Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

Artistic Horror Mixed with Erotica

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen Opening Act)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the long Erotic French version)

(Author’s Note: This is probably the most sexually explicit film, even more than The Nurse starring Ursula Andress and Lucio Fulci’s The Devil’s Honey, that I’ve watched and reviewed. Only those 18 or older should check this out.  While I haven’t discussed anything in the writing below in detail or a frank manner, I’m fully aware there are many people who don’t care for this sort of film, and that’s fine. So if any of my readers are uncomfortable with the subject matter or simply don’t care for films that teeter too thinly on being porn, feel free to skip this, I shan’t be offended or hurt.)

Related image

La Comtesse Noire (The Night Countess/Countess of the Dark/The Countess of the Night/The Dark Countess/Female Vampire) (1973) ****1/2 NC-17

Lina Romay: Countess Irina Karlstein

Jack Taylor: Baron Von Rathony

Jesus Franco: Dr. Roberts (as Jess Franck)

Jean-Pierre Bouyxou: Dr. Orloff

Luis Barboo: Irina’s Servant

Anna Watican: Anna, the Journalist

Monica Swinn: The Princess de Rochefort (as Monica Swin)

Alice Arno: The Princess’s Assistant

Pierre Querut: The Police Inspector

Raymond Hardy: The Masseur

Written by: Jesus Franco (as J.P. Johnson) and Gerard Brisseau (uncredited French translation), with dialogue by Josyane Gibert (as P. Belair)

Directed by: Jesus Franco (as J.P. Johnson)

Synopsis: The small community of Madeira in Portugal is in the grip of a series of bizarre deaths. The local Coroner and a respected expert in the Occult believe it to be the work of a sexual energy vampire. The culprit is Countess Karlstein, a tragic woman determined to be the last of her family’s dark dynasty.

Lina Romay in La comtesse noire (1973)

Euro Cult/Exploitation filmmaker Jess Franco took the Horror genre to a whole new level with his most artistic film of the 70’s. At a time when his work was going into the realm of sleaze, Franco shot Comtesse Noire three times: first as a straight Horror film, second as an Erotic Fantasy with intellectual undertones, and finally as an unabashed Hardcore Porno film. The Erotic Fantasy version is perhaps the best of the bunch, not only in Franco’s classic use of visuals, locations, and atmosphere, but his unexpected use of metaphor and subtext in his handling of the subject of vampirism. Franco’s vampire in this film is not the typical blood drinker who only exists from dusk till dawn, but a woman who lives by both day and night, her sustenance to live being that of the energy brought to the surface by sexual passion. While the idea of a vampire feeding off of people’s energy, energy in all forms including sexual, is a concept that has only come into public consciousness within the last 25 years or so, it’s a theory that has been around for ages amongst those who study the supernatural and the Occult. This brings a whole new and interesting dynamic to the film as Franco begs the question of the viewer if it’s truly a crime and a waste to die at the height of passion in the embrace of a beautiful woman.

Image result for Jess Franco's La Comtesse Noire

Like with many of Franco’s better films, visuals and location are a key factor in drawing his audiences in. Taking his viewers to the beautiful countries of Belgium and Portugal, Franco puts the mountains, castles, landscapes, and streets on full display, photographing them in ways that enhance their beauty, and also make them foreboding when the Countess walks across them. Adding mood lighting and music gives off a whole other feeling to the places he leads the audiences to.

Image result for Jess Franco's La Comtesse Noire

Lina Romay, A Spanish actress who became Franco’s new Muse after the untimely death of Soledad Miranda, is a surprisingly effective success as Countess Irina Karlstein. Known mostly for being a shameless exhibitionist and something of a Porn Star, the role of Countess Karlstein proved she had a talent that needed to be flushed out. Franco’s making the character mute allowed Romay to utilize the movements of her body and her facial expressions to express her actions and thoughts, though occasionally a disembodied narration from the Countess comes into play on occasion. Romay is able to make the character tragically sympathetic in that from her face and her disembodied voice she reveals she doesn’t want to be who she is and longs for a day to be free from seeking out people to drain. To play up Romay’s open sexuality, the Countess goes after both men and women, seducing them while slowly feeding off of their energy as she brings them to the height of ecstasy, and, as with all vampires, having to kill them. Each time however, the Countess shows deep remorse, wishing she didn’t have to seduce and kill, but because people seek her out, is forced to fulfill the horrible destiny built up by her ancestors. The only time the Countess seems content to have taken a life is when she visits a known dominatrix who has a habit of killing those who wish to fulfill their S&M fantasies by her, even going so far as to hypnotize the woman’s sadist assistant so she can feed properly. The final straw that forces the Countess to choose between herself and freeing humanity of her family’s evil influence is when she meets a kindred spirit in the Austrian Baron von Rathony.

