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