Flickchart Comment #22: Vampyros Lesbos (1971) vs. The Wizard of Gore (1970)

On the surface, you have what pretty much appears to be a crap-tastic battle here, but let's try and dig a little bit deeper. No, you can't really... there is nothing underneath either one at all. Everything here is all surface, but that is not to say that those surfaces aren't intriguing, albeit for very different reasons.

The Wizard of Gore is brought to us courtesy of Herschell Gordon Lewis, a showman of the purest commercial instinct, filling America's drive-in theatres and grindhouses with ultra-schlocky but often quite humorous (sometimes intentionally) gore-fests, breaking screen taboos along the way with his increasingly graphic violence. Talent is beside the point in a Lewis film. The direction is haphazard, the acting is almost always bad or at least inappropriate to whatever scene is actually being played, and the sets seem slapped together in about five minutes with whatever props are at hand. For The Wizard of Gore and some of his other bloody "masterpieces," the point is to put butts in seats by the promise of ever increasing shock scenes, often involving scantily clad or nude females being eviscerated in new and inventive ways. Wizard indeed features a stage magician who hypnotizes not just his victim but the entire audience into believing that he has performed some amazing feat, such as sawing a woman in half. The traditional magic show reveal is made, the victim walks away seemingly unharmed from her ordeal, and then is later found elsewhere to be dead of the same wounds which she  supposedly received in a fake fashion onstage. Sure, it's stilted, awkwardly edited, and even a little boring at times (the magician's far too long speeches are severely yawn-inducing), but there is a certain brilliance to how Lewis could keep upping the ante in his productions. They seem like fever dreams, and whatever demerits you might give them for technical quality, I don't mind that a film makes me uncomfortable or wonder just where the filmmaker might take me next.

However, Vampyros Lesbos bears the mark of another exploitation master, Jesús Franco, though by "master," I merely seek to imply that he has been astoundingly prolific (he has never really stopped working in over fifty years in the biz) and that he really knows where to put a camera. Let's get this straight from the start: there are lesbians that are vampires that sunbathe in Vampyros Lesbos, and if that is a selling point for you, then you probably know full well how I am going to vote in this one. I'm not necessarily crazy over lesbians, vampires or sunbathing; it's merely the novelty that is interesting. (Certainly a whole lot more interesting than dour, pretty boy vampires that glow in the sunlight.) No, what I am crazy about in this film is the late Soledad Miranda, truly one of the world's most gorgeous women, and whom I would watch scraping feet for a living. The movie doesn't make a lick of sense, but the sets and costumings are '70s kitschy, the score is absolutely terrific and worthwhile, and Miranda does a series of slow-motion dance scenes in a nightclub where... well, I will leave it at that. I am not a fan of soft-core style flicks, but this one gets it right as far as being consistently odd and interesting. As I said, it's all surface, but that Miranda... what a surface.


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