Image result for Jess Franco's La Comtesse Noire

Jack Taylor, an American actor who settled between Mexico and Spain for his career, is also a surprising hit in the role of Baron von Rathony. Like Irina, Von Rathony  just seems to be drifting through life, though his is a type of Existential crisis rather than horrible destiny. Most of the character’s time on screen is spent in omnipresent soliloquy, reciting from a book he seems very interested in. It’s shown the Countess is already aware of his presence in the small community, and occasionally he is seen receiving cryptic messages and noises from her. Little is known of why the Baron has come to the small hamlet, other than that he appears to on some sort of emotional/spiritual quest that he is finding more and more difficult to get an answer to. When he finally meets the Countess face to face, all his previous feelings seem to fade away, as if he has finally found the answer he’s long searched for. He later spends all of his time with her, and as they go about together, they begin to fall in love. The Baron is fully aware of who the Countess is, and believes his destiny is to be with her forever, little knowing what her destiny is. Soon the question becomes if the Baron’s destiny is to kill himself, or if he will become one of the many victims of the Countess’s insatiable lust.

Image result for jean-pierre bouyxou in female vampire

Image result for jean-pierre bouyxou

Jess Franco himself has an acting role in this film, a fairly important one in fact, in the role of Dr. Roberts. A man of science, but also a believer in things beyond the realm of what people know, Dr. Roberts is certain the recent deaths he’s been asked to autopsy for the police have died as a result of something otherworldly. While the police are content to believe the deaths are the result of a demented sex maniac, Dr. Roberts is certain the culprit is a sexual energy vampire. He seeks the advice of Dr. Orloff, a blind Occult expert. Roberts was friends with Orloff’s father who had the ability of second sight, and is certain he has inherited his father’s talents. When Orloff tells him his assumptions are correct, but asks if the one whom he seeks is truly the evil force he believes, Roberts is forced to confront his own views beliefs. Jean-Pierre Bouyxou is also interesting in the role of Dr. Orloff. The most philosophical character out of the whole cast, Orloff’s lack of sight from birth allows him to experience things the normal person is oblivious to, and has also afforded him to see things as they are, not in black and white like many think, but a grey area that begs the results of one’s individual conscience in thinking.

Image result for Jess Franco's La Comtesse Noire

Bizarre, surreal, and compelling, Comtesse Noire offers a beautifully poignant take on the vampire legend. While at first glance it’s the typical Exploitation sleaze of the 70’s, when really watched, proves to be much more than first thought. The sex scenes are not present in the film for the pure shock value, but serve a purpose to show how Countess Irina lures her victims and then drain them entirely. The scenes are certainly explicit in nature and have far too many close-ups that could border on Hardcore Pornography, but are in fact completely simulated (Franco himself stated this in an interview, the Wikipedia page for where he’s quoted will be included in the more info section below). Similar ideas can be summed up for Lina Romay spending the majority of the film nude, wearing only a cape and a belt, and sometimes even just a belt, again showing the Countess to be a purely sexual creature who is unable to quench her need no matter what she does. In the end result is a very strange fantasy that leaves the viewer bewildered, but somehow satisfied with how things turn out, even if they feel it goes against the grain of what’s normally expected.

(This going to be one of the few times I will say that I can’t recommend a film, not because it’s bad or because it’s done so poorly or cheaply audiences wouldn’t be able to appreciate its positive merits behind all the bad stuff, but because its a film that truly only appeals to a very specific and special type of viewer. Now I’m not saying I’m one of the persons this film was made for, but because I went into it thinking it was going to be a pure piece of garbage and a sleaze fest, I was actually blown away by how well it was actually made. It’s probably Jess Franco’s most competent erotic work, and does offer those who decide to seek it out some very interesting questions about certain concepts. This film honestly fits the category of personal choice in whether viewers should seek it out to watch and I would say if anyone does check it out you won’t be disappointed as long as you go in with no expectations. Now it will be difficult to see past the sex scenes that could border on being true pornographic fair initially, but I feel that once a viewer gets past that, it shows a truly tragic figure that is worthy of audience sympathy, and while we can understand that she’s aware of what she’s doing, and does it regardless of her wish not to, we also realize her destiny has been set in stone by years of her ancestors regaling in wickedness. The Blu Ray of Redemption in conjunction with Kino is really fantastic, offering up both the preferred Erotic version and the shorter straight Horror version, with decent enough image, and fine audio.)

all images courtesy of Images and their respective owners including the IMDb and some independent bloggers

for more information

Buying Options

Post any and all Comments here:

The 2019 Halloween Comment Section


Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

%d bloggers like this: