Director: José Larraz
Blue Underground

In an unusual turn for the British horror film, Spanish-born director José Larraz helmed a trio of interesting, sometimes overlooked U.K. genre efforts: SCREAM AND DIE (aka THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED), VAMPYRES, and SYMPTOMS. Of the three, VAMPYRES is the one that garnished a considerable cult following to this day, as it's an outstanding slice of erotic goth that compares favorably to similar bloodsuckers from Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, and is far bolder than the classic sexy Hammer vamps of the period.

A pre-credit sequence shows two beautiful nude young ladies making love, and then being shot by an unseen assailant. We later see these ladies alive and well and black-garbed. Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska) have a habit of flagging down cars on the countryside highway, and getting strange men to pick them up for insidious reasons. Fran gets a ride with Ted (Murray Brown from the Dan Curtis DRACULA) who is instantly attracted to her and agrees to go back to her crumbling gothic manor, secluded in the woods. Ted and Fran indulge in a night of untamed sex, but he awakens to find a deep cut on his arm, thinking it an accident due to the previous night's excessive wine drinking.

The morning sun presents an empty house, and Ted goes to a nearby trailer-camping couple (Brian Deacon and Sally Faulkner) to tend to his wound. They gladly oblige, but the wife is suspicious about the inhabitants of the old house, believing that someone or something tried to assault them the night before. Ted eventually makes his way back to the manor, but as he becomes further sexually active with Fran, more blood is sucked from his weakening body, and Miriam gets into the action as well. Other men are obtained in the same way that Ted was, but Fran's fondness for him keeps prevents him from being killed. The others are not so lucky, as they are seduced and viciously devoured thereafter.

VAMPYRES is one of the finest British horror films of the 70s, utilizing the lesbian vampire to full effect, and brimming with atmosphere and crimson-soaked grisliness. Although very inexperienced at the time and post-dubbed by other actresses, Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska are mesmerizing as the female savages, easily alluring men and quickly caught up in a frenzy of animalistic blood drinking that becomes a carnal ordeal for them. Larraz keeps the duo very ambiguous, as the word "vampire" is never mentioned, they don't possess fangs, and their onscreen presence is often ghost-like. Although plotted in modern day and bathed in sex and violence, the film is furnished in a traditional gothic style, with the famous Oakley Court--the manor house of numerous Hammer films and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW--providing haunting exteriors, and some decaying interiors as well.

VAMPYRES was previously available on DVD from Anchor Bay, and fans who own that disc will not want to hesitate to upgrade to Blue Underground's definitive release. Letterboxed in its theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 with Anamorphic enhancement, the excessive grain present in the older disc is not to be found here. The image also appears sharper and the palette of mostly warm colors is stable. Audio is a Dolby Digital mono mix, and does the film justice. Blue Underground's disc is also completely uncut, restoring approximately 30 seconds of climatic bloodshed not present in the Anchor Bay release.

An audio commentary with director Larraz and producer Brian Smedley-Aston is carried over from the Anchor Bay release. The heavily accented Larraz and the British editor- turned- producer Smedley-Aston provide a nice talk, reflecting a friendly working relationship and rather contrasting personalities. Smedley-Aston provides a lot of info about the production, while Larraz gives comments and recollections with a wry sense of humor (his pronunciation of the "F word" is a hoot).

A really nice treat is a new video interview (14 minutes) with Marianne and Anulka, who still look as beautiful as ever. You'll be charmed as you get to hear their true voices, as they discuss their involvement in VAMPYRES to great detail, unveil how proud they are to be associated with it all these years later, and tell us what they are up to today. Also included is a photo reconstruction of the "lost caravan scene" not in the completed film; both the international and U.S. trailer, which added "Very Unusual Ladies" to the title; an extensive poster & still gallery with lots of press ads, poster art, PR photos, and numerous behind-the-scenes shots; a glamour photo gallery of lovely Anulka; a bio of Larraz, and lastly; a DVD-ROM option for "VAMPYRES: A Tribute to the Ultimate in Erotic Horror Cinema," an expanded version of an excellent publication by Tim Greaves.

As it seems we're already talking about lists of "best" discs of 2003, Blue Underground's VAMPYRES certainly gets my vote. (George R. Reis)