Sunday, March 21, 2010

Vampyres Week

This week I am going to spend some time with one of my favorite B-rate horror films, Vampyres.

“Vampyres”, also known as “The Daughters of Darkness”, may in fact be one of the most notorious “cult films” of 70’s horror. Equal parts suspense, gore and softcore (almost hardcore) content, it was also a surprisingly good (if somewhat cliché story by today standards) and somewhat surreal film. There is no denying that the two leads, Marianne Morris as “Fran” and Anulka Dziubinska as “Miriam”, are positively fantastic to look at, but they also move in such a fluid way that you can easily believe they are supernatural creatures. This film is also the keystone of the Lesbian-Vampire trope in cinema, a sub-subject that began with Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and has expanded to “Dracula’s Daughter” to “The Hunger”. There has been almost as much analysis of the lesbian vampire as the vampire itself. So much so that there are anthologies of lesbian-themed vampire short stories called “Daughters of Darkness” after this and and another notorious movie.

Vampyres was filmed on the location of many of the same “haunts” as the Hammer films, it also has that 70’s British Horror film feel that was a staple in my steady diet of horror films through out my youth. It even bares some similarity to an actual Hammer film, “The Vampire Lovers” (based on Carmilla) and even another "Daughters of Darkness" (based on Bathory this time).

This is not “Citizen Kane”, but nor was it meant to be.

Cliché or Trope?
Vampyres is not meant to be a thought provoking tale, it was a thin excuse to feature as much female nudity as they could get away with and tell a vampire story. As I mentioned, lesbian vampires are well established in fiction (though I don’t believe that José Ramón Larraz himself was aware of those) it features another overused, clichéd plot device, killing a woman after she has lesbian sex or causing her to go on a murderous spree. “Vampyres” features both. This was old even in 1974 and inexcusable today. Though vampires need to rise from the dead, so they need to be dead. The implication is that is Ted (the man they slowly torture with sex and feedings) is the same man that killed them, in that sense a killing has to happen sometime and we want to establish that Ted is in fact deserving of his fate (even though he gets away). Trouble with this is we have to try to explain why and how Ted doesn’t recognize Fran and Miriam (I am going to use their vampiric shape changing abilities) or the house. The deal I guess is Larraz never claimed to be a great writer (even less of a wunderkind and really just a filmmaker working on a movie with naked girls in it). In the end “Vampyres” is not the most original work, but I don’t watch porn for the plots either.
Is it cliché? Yeah it is. But even though it is a thin movie it manages to avoid most of the 70’s Horror movie clichés (still get the young couple having sex in the woods one and the old creepy house). I’ll cut the filmmakers some slack since it was 1974.

The Story
(based on the director commentary, the essay and novel by Tim Greaves, and some embellishments)

This story begins a few “years ago” (as the film implies, three for the book) with Francesca “Fran” Morris and Miriam Trent. Fran and Miriam were two young lovers. The trouble was that Fran’s boyfriend, Ted, was a jealous, hateful man and he did not approve of his girlfriend having an affair, let alone with another woman. So one night after drinking he caught Fran and Miriam in a lover’s embrace so he shot and killed them both. He took the bodies and dumped them in the crypts of the castle they were staying at. Some time after he drove off into the night Fran and Miriam rose from the dead as vampyres. Confined to their crypts by day, they haunted the castle at night, and thus spawning the local rumor that they were ghosts.
During the middle part of the 70’s (1974) they spent their time posing as hitchhikers. They would find a man, either alone, or together, and ask for a ride back to their home. There they would seduce him (not a difficult task when you are two extremely attractive bi-sexual women and have a cellar full of vintage wines), use their powers to alter the perception of time, and kill and drain his blood. They then would take the body and stage it to look like it was a horrible car crash.
Tragedy struck when one man they seduced, Ted, turns out to be Fran’s old boyfriend. Instead of killing him outright, Fran toys with him. He manags to escape and the two vampyres fled to the English countryside. During the entire time they manage to kill half-dozen other people including a young couple camping in the woods outside their manor.

Use in the 70’s and after
To play the Vampyres in the 70’s simply follow the movie. An adventure can begin with our heroes suspecting that a rash of murders is vampire or serial killer related find themselves at the manor, only to find it empty and cold trail. Investigation must take place!
In my games (I first worked these two up for Chill) I imagined that they headed to Spain and Barcelona; my nod to director José Ramón Larraz. Here they laid low, killing only when needing too (once every week or so). I stopped using them after that (my Chill game stopped) so I guess I figured they had been killed by some intrepid Spanish vampire hunter. But now I am thinking no, they survived and just recently (let’s say 2003, the date the Blue Underground DVD was released) began to resume their activities.

So let’s say the girls survive their encounter in England what would they be doing today? What motivates them?

