Vampyres (1974) Retrospective

Two beautiful women, Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska) roam the English countryside. They lure unsuspecting men to their estate for orgies of sex and blood. But when an innocent young couple John and Harriett (Brian Deacon and Sally Faulkner) stumble into the vampires’ lair, they find themselves sucked into an unforgettable vortex of savage lust and forbidden desires.

Vampyres was shot on a modest budget of £42,000 (equivalent to £441,000 in 2019). Effective use is made of erstwhile Hammer horror set Oakley Court and interiors were shot in Harefield Grove, a grade-II listed, early-nineteenth-century country house in the London borough of Hillingdon. One of Vampyres’ unique improvisations on the vampire genre is the decision for its vampires to feed out of a cut in the arm of victim Ted. Larraz explains his impetus behind this choice, saying, “I imagine my vampires turn almost to cannibalism, to eat somebody, to take the blood from anywhere, no matter if it is on the arm or on the balls!” VAMPYRES was actor Karl Lanchbury’s last film for the director. “After playing a small cameo role, he got married and opened up a pub in Kent”, explained Larraz. Foregoing the plot for inane lectures on vintage wines, VAMPYRES was sordid tosh with one major failing. Murray Brown wasn’t attractive in the least so it was hard to believe sultry Morris would keep him hanging around. Nevertheless VAMPYRES is noteworthy for being one of the few undead movies to take the connection between sex and death to its logical conclusion. And it’s perhaps the only Larraz film which holds up when viewed today.

Interview with actress Marianne Morris
How did you got the role in Vampyres and if you were up against anybody that we would have heard of for the part?
Marianne Morris: I’m not quite sure, actually. I think that because at the time I was an unknown actress, and so was my co-star Anulka Dziubinska. I think a lot of established actresses would have been shy because it was so bloodthirsty and so sexually explicit.

I gather that both you and Anulka originally received this script which was vaguely sexy, but as the shoot proceeded, you realised that it was growing more and more explicit.
Marianne Morris: That’s right. The script was very scant. I think if José had written it in Spanish it would have been different and perhaps more believable, but he was always very concerned about the time factor. I’d done small acting parts but I think José felt that if the person looked right, they would feel their way into the part and the audience would accept them better than somebody who might be RADA trained but didn’t quite fit the image of a vampire. I think he’d worked with Angela Pleasence and Lorna Heilbron in Symptoms, yeah…In Symptoms, right, but José was, how can I put it, a very demanding and in fact tactless director. If you were an unknown you would accept certain things but if you’d gone a few more steps up the ladder, I think that other actresses would not have worked with him so well. Anulka and I were very compliant because obviously it was a big step forward for us.

Although you’ve just said that you still find the blood and gore difficult to watch, it has been suggested that during the shoot you were more phased by the film’s love scenes and really got into the violent ones.
Marianne Morris: I suppose while you’re actually in the moment it’s like, a kind of blood pantomime, if I can put it that way. So over the top! You just have to, it’s not even about using your imagination, it was done on such a tight budget and such a short schedule that you didn’t really have time to analyse anything. You couldn’t over-think it. It’s an action movie.

Were you aware that José and Brian were schmoozing the BBFC head Stephen Murphy in the hope of getting a softer censorship ride and getting as little as possible cut from the movie?
Marianne Morris: No, I wasn’t aware of that but knowing them, I’m not surprised.

You mentioned that it’s a film with a flavour of its own. It’s very much a slice of Euro horror and I was wondering if, over and above José’s Spanish heritage, part of that was the Continental European backgrounds of yourself and Anulka.
Marianne Morris: I think so. Yeah, very much so. As you say, Euro horror is probably an apt way of describing the movie. Anulka came from a Polish background and myself, I’m Belgian and Spanish. So I think that all went into the mix somehow. Anulka’s a great girl. She was absolutely wonderful to work with and we were like light and shade, which was exactly what José wanted. It worked very well because neither of us had any ego and we just got on with the job, did what were told. José liked to work that way.

How did you feel about the dubbing of your character?
Marianne Morris: José was all about getting the job done and when we’d shot our scenes, he had no compunction about saying: “Girls, you look wonderful on screen but now I’m going to get other actresses to post synch your lines”.

