DVD.

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