Color, 1974, 87m.
Directed by Josť Larraz
Starring Marianne Morris, Anulka, Murray Brown, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner
Blue Underground (DVD & Blu-Ray, US R0 NTSC/HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD 7.1/DD5.1

Two naked, beautiful lesbian lovers locked in a torrid embrace are shot to death by an unseen assailant in a dark, gothic old mansion. Sounds like the perfect scene to open a solid exploitation film, right? Well, as anyone who's already seen the seminal European art/trash classic Vampyres can attest, that doesn't even begin to prepare you for what in store for the rest of this outrageous, insanely bloody, and relentlessly sexy classic that's lost none of its power to seduce and shock newcomers. You see, those two women from the opening, Fran (Morris) and Miriam (Anulka), are still inhabiting that same house, except they now have an insatiable bloodlust they satisfy by luring visitors home, bleeding them dry, and dumping their bodies nearby in staged auto accidents. Enter Ted (Brown), a traveling businessman who picks up a hitchhiking Fran and takes her home for a night of carnal knowledge that leaves him with a suspicious, very disturbing gash in his arm the next morning. Everyone keeps making references to Ted being awfully familar, too, which indicates there might be some reason the gals have decided to keep him around and keep draining him out far more slowly than usual. Then there's the nearby camping couple (Deacon and Faulkner) who keep an eye out on the strange ladies and their latest prey while slowly getting drawn into the bloody web themselves.

An obvious response to the adolescent, peek-a-boo lesbian antics recently going on over at Hammer Films with the likes of The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil, this rip-roaring masterpiece is almost singlehandedly responsible for the continuing reputation of Spanish director Larraz, who had proven his sex and violence mettle with minor but fascinating efforts like Whirlpool, Deviation, and The House that Vanished. As with fellow filmmaker Jorge Grau (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue), the English countryside apparently brought out the best in him as this film pulls out all the stops from start to finish, perfectly pacing its vicious attack scenes and erotic interludes with disquieting passages of meditative silence. The elliptical, time-tripping elements in the story never really add up to anything substantial (so much so that most of the final scene was cut from many VHS versions without anyone particularly noticing), but the searing presences of Morris and Anulka alone make this perhaps the definitive lesbian vampire film, a hot and heavy gorefest with enough artistry and lyricism to please anyone looking for skin, scares, or even high art.

The theatrical and video history of Vampyres is ridiculously complex, but that didn't stop it from becoming a popular cult title in nearly every country in which it opened. Every UK version since the original release lost varying amounts of nudity and gore adding up to around three minutes until Anchor Bay eventually passed it uncut on DVD, and in America, VHS consumers got a version from Magnum Video featuring a different electronic score over the opening and closing titles while ditching the aforementioned footage during the last scene. (Amazingly, the cover box also tried to tie in with a then-current theatrical hit by proclaming, "They're Lost Girls!") As for American DVD, the first version from Anchor Bay restored the music and final scene but inexplicably lost half a minute of gore from the climactic attack on the camping couple, proof of yet another filmic variant lying around in the vaults. The reissue from Blue Underground reinstated the missing footage and thus became the first complete, English-friendly version available to the mass public.

As good as the Blue Underground DVD was, the Blu-Ray released six and a half years later tops it easily in the technical department while carrying over most of the same excellent supplemental features. The lovely, very '70s veneer of grain in the darker scenes is still here, thankfully, with a great deal more detail visible in the delicate daylight landscape shots. The minor digital sharpening from the DVD is nowhere to be found here; the effect is essentially the same as watching a fresh, new print struck off the negative, and it's hard to imagine the film looking any better than this. Bear in mind the nature of the film stock means this won't ever look as dazzling as the latest CGI action fest, but fans should be more than happy. The soundtrack options include a DTS-HD 7.1 mix and a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix which only sparingly spread out James Clarke's fuzz-guitar-laden score out to the exterior speakers (and the score's finally out on CD, too!), while the original Dolby Digital mono mix is there for purists. Don't expect a major difference between any of the three options as the dialogue and sound effects are hardly state of the art. Larraz and Brian Smedley-Aston provide a hilarious, now-legendary commentary track that's bawdy, profane, and wildly unpredictable; while Larraz's career afterwards containing only a few more rare bright spots (namely Black Candles and The Coming of Sin), he's quite aware of his cemented place in Euro horror history and rattles off some great anecdotes about being a foreign director toiling away in the UK. "The Return of the Vampyres" features Morris and Anulka (both of whom still look fab despite their far more demure outfit choices) talking about their lives before, during, and after the project, which fills 13 minutes quite nicely. Fans will definitely love hearing the stories that brought them to their most memorable roles even if they don't seem to know much about the film itself. Finally you get the English international trailer (which packs in way more nudity than you'd ever see today) and the hilarious, overbaked American trailer ("Very Unnatural Ladies!") that justifiably became a staple of trailer comps for years. The DVD adds some text and still-based exclusive extras, so die-hards may want to hang on to that version to keep the stills gallery, a "lost caravan" scene overview via text and photos (not much of a loss, really, but a nice collectible), a bonus Anulka glamour gallery, and a pdf tribute with additional history and liner notes. The idea of having Vampyres in full 1080p should be enough to merit an upgrade, of course, but no matter how you see it, this is one '70s horror favorite you can't afford to miss.