For starters move them away from Farnsworth Hall. The end of the movie has the place for sale and being looked at by two Americans. The book suggests the place is haunted and strange deaths occur there all the time. So they might still be there, or come back years later, but there is a time when they are not there at all.
What about the girls themselves? Personally I see it as a cop out to say they are man-hating lesbians. I say it is lazy plotting and just way too obvious. They have issues yes, getting killed in the middle of hot girl-on-girl action will do that, but do they kill out of hate or because they need to feed? Well it’s both I’d say. They kill people because they need the blood to feed. They enjoy it because they really don’t like people. I guess in the end they would rather be left alone, but they do need to feed and that is where they will run into the Cast. Fran also mentions to Miriam in the book (during the “shower” scene) that she needs to have sex with men every once in a while, whereas Miriam never has to if she can avoid it. Sex is bait to lure what they really want. Blood.
We could go the Quentin Tarantino route. Fran and Miriam are working in a strip joint where they pick out men, lure them away with the promise of sex and kill them. Come to think of it there is something like that in the WitchCraft RPG book now. I like this idea because the cast can encounter them rather easily and it helps build up the tension a bit between Miriam and Fran. How long will Miriam tolerate Fran’s dalliances with men? Will someone else come along and pull one of them away from the other? Let’s expand on that and come up with an idea that will fit all versions of Fran and Miriam.

Mafair’s is an upperclass “Gentlemen’s Club” owned by Miriam and run by Fran. It caters to upperclass business men and couples. Featuring some of the most beautiful women in the area, Mayfair’s also features fine dining and walk in humidor and smoking lounge. The only that strikes you odd about Mayfair’s is there are no clocks or mirrors to be seen anywhere.
That is on the surface. In the back halls and lower levels Mayfair’s also features special services for the supernatural underground. Live S&M shows, demonic prostitution and even vampiric feeding parlors. If there is a vice that can be bought it can be bought at Mayfair’s.
Fran and Miriam control this den of lust by maintaining complete neutrality. They have made many deals, and have blackmailed others into their position. They have manipulated those in power, terrestrial, spiritual, mundane and magical, into a position of permanent stalemate. They can continue their business, providing what they feel is a necessary service, and feed on all the released essence they can care too. Blood is never issue, they have prospective donors lined up and willing to pay them so they can have their blood sucked. Generally speaking everyone is pleased with the situation and they get exactly what they want. Every once in a while someone comes along and feels they can do a better job and tries to run them out of business, but with a client list as long as their’s help is usually only a phone call away.
The Cast/Heroes can use Mayfair’s as a place to gain information. If something is going on in supernatural underworld, the girls at Mayfair’s are usually the first to know.

Fran and Miriam

Fran (about Miriam): She is my girlfriend. We have a lot in common, we got on very well together.

Fran is the oldest and more adventurous of the two. She often is the one brining in the new victims. She is also the crueler of the two, gaining more sadistic pleasure out of torturing her victims before killing them. She toys with Ted, so long in fact she never has the chance to kill him. This could come from the fact it was her boyfriend that killed both her and Miriam. Fran wears a heavy black leather long coat. In the book Fran likes both girls and guys, but prefers Miriam to all.

Played by Marianne Morris
Age 58 (appears to be 24)
Height 5'5"
Weight 120 lbs.
Hair Auburn (Redish-brown)
Eyes Brown

Miriam is the younger. What she lacks in Fran’s stronger personality she makes up for with a nymph-like attractiveness. Miriam uses her sex-appeal as bait, she enjoys the quick kill and the blood that comes with it. She is more cautious, warning Fran to kill Ted before he discovers who they are. Where Fran uses a dagger to draw blood, Miriam prefers the more traditional fangs to the artery. Miriam wears a heavy dark cloak lined with red. In the book Miriam owns Farnsworth Hall and has all the cash. She prefers women, having a string of young lovers before seducing Fran away from Ted. She prefers to kill the men quickly and get their blood.

Played by Anulka Dziubinska
Age 57 (appears to be 23)
Height 5'4"
Weight 105 lbs.
Hair Blonde
Eyes Blue

A Note About Multiple Versions
My purpose is to again expand on my goal of finding the best system to do a particular job and my own curiosity of how the same character can be represented in multiple systems. In every case I started with a basic concept of Fran and Miriam and attempted to re-create them within the confines of that system (not making anything new up) rather than simply converting one version to another. I did then go back a overlook the versions and may have buffed some points her or there. The results may cause me to have miscounted a point or so here or there.
Plus I also strongly feel that regardless of what game I am playing at any given time I can get something useful out of another game. So to that end I am also posting this to multiple forums so people can compare the various versions.
In the end I think I have a much clearer picture of who these characters are and what they are supposed to be.



From Blue Underground

Tomorrow, the stats.

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