Vampyres Blu-ray Review
Don't tell me that you thought this was going to look great in 1080p!
Vampyres hits Blu-ray with an AVC MPEG-4 encode that brings the film's 1.85:1 image to faithfully grubby life without pandering to the DNR and digital tinkering crowd who would like their vintage claret served within a crystal clear glass. As a consequence, Larraz's 1974 indie-shocker looks exactly as though it hails from 1974. To spend paragraphs going on about the nicked, pricked, scratched and grainy print would be a fruitless endeavour. Vampyres was extremely low-budget and never once had any pretence about emulating the gorgeous visual style of Hammer. In fact, it is safe to assume that the overly familiar setting of that illustrious studio's regular mansion house has never looked shabbier!
There are contrast-wavers, frame wobbles, columns of vague flickering and dirt etc, but the print does look clearer than you may expect given the stock and the age, and the relative lack of restoration. If you look around the frame, there are definitely more details to be gleaned - even down to some now more easily-spotted equipment and crew appearances that were always a little more masked before. Blacks are much better than I anticipated. They aren't spectacular, of course, but there is a definite sense of depth and solidity to them that has never been an attribute of the film's more shadowy scenes before, which tended to look muddy and washed-out. I mentioned the darkening of the frame during a pivotal sequence - well, this isn't something to worry about, you understand. It is just that this moment, as well as quite a few others that occur in shadowy interiors, just seem slightly darker than I have seen them before. But this is probably only the results of a transfer that is more faithful to the original source. Daylight exteriors, by contrast, look quite bright and bold, though still the recipients of wobbles and fluctuating grain.
Certain close-ups, however, look far superior to how they have appeared before. You only have to look at early shots of Fran in the car with her fateful paramour - Marianne's lips and eyes and hair looking positively radiant - and shots of Anulka lurking by her tree - revealing her beautiful complexion, eyes etc - to see how clear this transfer can be. Detail in the clothing and the architecture, too, can, at times be much better than ever before. Colour-wise, the film is drab. There really isn't a better word to describe the palette. But this is how it was filmed and how it has always looked. Obviously, blood provides some contrast, and the warm, soft-lit acres of nubile flesh aren't going to disappoint either, but there are occasions when the crimson-purple lining of the Anulka's long frock coat can be seen, and this velvet trim looks bolder than on previously editions. Some pale objects and oak panels, drapes and brass-ware in the house are also a little cleaner and more vividly pronounced.
Digitally, the film looks virtually unmolested by DNR, edge enhancement, banding, smearing or any other unwanted little gremlin. The film is soft, grainy and damaged ... and, therefore, remarkably faithful. Yet it does look much better than it has ever appeared on home video before.
All things considered, Vampyres can still only bag itself a 5 out of 10, relatively speaking, though this should definitely not put you off.
Yeah, yeah ... Blue Underground have gone all fancy and added multi-channel lossless surround to this mono-mix '74 movie. Does it work? Don't be silly. Whereas The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue actually did benefit from a new and re-invigorated DTS HD MA mix - which was a very pleasant surprise - Larraz's subtle and low-key movie just cannot hope - in a millions years - to deliver anything that convincingly warrants any more speaker usage than that emanating from the front three. And, to be honest, even this meagre array is pushing it for this vastly undercooked soundtrack. So, perhaps sensing the foolishness of such an enterprise, Blue Underground also provide the original mono mix besides the lossless and the equally superfluous DD 5.1 EX track so, at least, there is something for everyone.
Now, to be quite honest, I have flitted between all three tracks and not really noticed anything that places one agreeably above another, although I will suspect that dialogue and the score have a little extra boost in the surround tracks, even if there is nothing of worth going on in the extra channels. The odd effect, such as gunshots, footsteps, the impact of some nasty stabbings and a brutal slap across the face, and a fair bit of screaming at one point, are a bit more pronounced, but this is, in absolutely no way, a surround experience. Not even that great electro-whistling wind effect down in the tunnels bleeds out into the rear channels, which is a shame as I love this atmospheric touch. What all the tracks seem to provide, however, is good, relatively clear speech - but don't forget about the dubbing, though - and some acceptably limited vigour for the more intense scenes.
Sadly, there is not much else to report ... and Vampyres can really only garner a 5 out of 10 for itself in this department even with the inclusion of the original mono track.
