Vampyros Lesbos (Jesus Franco / West Germany-Spain, 1971):

Truffaut once spoke admiringly of how Orson Welles would work against the beautiful images he himself created. Jesus Franco witnessed the method first-hand as assistant-director in Chimes at Midnight and works similarly here, but all his off-center compositions and disorientating zooms can't quite vanquish Soledad Miranda, an indestructible kind of beauty. The tale is Dracula, Franco tells it as a slanted hallucination: Miranda is the Count's heiress, who needs only darkness, a candelabra, and a nude partner for a slinky nightclub act. Ewa Strömberg sits in the audience, and from then on has Miranda in her dreams; she relates the visions to her psychiatrist, who doodles during the session and gives her a prescription: "Find yourself a new lover." A vaginal red kite and scorpions with erect stingers beckon Strömberg to the Mediterranean island where the Countess awaits her -- "The queen of the night will bear you in her black wings," she promises, and proceeds with the languid ravishment, climaxing at the jugular. Franco avails himself of Bram Stocker and Le Fanu (and also Baudelaire: "You do not deserve to be free / From your accursed slavery") for the bliss of an abstract Sapphic lightshow, where old Van Helsing is a Universal Studios memory (essayed suavely by Dennis Price) and Franco is his own Ygor, seeking love via torture. Living and undead, straight and queer, illusion and reality: All of it as liquid as the movie's surface, warm to the touch and a marvel to behold. Miranda drifts through it like smoke, a cool, feral mannequin yet strikingly reminiscent of Moreau as the vampiress grows anemic, a sort of continuous dance sublimely attuned to the jazzy murmurs of the soundtrack. Try to locate a narrative, and the whole thing dissolves; better to take the lead of Heidrum Kussin's buxom, straitjacketed Reinfeld, who emerges from the reverie bewildered and aroused. With Andrés Monales, Paul Muller, and Michael Berling.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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