Tuesday, September 03, 2013


I was saving this review for the November – December Winter of Discontent season, hence the slightly jokey style it’s written in and pseudo-comedic captions on the screengrabs. Today, however, I offer it earlier than intended in memory of Jose Larraz.

Exterior. Night. A gothic mansion house. Quick cut to:

Interior. Night. A bedroom, two women lying in Sapphic embrace. Sans chemise. Yup, we’re ten seconds in and ‘Vampyres’ has already earned its Winter of Discontent stripes. Anyway, these two ladies are indulging in a nice hazy make-out session when the door opens, a shadow throws itself on the wall, a gun is drawn and several shots ring out. Essentially spoiling their fun. And the viewer’s.

The credits play out over footage of bats flitting around in the dark. Some horrible pseudo prog-rock assaults the earns. Next thing, a middle aged guy with a briefcase checks into a hotel. The establishment looks kind of like the gothic mansion from the previous scene. The proprietor thinks he knows middle aged guy from way when (although middle aged guy denies this) and some meaningful glances get thrown around.

Next up, a young(ish) couple are driving along a country road when they see a voluptuous woman in a long cape who looks like she’s just wandered in from the set of ‘Fascination’; another woman, similarly garbed, is hiding behind a tree. The couple debate whether they saw one or two women by the side of the road. It’s a moot point since they don’t stop to offer a lift, but they’re still arguing the toss come nightfall when they’ve steered down a beaten track and parked their caravan in a field next to the gothic mansion house where the two naked ladies were doing the hazy Sapphic thing in the opening scene before some bastard eighty-sixed them.

By this point (roughly seven minutes in), I wasn’t bothered by the shrugging absence of character introduction – I don’t watch these kind of movies for their finely honed approach to characterisation, and besides if Haruki Murakami can write a whole novel in which not a single character is given a name then a 1200 word review ought to be a cinch – but I was scratching my head at where all of this was supposed to be taking place. You see a shot like this …

… and it can’t be anywhere but England. On the outskirts, probably, of some dainty little village with a name like Upper Ponceywhipple. Then you get a scene when Mr Young(ish) Couple says “We’ve certainly covered a good distance in the last few days” and it occurs that you can probably drive the length of Britain in two days if you take turns behind the wheel and don’t stop for too many toilet breaks. So maybe it’s England standing in for a particularly unscenic part of Europe.

Anyway, a scream from the gothic mansion pierces the night and Ms Young(ish) Couple comes suddenly awake. Helluva loud scream apparently, since there’s a storm raging and an establishing shot just a minute or so earlier has their caravan several hundred yards from the mansion with a Hampton Court maze-size hedge delineating the edge of the field. But still, we’re not here to engage in semantic debates or insist on sonic verisimilitude, not when there’s a better than average chance that the next 80 minutes will hove back into naked-ladies-making-out territory. ANYWAY, Ms Young(ish) couple is further startled by a bloody hand thudding against the window and she shriekingly wakes her partner, who hustles outside and sweeps the area with a torch (for which there is absolutely no need, since this is as face-palming obvious a day-for-night scene as has ever been committed to celluloid), finds nothing and heads back inside all me-big-man-me-comfort-scared-woman stylee, during all of which we learn that his name is John and hers is Harriet, and thanks to the magic of IMDb we can identify the actors as Brian Deacon and Sally Faulkner respectively.

Next morning, Harriet wakes to see the two hitchhikers – a brunette in a black cape and a blonde in a scarlet cape – ghosting through the woods and into a nearby cemetery. An ambulance siren breaks the stillness and both hasten on their way. Turns out this pair – and, oh, hey, weren’t they the unfortunately twosome who bought the farm in the how-dare-you-interrupt-the-girl-girl-shenanigans from the start of the movie? – are in the habit of flagging down lone male drivers and kind of ruining their day. Albeit with the promise of a little hanky-panky first, as Ted (Murray Brown) finds out when he picks up Fran (Marianne Morris) – she’s the brunette, btw – enjoys a night of energetic if curiously dispassionate sex, and wakes the next morning to find himself scarred and disorientated. Oh, by the way, guess where Fran lives?

Now, if I were Ted, I’d have got the hell out of there, laid a strip for the nearest medical facility and got myself checked out, in short order, at A&E and the venereal clinic. Ted doesn’t. Ted drives over to John and Harriet’s caravan for no reason that makes any sense other than the script needs to perk Harriet’s curiosity so that she and John will eventually gravitate into the orbit of …. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ted returns to the gothic mansion and sits outside in his car till dusk when Fran appears with Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska, billed simply as “Anulka”) – she’s the blonde, btw – in tow, and three cheers for the scripter for finally, thirty five minutes in, gracing all of our principles with a name. Miriam has a boy-toy on her arm, chap name of Rupert (Karl Lanchbury), bit of a stiff shirt. Anyway, this foursome take it on inside and have a few drinks …

… and it takes a painfully long time and screeds of stilted dialogue before the kit-offery gets underway. Death never lagging far behind sex in this kind of movie, clothes-shedding inevitably leads to blood-letting.

It’s a messy bit of business all round and the girls, now unambiguously established as vampires, quickly dispose of the corpse then take a nice, languorous Sapphic shower together, sluicing off all that nasty type-o negative as well as pleasuring each oth— … hey, wait a minute. Vampires in a shower???

So, with as much established as we’re ever going to get in the way of plot and characters, the remaining forty minutes or so of ‘Vampyres’ boils down to Ted’s ordeal as the house bloodbank/Fran’s plaything counterpointed by Harriet’s curiosity about the gothic mansion and its occupants, these twin narrative strands moving ploddingly towards their inexorably bloody nexus.

Okay, maybe “ploddingly” is a bit harsh. Granted, ‘Vampyres’ has about half an hour of story but it’s hard not to be swept along by its feverish determination to reach feature length by way of (a) moody shots of long corridors, dusty wine cellars, overgrown churchyards, stretches of woodland and misty dawn light filtering through trees, and (b) prolonged softcore writhings. The padding is where ‘Vampyres’ comes alive (how many films can you say that of?): in fetishising landscapes as lingeringly as its anti-heroines’ nubile bodies, Larraz lurches into Terence Malick territory (‘Badlands’ was made the year before Larraz’s lesbian bloodsucker opus).

Moreover, in jettisoning narrative coherency – why don’t the police ever wonder why there are so many car wrecks along the same stretch of road? or why one driver was naked behind the wheel? Why does it take an ambulance 24 hours to take a dead-at-scene victim from roadside to mortuary? Why do Fran and Miriam panic about it getting light when at least half a dozen earlier scenes have them happily flitting about by daylight? How come Harriet can hear a scream several hundred yards away during a storm but not one from a car parked right next to her caravan? – for a purely sensory approach (albeit sensory in the grubby raincoat sense of the word), ‘Vampyres’ is as pure an expression of the abstract as many an arthouse film.

I’ll get my coat.

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