Faithful to the sexy, twisted 1974 cult classic by Joseph Larraz, Vampyres is an English-language remake pulsating with raw eroticism, wicked sado-masochism and bloody, creative gore. Victor Matellano (Wax (2014, Zarpazos! A Journey through Spanish Horror, 2013) directs this tale set in a stately English manor inhabited by two older female vampires and with their only cohabitant being a man imprisoned in the basement. Their lives and lifestyle are upended when a trio of campers come upon their lair and seek to uncover their dark secrets, a decision that has sexual and blood-curdling consequences.
It would appear that we are on the cusp of a second wave of horror remakes, this one taking a much different angle and, for the most part, steering clear of Hollywood’s reverse-Midas touch (as in, everything they touch turns to crap). These “second wave” films almost seem to be more “re-touches” than remakes; whereas (most of) the first wave took horror classics and then over-produced them and focused primarily on the box-office receipts, these new remakes are being produced on lower budgets by more independent filmmakers and studios and, most importantly, seem to be focusing on the lower budget “classics,” bringing either better effects, better acting, better cinematography, or sometimes all of the above. Before, we had remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, films that were well made to begin with. In this second wave, we’ve got smaller films like Blood Feast, The Corpse Grinders, Violent Sh*t, and now, specifically relevant here, Vampyres being re-touched and brought to a whole new audience.
Back in 1974, Spanish filmmaker Jose Ramon Larraz (see also Symptoms) released Vampyres (sometimes sub-titled Daughters of Dracula), an erotic vampire story starring Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska as lesbian vampires who would lure men to their place under false pretenses, wine ‘em and dine ‘em, and then drain them of their blood. Oh, and there’s a whole lot of sex, too. Fast forward just over forty years, and here is director Victor Matellano (from Spain as well; see also Wax and Zarpazos! Un Viaje Por El Spanish Horror, a documentary on Spanish horror films), bringing us his own updated version of Vampyres through Artsploitation Films.
Matellano’s film finds three friends, John, Nolan, and Harriet (Anthony Rotsa, Victor Vidal, and Veronica Polo, respectively), camping in the woods near an old, run-down house. They are supposed to meet up with their friends Peter and Ann (Fele Martinez and Alina Nastase), but start to worry after they don’t show up, so Harriet begins to wander the area, looking for them and uncovering all kinds of secrets. Meanwhile, we also have Ted (Christian Stamm), who has come to town and is staying at a local hotel run by none other than Caroline Munro (see also Lustig’s Maniac, among many others), in the first of a handful of cameos from some old favorites. Even though he’s warned of strange happenings around town, he has no qualms about picking up a young lady hitchhiker wearing a black cloak and bringing her back home, where he is given some questionable wine and soon finds himself having a great time in bed. He continues returning to the house to visit Fran (Marta Flich) and Miriam (Almudena Leon), sometimes meeting other strangers who are visiting, but strangely never seeing them again.
Now that we’ve gotten all the players out of the way, we can establish that Vampyres is absolutely full of nudity and blood and sex and sometimes (actually, quite often) all of them at the same time. It is in this area that the 2015 version does its very best to keep up with the eroticism and artful sleaze of not only the 1974 version of the film, but also the standard set by directors such as Jean Rollin and Jess Franco. More than once we have scenes of two nude women kissing over the bleeding body of a man, then going back in for another bite before getting back to each other. The juxtaposition of arousal and repulsion is an interesting one, and also one that Matellano seems to relish.
As I mentioned before, there are a number of cameos in Vampyres in addition to Caroline Munro. A careful eye will find Hilda Fuchs (Pieces), Antonio Mayans (Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies), Conrado San Martin (The Awful Dr. Orlof), and in what I can only assume is a nod to Larraz’s film (when he had silent film star Bessie Smith [The Lost World] cameo near the end), we find May Heatherly (Pieces, Cannibal Apocalypse). The only drawback to the film is that there are almost as many plotholes and continuity issues as there are cameos. Case in point: Ted has been there before, as he knows the hotel owner, who even has a present for him, but what is the story there? Who is he?
The guy with the scythe standing at the graveyard – who is he, and why is he always there? There are gaps in time, big chunks of days missing where it would seem some of the characters would act with a little more urgency. Although I will say, the vagueness of the end, where we just get a little hint as to how life goes forward for these characters (at least the ones still breathing), is fun and makes up for some of the little things that went wrong earlier. As does the veritable bloodbath/gorefest we are rewarded with as we reach the finale.
Victor Matellano’s Vampyres is a fun film, one that brings back that special feeling we often attach to 1970s horror films. It is a well shot, stylish film with a fairly simple storyline that is complemented by a copious amount of blood and nudity. The comparisons to a more modern version of a Rollin film are not misplaced here, as there are plenty of artistic shots throughout. This is a film aimed toward fans of the vampire subgenre of horror as well as anyone who appreciates strong female characters. If this is the direction that “remakes” are going to take in the horror genre, then count me in – this new flavor is one that I like.