It often happens on low budget movies.
Marianne Morris: Yeah. It makes it seem a bit sort of, I think they used Annie Ross, who’s the jazz singer, to dub my lines… the sister of Georgia Brown.

You shared this Spanish heritage with José and there’s a scene in there which appears to be some kind of parody of Catholic ritual, where you make a sign on somebody’s forehead and say: “By this sign I will know you”. Did he give you any insight into what he was trying to say, there? It was just such an enigmatic thing. What was your understanding of that scene?
Marianne Morris: I didn’t understand it. It was something that José had in his mind but I couldn’t see how that quite fitted into the picture but I think it was a ritual, it sort of added to that aspect of it. It wasn’t quite Midsomer, more like “Mid Spring murders”, had that kind of feel to it.

Larraz obviously had a very good idea of how he wanted a woman to look. He was a former fashion photographer, so it must have given you and Anulka confidence, knowing that you’ve got a director whose stock in trade is making women look good.
Marianne Morris: Yes that’s right, that’s what he was concerned about and he was also from the school of thinking that if you wanted somebody to act that they were freezing, it didn’t matter who that person was, he’d throw a bag of ice down their back. He believed in that school… not of method acting, but of feeling what the situation was, rather than somebody who knew their lines inside out and was very Shakespearean.

Can you offer us any more memories of José as a man and a director?
Marianne Morris: I suppose he was the Picasso of film directing. He had his eccentric ways and he knew what he wanted and what he wanted to depict. And I think he used to get frustrated because sometimes things didn’t work as quickly or visually the way he wanted and he was always adjusting, but he was a very fair man and his instructions were very direct, there was no ambiguity. He used storyboards because he used to work as a cartoonist, he had all his background sketches laid out before the scene started. He would work off that rather than the script, which had evidently been translated from a foreign language at some point.

I was going to ask you about Karl Lanchbury.
Marianne Morris: He worked with José many, many times.

Yeah, he was quite well behaved in Vampyres compared to such earlier Larraz films as Whirlpool and The House That Vanished, where he played pretty twisted characters.
Marianne Morris: Karl was delightful, charming, very aristocratic. I suppose he was sort of the Hugh Grant of his time, in the horror industry. He went on to open his own restaurant business and I think he lives abroad now, I’m not sure. The only one I haven’t heard from is Murray Brown. I wonder what happened to him?

What about Brian Deacon?
Marianne Morris: He’s still around, I understand.

There has been the suggestion that, having appeared in The Triple Echo, he was a bit sniffy about being in a horror film.
Marianne Morris: No, a lot of people like to put a spin on things that isn’t necessarily there. I think he would have liked his career to have gone on a bit more but it’s very difficult in this industry, you know, unless you land a James Bond type role or are willing to tread the boards and travel all over the country. Obviously he had done The Triple Echo but there was no indication that he had any sort of ego.

There’s this story that when you attacked Sally Faulkner you grabbed a real knife instead of the promo one. Did that really happen or was it just a bit of colour used to promote the film?
Marianne Morris: I can’t remember clearly but I think if I’d used a real one I would have remembered it!

Legend has it that you had to have a drink of two to prepare yourself for shooting some of those love scenes. Where the male actors similarly uncomfortable?
Marianne Morris: It’s all in a day’s work isn’t it? Another day at the office. You’re so in the moment with so many directions coming to you from here, there and everywhere that after a while you don’t think about it and it becomes more mechanical than emotional, you really don’t have any time to think about what’s being done because you were so pushed. It was done in three weeks, start to finish.

I understand that feeding into these pressure cooker conditions was the fact that producer Brian Smedley-Aston had staked his house on the production. Was this keenly felt by everybody involved in the shoot?
Marianne Morris: You could feel the tension between José and Brian, the producer who’d put the money up, but then perhaps tension is a good thing, particularly on a horror film because it adds to the atmosphere.

Of the films you appeared in before Vampyres, probably the most interesting one from the point of view of our readers would be Robert Hartford-Davis’s Corruption, starring Peter Cushing. Any memories of that one or of The Great Man?
Marianne Morris: Oh Peter Cushing was a wonderful man, a real gentleman. I also had a small part in a film called Endless Night. I have a feeling that Britt Ekland was in that one but I couldn’t swear to it. I was in another movie after Vampyres which Rula Lenska starred in, in the jungle… Queen Kong!

I know that Dino Di Laurentiis litigated to have it taken out of distribution, because he was working on his King Kong remake at the time. You can see it now on Youtube, so Dino lost out in the end. I gather that you wound up your acting career because you were fed up of being offered a succession “sexy” roles.
Marianne Morris: Yeah and they were getting more and more explicit.

Is it true that you were offered The Story Of O?
Marianne Morris: Yes and Emmanuelle… 6, I think it was.

Any final thoughts about Vampyres?
Marianne Morris: There’s not a lot more I can add. It’s the atmosphere that José created and the mysteriousness that make the film. He had a really good crew, too. Harry Waxman was the DP, Dulcie Midwinter did the wardrobe (she’d worked on a lot of his productions), Paul Des Salles was José’s assistant. It was a really good crew, a good crack, three weeks hard work and that was it.

Interview with actress Anulka Dziubinska
How do you feel about this continuing cult status, for a film that nearly disappeared on its initial release?
Anulka Dziubinska: It’s absurd, obviously that it didn’t just disappear into the wilderness and become a nothing. I’ve heard through the grapevine in Hollywood that a lot of actors who are going to play vampires use it as a reference and I know that Quentin Tarantino loves the film. A few years ago he allowed us to use this theatre that he owns in Hollywood to do a screening and a signing around Vampyres. Yeah, he’s very into that film, and it’s Art, you know? Back then, everything was new and we were breaking the rules, we were moving into an era of freedom and free expression that we’d never known before and it was such an exciting experience to be part of that. I’ve had people say: “Oh, you were being exploited” and all that nonsense and I couldn’t agree less, because I was in control of what I was doing and I enjoyed it so yeah, it’s wonderful that this film lives on and is still out there. We were really hippies so there was all that peace and love but at the same time there was a feeling of taking back the power and not being told what to do any longer by men or religion or whatever the status quo was in our lives. With that came the responsibility to be truly free, truly expressive and unapologetic, as long as you weren’t hurting anybody… sorry, that’s a very long answer!

No, you’re really conveying what it felt like when you were making the film, and Vampyres hasn’t faded at all with the passage of time, it’s still quite a challenging watch. The imagery still registers very strongly.
Anulka Dziubinska: Yes, because Jose is just a genius! He really understood lighting and understood momentum, he was such a brilliant director and great to work with because he wasn’t a dictator. I worked with another director who was much more famous but a complete dictator…

I imagine we’re talking about Ken Russell on Lisztomania, here.
Anulka Dziubinska: Well, I won’t mention any names but it was a real experience and a great honour to work with him, though he directed his actors in a very different way from José, who was very… avant garde, in a way. He really allowed you your own expressions and interpretations. He’s really brilliant, he understands every aspect of film-making. Ken Russell was a genius too, but working with him the freedom for actors just wasn’t there.

I know that you started as a theatre actress and I was wondering how you got the part in Vampyres.
Anulka Dziubinska: It’s a funny story, but true. I’d moved away from theatre and was doing TV commercials, which was going really well. I was making a lot of money and travelling the world and found myself at a really lovely cocktail party, where I met Sir John Mills. I told him how much I admired his work, how much I love Hayley and asked him what advice he had for an actress moving from theatre into films and television, you know, the usual and he said: “Listen, there’ll be an experience in everything you do so just accept everything you’re offered”. So the very next morning, I got a call from my new agent who told me about this lesbian vampire film and I thought well, I’ll follow John Mills’ advice and I’m glad I did. Sir John was probably thinking about something more like Gone With the Wind than an erotic horror film but the timing was right. Luck had a lot to do with it.

Round about this time you became a one name actress, “Anulka”. Was this because British people are so notoriously lazy about pronouncing any names less familiar than Smith or Jones?
Anulka Dziubinska: Exactly. It’s not a complicated name but as you say, some people just shut down when they hear something “foreign”. It’s an interesting thing, when my father arrived in England from Poland after the War, they did ask him to change his name and he refused. I carry that same sense of pride and when people tried to chop down my surname, to take letters out of it, I thought: “I’m just going to launch myself as Anulka”. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my surname to be used, I didn’t want it to be abused in any way, to be butchered or minimised. I have too much pride in my father’s surname, also in my Christian names, which were those of his first fiancée, who was shot by the Nazis. I was actually christened Anna Maria but “Anulka” is what my father always called me so that’s what I wanted to be called.

You really are a mirror image of Marianne, aren’t you? When I interviewed her she had some great memories of making Vampyres. How do you remember working with her?
Anulka Dziubinska: She’s really one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, such a gentle, beautiful soul and I learned a lot from her. She was a little bit older than me and a lot more experienced. She threw herself into that role, I watched her taking directions, she’s a great actor. That shower scene was really difficult for her but even in that, she was gracious and dignified, just a really wonderful person and I’m so happy that I’ve stayed in touch with her. We weren’t buddy-buddies, I’m actually a very private sort of person so when we finished shooting we didn’t hang out, I went and slept, because we’d been working very long days. It was my first film experience and it was kind of like being on acid, this gorgeous, surreal experience but we stayed in touch and have become dear friends because we shared that wonderful time. She was great in the movie.

It’s been said that Marianne got into the violent scenes with great gusto but was uncomfortable in the love scenes and that you were the other way round. Is that too simplistic?
Anulka Dziubinska: Everything’s always too simplistic but that shower scene was definitely difficult for her, for me too, but I just had to get on with it. She got a little bit tipsy to do it so I was kind of propping her up, doing my dialogue and keeping it going. It was a very brief scene but she was married, I think she might already have had children by that point. For me, I was just a naked hippy. I’m actually quite prudish and I hadn’t had a lot of experience back then so it was truly acting for me, I had no experience of same-sex intimacy to draw on so that was tough, absolutely. I don’t think it’s entirely true that she was into the violent stuff, but I don’t know.

How do you remember José as a man and a director? Marianne says that if he wanted somebody to register feeling cold, he’d just pour cold water down their back, does that tally with your own recollections?
Anulka Dziubinska: No, I think he realized my vulnerability, that it was my first foray into film. I don’t remember there being that much nudity in the script so he was extremely gentle, almost cautious with me, very kind and sensitive to my feelings. He was never threatening, never bullying, he realised how young I was. These days girls are grown up at 14 but in those days I was still very young and he was almost father like to me.

That’s interesting, because Marianne remembers him being much more direct, blunt, even. I don’t know if he treated you guys differently because he perceived differences in your personality and tailored his direction accordingly.
Anulka Dziubinska: José really knew what he was doing and probably did that because he needed to get that kind of performance out of her, that aggressive energy, whereas with me it was more like seducing me into being comfortable naked, making love with men, with women, doing all of these things that were just outrageous to me. I think he drew from each actor according to their own sensibility, it wasn’t just this overbearing “my way or the highway” kind of thing. He was really tuned into what each role required and connecting that with the person who was going to be projecting that. He worked in such a way that he probably had a different relationship with each actor, based on what he needed from them. That was a big part of his genius.

I know that up until recently, you hadn’t yet watched Vampyres all the way through.
Anulka Dziubinska: I have now, just the once. I can’t watch myself in the interviews or anything like that but I have now watched the film and it’s really good.

It’s a splendid film and people have put different interpretations on it, maybe that it’s some kind of cyclical story in which events are playing out over and over, or perhaps just a fantasy in the mind of the male protagonist. Did you have any ideas about that or did José ever clue you in on his intentions in that regard?
Anulka Dziubinska: I think this is the part where I become quite boring, because I have no idea about any of that. I just did the job and got on with it. As for the back story… when I watched it I was absolutely glued because I hadn’t seen it before, I didn’t try and analyse the whys and wherefores.

The sheer enigma of it all is a big part of that film’s ongoing fascination.
Anulka Dziubinska: Yeah. He just wanted to tell a great story, and what a great location, incredible.

Larraz had this real knack of bringing out something uncomfortable that’s lurking under the apparent serenity of the British countryside. It has been said that he wanted to make a sequel, were you aware of any serious moves in that direction?
Anulka Dziubinska: No. but I would have done it in a heartbeat and been thrilled to do so.

