Soledad Miranda died in a car crash, just two weeks after Vampyros Lesbos opened in West Berlin. She was 27. Sadly, we'll never know just what level of acclaim she would have enjoyed had she lived, but her work for Jess Franco indicated a successful career beckoned.
While Miranda could not be hailed as a stunning beauty, she did possess an indefinable presence; an aura that held our attention during every second of her screen time. The camera simply loved her, and nowhere is this more apparent than Vampyros Lesbos.
Franco's loose adaptation of Dracula's Guest, by Bram Stoker, takes Linda Westinghouse (Stroemberg) from her Istanbul law firm to the Kalidados Islands of Asia Minor where she must deal with the inheritance of Princess Nadine Karody (Miranda); the subject of Linda's recurring erotic dreams before she ever departed from home.
Driven by a wild and wonderful soundtrack, this is a film of waking dreams and dark, delirious nightmares, conveying solitude, loss and despair from one of Franco's most fruitful years: the Spanish maverick made 8 films in 1970 and this is arguably the best. Linda's first sighting of Karody in the flesh; the erotically charged scene where the Princess emerges from behind yellow curtains, blood on her lower lip, to make love to Linda and drink her blood; Nadine's lyrical, intensely moving account of her first meeting with Count Dracula (so poignantly recounted, it would not look out of place in an Anne Rice novel) and her inevitable assignation with Dr. Seward (the splendid Dennis Price) who anticipates Christian Slater's request from Interview With The Vampire...... just a few of the mesmerising scenes on offer. There's even a suitably sadistic role for Franco himself, as the deranged husband of a young woman (Kussin) locked away in Seward's clinic, and exhibiting the same desires (and physical traits) as Linda.
Those of you yet to sample the delights of Vampyros Lesbos are directed to Second Sight's astonishing Region 2 DVD. Apart from a few isolated instances of grain, the picture quality is way beyond drop-dead gorgeous with eye-popping colour which, until now, has rarely been asociated with this film. It's also pleasing to note the enhanced image quality raises two key performers to a new level entirely: Miranda's screen presence now seems stronger than ever, while Ewa Stroemberg is, at last, promoted to a select group of Franco's most alluring actresses.
Legendary director of predominantly sex-and-horror-based material, Spanish-born Jesus Franco had as many as 200 directing credits to his name. Trained initially as a musician before studying film at the Sorbonne in Paris, Franco began directing in the late 50s. By using the same actors, sets and locations on many films, Franco has maintained an astonishing workrate, and while the quality of his work has sometimes suffered because of this, films such as Virgin Amongst the Living dead, Eugenie, Succubus and She Killed in Ecstasy remain distinctive slices of 60s/70s art-trash.
Most of his films have been released in multiple versions with wildly differing titles, while Franco himself has directed under a bewildering number of pseudonyms. Actors who have regularly appeared in his films include Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and wife Lina Romay; fans should also look out for his name on the credits of Orson Welles' Chimes of Midnight, on which he worked as assistant director.