BARE BREASTED COUNTESS (1975)
aka FEMALE VAMPIRE
French language dubbing with English subtitles
On DVD now from Maison Rouge
Countess Irina Karlstein is a woman cursed. Coming from a long line of vampires, she’s the last of the wicked Karlstein family. Doomed to roam Earth as a mute, her lust for sexual interaction is intertwined with her thirst for blood leaving her to walk her path alone, guarded by a mute servant. When she meets the curious Baron Von Rathony, she’s torn between her two lives. Will she find peace and love of her own or will the curse leave her lonely and hungry forever?
You know you’re watching a Jess Franco film when the opening scenes involve a naked Lina Romay wearing naught but a cape, knee high boots and a belt and the camera decides to zoom in on her furry biff just for the fun of it. Yes, I’m reviewing Female Vampire, more aptly known as Bare Breasted Countess, one of the first releases from new distribution label, Maison Rouge, dedicated to Euro Sleaze that we at HorrorCultFilms adore.
Starring Jess Franco’s muse and partner Lina Romay as the Countess is a wonderful casting choice as Romay sensually navigates the Madeira island where the Karlstein family lay their vampiric foundations. Without uttering a word of dialogue, Romay is able to capture the viewer and her victim with her beautiful curves and the gaze of her big, brown eyes as she seduces the stranger in her presence. The Countess seems well practiced in snaring her victims. It would seem wearing nothing is the best way forward but should she need to cover up, then having her breasts pop out the top of the dress is a fine substitute. Male or female, Countess Irina isn’t picky and she’s equally happy to perform oral sex on a woman as she is on a man. With both Countess and her victim writhing completely naked on the bed, you could say this film is just a softcore porn movie but it’s more than that. Whilst there’s a sexual nature to the story, with the Countess doing whatever she can to get herself off (even resorting to rubbing herself against the bedpost and cushion), there’s a desperation to her situation that leaves her as a character to sympathise with. She didn’t choose this life. She was born with it and cursed to live out her days trying to satisfy her sexual urges without killing her lovers.
It wouldn’t be a Jess Franco film if the man himself didn’t do a turn as a doctor (must be his favourite type of character). In Bare Breasted Countess, he plays Dr Roberts, a man who discovers that men and women are dying during orgasm, their blood and semen (and I suppose female juices) sucked dry by none other than a vampire. Keen to stop the onslaught, he’s determined to end the Countess’ life once and for all. However, blind Dr Orloff has other ideas with a peculiar way of performing autopsies to boot!
In most vampire movies, it takes a while for the characters to discover the identity of the vampire, and that’s providing they actually come to terms with the idea that vampires exist. In this movie, it seems everyone knows that Countess Irina Karlstein is a bloodsucker thanks to her ancestor’s notorious crimes on the island. It doesn’t make the citizens around her any more cautious though as one journalist boldly asks for an interview and quizzes Irina on her life before succumbing to her charms herself.
As much as you can take these sort of films seriously, there’s no reason not to have a bit of fun with them. Bare Breasted Countess would make a great drinking game if you were to down a shot every time the camera zoomed in on a pair of breasts or lady gardens. You may well be bladdered come the end of the film, mind!
As a piece of Franco filmmaking though, Bare Breasted Countess is certainly at the top. The focus on the naked form, the out of focus zooms, the piano music accompanying the mesmerising visuals… all are there to capture and captivate the viewer and it does so sensually. Despite there being little dialogue and a basic story thread, the story itself is rather tragic. Franco has the ability to get emotions out of the viewer through his erotic cinema that others might turn their nose up at. This to me, like the work of Tinto Brass, is not pornographic cinema. There’s no actual intercourse, it’s all simulated, and most ‘oral sex’ scenes are covered by Romay’s flowing locks. Instead, it’s a sensual tale brought down to its basic, core values. Stripping everything away – clothes in this case – brings it down to one pure need: love. Whilst in some cases her sexual hunger is simply to feed, with others it’s something more The act of sex to consumate it displays the Countess’ need for emotional attachment, for love, knowing that she is doomed never to fulfill her desire, that one, simple goal humans take for granted. Irina’s various monologues, as her car is driven around the island, the bat hood ornament flapping its wings as she speaks, reveal her inner turmoil. With these the only moments we hear her speak, it is here her true self is revealed.
A hypnotic, seductive spin on the vampire genre, this sun-kissed sexploitation horror is well worth adding to your collection.