There's no getting around it - the commentary track for Vampyres is one of the best and most unexpectedly hysterical that I have ever heard. Folks, I would possibly even pay to listen to director Jose Larraz rabbit-on about virtually any topic under the sun after hearing this devoutly confederate and determinedly un-PC account of what it took to get this film under way and how it was to film it. This old guy is clearly insane but you just can't help but warm to him - provided that you are a heterosexual male who adores the same “attributes” that he does. Mark my words - he doesn't hold back on the graphic terms regarding the ladies! But just listen to him recount the reason why Morris' Fran sleeps with her eyes open, and then try to get the phrase “Bloody sinister!” (with a raucous Spanish accent, of course) out of your head. Trust me, the commentary is worth it just for this. Larraz is joined by his friend and colleague, Brian Smedley-Aston, the film's producer and there is definitely a bond between the two. Aston does seem to be sitting back and revelling in the stuff that the Spaniard is coming out with sometimes. Sometimes technical, often anecdotal, this is a track that covers a fair bit of ground and it is great to hear the contrast between Smedley-Aston's plummy accent and Larraz's gruff, lusty tortured English. It is also a little intriguing to hear Larraz's views on the differences between American and European filmmaking - his opinion isn't quite what you may expect. I will concede that there can be a few lulls in their conversation but, on the whole, this is a great little contribution that fans are sure to enjoy.
And then, just to add some rather splendid icing on the cake, Blue Underground's Bill (Maniac) Lusting manages to arrange for a couple of great new interviews with Marianne Morris and Anulka to house within a terrific 13-minute featurette that centres entirely around them. Still unbelievably attractive, both women, recorded separately, supply accounts of their involvement in and experiences of making the film that made them both infamous and cult-adored. Anulka remarks that it was down to Sir John Mills, of all people, that she took the job in the first place. Morris remembers that she had to get drunk before she could perform the shower-seduction scene with her blonde cohort, and then how she could barely stand up for the deeds they had to undertake. Anulka remembers her hair turning pink with the blood-mix. Remarks about one of the car accident scenes being “too gory” to watch don't quite ring true, though.
It is great to see these girsl again ... and you can't argue about that.
The disc is then rounded-off with the film's International and US Trailer.
Although not the horror film that some of the usual blurb may promote it as being, Vampyres is one of those low-budget independent sleaze-shockers that will always have a guaranteed audience to defend it. And I would happily count myself as one of its champions, too. Sexy, wild and dangerous - but enough about me - the film is a delight for those with a jaded palette. It pre-empts the torture-porn of later genre movies, although the emphasis is still on a fugue of un-worrying smut rather than all-out penetration of both meat and fang, and the gore is decidedly more decorative than despicable. Partly an evolution from Hammer's titillating heyday, and partly a muse on the predatory nature of the female, and the gullibility of the male. Evocatively shot and oddly paced, the appeal is defiantly limited, but for those with the appropriate tastes this is a treat that should not be passed up.
Those unacquainted with its languorous delights will surely wonder what all the fuss is about. But this is plucked from a niche that is “select” even within its chosen genre, as well as hailing from a brief time when tiny movies could get made by people who stuck rigidly to their vision and worried about commercial viability only after the event. As it happens, Vampyres was surprisingly successful, comparatively speaking. But new generations will almost surely not have heard of it, and may struggle with its antiquated pacing.
Blue Underground's disc typically rakes up the old participants to recall the “dirty old days” and the commentary is gold dust for probably all the wrong reasons. The retro interview feature with the girls is also worth its wait in gold. They're still fit, lads! And BU's transfer is probably all that you could ask for, except for that slight darkening of the frame I mentioned. I love the film and I am, personally, very happy with this transfer. You've just got to be realistic about such things.
Vampyres isn't going to win over many, ahem, newcomers, but for those of a certain pedigree (and, perhaps, vintage) this is ripe old dirt of the supremely dreamy variety. Oh, and it's got some gore-drenched killings in it too! Deliberately slow, melancholic and depraved until a warped finale, this is a worthy variation on the well-worn theme and another blood-spattered feather in Blue Underground's cap. Ignore the relatively poor scores across the technical aspects - what there is will surely please the devotees no end.
So, Mr. Lustig, just when are you going to release Maniac on Blu-ray, then?
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