Colour, 1978, 84m. / Directed by Josť Larraz / Starring Patricia Granada, Lydia Zuaso / Pagan (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1)

A perverse little number from the erratic but always interesting Josť Larraz (Vampyres), this rarely seen, low budget blend of exploitation and art is best known to fans of Euro sleaze under its more colourful theatrical release title, Violation of the Bitch. For its first DVD release, Pagan translated the original Spanish title, La visita del vicio (or more literally, Vice's Arrival), as The Coming of Sin. Under any time, it's a twisted, often mystifying daydream filled with erotica and surrealism. Beautiful amateur painter Lorna (Patricia Granada) passes her sunny days dabbling with a paintbrush and burying herself in the family library. Life changes dramatically with the arrival of Triana (Lydia Zuaso), a dark-haired girl from a gypsy clan who comes to stay indefinitely and sparks a gradual, torrid relationship with Lorna. However, Triana's dreams are haunted by images of a naked man (Rafael Machado) on horseback, a premonition which comes true one day while she strolls through the woods surrounding a nearby lake. The mysterious man, who never seems to wear much, attempts to rape Triana, who runs home and tells Lorna about the weird naked guy living with his horse out in the wild near their house. Lorna goes to investigate while Triana's fantasies continue, including one which finds her naked inside a giant horse about to be... uh, straddled, apparently. Soon the mystery man directly intrudes on their lives, beginning an unholy triangle of lust which culminates in a dark reversal of fortune.

Though undeniably rough around the edges, The Coming of Sin is a strangely compelling alternative to the usual plotless European sex films of the period. The non-actors were evidently hired more for their looks than their thespian skills, and they make for adequate pawns in Larraz's little mind game. On the other hand, the awkward dubbing reliant on forced British accents makes for some nasty ear punishment. As with his other kinky countryside yarns like Vampyres and Symptoms, Larraz relies on soft focus photography and elegant camera movements to counterpoint the often extreme and bizarre activity onscreen, including some fairly graphic and fleshy sex scenes. An even stronger variant with hardcore inserts made the grindhouse rounds under the title of Sex Maniac and has turned up on the bootleg video circuit (as well as an Italian PAL VHS release as Sodomia), but this unofficial bastardization of Larraz's film is best avoided. On the other hand, the international version under the Violation title, originally released in Holland and other European countries before hitting the video dupe market, was dramatically shorter than Larraz's preferred cut, clocking in just at 70 minutes. This cut eliminates several crucial scenes in their entirety and alters the opening credits to play out over a later scene. The Pagan DVD represents the closest approximation of Larraz's original intentions. The BBFC lists a deletion of 1 minute and 15 seconds to obtain an "18" certificate, a punishment given to Triana's rape scene, which is still quite explicit but contains a strange jump in the audio, abruptly cutting off the music. Nothing from the other English language video editions is missing, and the added material is quite valuable. Image quality is quite good considering the softness of the source; the gauzy appearance reveals some compression problems, but the clarity of the image and nicely defined pastel colour schemes make up for it. The letterboxing also adds some much needed breathing room to Larraz's claustrophobic close ups, which come off as oppressive and clumsy on earlier cropped video editions. The DVD also includes a photo gallery and a thirty minute interview with Larraz, apparently the complete unedited version of his discussion excerpted in his episode of the worthy Channel 4 series, Eurotika! Candid and often quite funny, he discusses his career at great length, and the disc offers chapter indexes to each film and subject.

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