After Vampyres you worked on glossy American TV shows like Magnum and Falcon Crest, that’s a whole other world, isn’t it?
Anulka Dziubinska: Oh my God yes, absolutely! Magnum was the number one show on television and the budget was insane, so I was lifted to a level that I’d never experienced before, everything first class, a beautiful all white suite on the beach in Hawaii with flowers waiting for me… I was just swept up in this gorgeous Hollywood experience.

Propelling the film is a rich, expressive score by composer James Kenelm Clarke. Using traditional orchestral instrumentation combined with wailing acid rock, Clarke’s music mimics – the strains of tortured souls bled dry. Both suspenseful and elegant, The perfected a stylistic transfusion, delivering the perfect cocktail jazz from hell.

Director Larraz has spoken very highly of you and your musical contribution to Vampyres in interviews. He mentions that you had been doing commercial work prior to the film. How did you land this scoring assignment, and were you a fan of horror?
James Kenelm Clarke: The film’s producer, Brian Smedley-Aston, was a longstanding friend of mine and remains so. They were low on cash, but needed to finish the film. I loved the rough cut I’d seen, so I offered to score it for a case of vintage champagne. I had just finished scoring my own movie Got It Made and found I simply loved composing for film—but my heart was always in directing. I had no special interest in horror; I just grabbed the project by the throat with no preconceptions.

That approach worked magnificently. The music is played straight; there never seems a moment when it’s taking itself too lightly. This contributes significantly to Vampyres’ moody and surreal tone, helping it stand apart from most exploitation films of that era. The opening-credits piece is instantly recognizable, its hybrid of rock and progressive jazz making a strong opening statement. Yet this music doesn’t sound like similar progressive scores of the time, like what Goblin created for Dario Argento. What made you decide to take this approach to open the film?
James Kenelm Clarke: I realized that the score had to be very vigorous and disquieting to get it started on the right track. I had been listening to a lot of Cream at the time, and though I come from a classical/jazz background, I wanted to have a muscular rock guitar (played by Alan Parker] to lead the way. The theme is stated in brutal octaves—a sort of gritty anthem.

Were you influenced by anyone in particular in your approach to this score?
James Kenelm Clarke: No— just did my own thing.

As the movie continues, the score flirts with contemporary classical arrangements, but there are also dramatic uses of sound manipulation mixed in. There is a quasi-human-sounding low drone that seems like it could be a synth, but I’m guessing it is a tape loop of some kind. Could you let us in on your instrumentation?
James Kenelm Clarke: I wanted to continue the disquieting feel—but this time reflecting the feminine. So I constructed a soft waltz theme with very offcenter harmonies. The drone is probably from the Hammond organ! The lineup was a rhythm section of drums and bass guitar, keyboard [Steve Gray) and complemented by strings and some woodwinds.

Where was it recorded? What gear was on hand?
James Kenelm Clarke: The old Air London Studios overlooking Oxford Circus. It was a 16-track facility with your standard equipment for the day: mics, amps, piano, organ, etc. Other bits were done at Sound Developments by Regent’s Park.

The more traditional arrangements still sound avant-garde, in that there are a great deal of 12-tone and atonal variations in the melodies and the recurring piano motif. Not the usual minor chord progressions one usually hears in suspense/ horror scores. Was this something you integrated into the music as an experiment, or was this a part of your personal style already?
James Kenelm Clarke: The piano figure is just the way I write. As a director, I knew this sort of writing really helps bring a movie together.

Was the film locked when you wrote the music, or did your score evolve with the film’s progression?
James Kenelm Clarke: The film was locked when I started work. I wrote the whole thing in three days.

That’s amazing; doubt many musicians could deliver something that cohesive and powerful even with the advent of the technology used today.
James Kenelm Clarke: Well, thank you. But at the time, we just did what needed to be done, and made the most of the schedule we had to do it in.

José Ramón Larraz

Brian Smedley-Aston

D. Daubeney
Thomas Owen
José Ramón Larraz (uncredited)

James Kenelm Clarke

Harry Waxman

Marianne Morris as Fran
Anulka Dziubinska as Miriam (credited as Anulka)
Murray Brown as Ted
Brian Deacon as John
Sally Faulkner as Harriet
Michael Byrne as Playboy

Femme Fatales#v05n03
Dark Side#203

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