For their third feature film, Boston based (for now at least) husband & wife directing team Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola turned to the erotic vampire films of Jean Rollin and Hammer studios for inspiration. In doing so the pair looked to put a new thematic spin on the classic monster. The end result is Blood of the Tribades, a lush, atmospheric and downright beautiful work that manages to evoke the past while bringing a modern, strong feminist message to the film.
The year is 2000 A.B.-After Bathor-and humanity has been replaced by vampires. The male and female gendered vampires remain segregated from one another. While the women live in relative peace and harmony, the males are covered in sores. The men take their lead from the fanatical Grando (Seth Chatfield), who blames the women for corrupting the men by forcing them to be impure and thought and deed rather than serve their vampiric God. It’s not long before the female commune of vampires find themselves hunted down and extinguished one by one by Grando’s lieutenants. The remaining females are at a crossroads as whether to fight back or flee their homestead and seek refuge elsewhere.
Caught in the crossfire are a pair of vampire lovers Èlisabeth (Chloè Cunha) and Fantine (Mary Widow). Èlisabeth seems to hold the key to unlocking the long forgotten words of Bathor. While the zealotry of Grando and his men may make it impossible to bring peace among the genders, Èlisabeth may be able to bring a spiritual freedom if she can complete Bathor’s ritual.
The fingerprints of the erotic lesbian vampire films of Hammer are all over this film. Tribades is rich with gorgeous imagery while the directing duo create a world brimming with natural beauty and splendor. Like the works of Hammer, our vampires mouths overflow with thick, deep-red plasma that spills from their chins to bare flesh. The film lingers on the naked human form as well, with moments filled with sexual tension and while embracing the fetishistic side of vampirism. A large King’s Cross plays an active role in the film, with members of both genders tied to it and whipped bloody with the thorns from long stemmed roses. Cacciola and Epstein are equal opportunists as its male cast goes full monty often-a rarity in film but an absolutely essential component in driving home the message of equality.
Tribades makes me grateful for the widespread number of festivals that spotlight microbudget films such as this. It’s evident that location scouting was a top priority to the filmmakers, and their hard work pays incredible dividends. From the architectural beauty of crumbling stone mansions awash in a blood red sunset to sweeping to the breathtaking splendor of waterfalls blanketed in deep greens, red and blues, Blood of the Tribades builds a fully realized and gorgeous natural world.
Like any almost any independent film with limited means, the performances vary.In order to create the fully realized environment and society mentioned above Tribades needed a large cast. While there are a few spotty performances, the central roles propel the film forward and hide some of the imperfections. Chatfield channels a drunken Oliver Reed with a remarkable performance as the zealot Grando. His exaggerated mannerisms work wonders here, and he’s a blast to watch every moment on screen. Cunha and Widow also give wonderful and nuanced performances as the vampiric lovers. Widow exudes an aura of vulnerability. The mourning that comes from the mounting losses of loved ones, the fear of being hunted down by Gradno’s lapdogs and her adoration for Èlisabeth shine through every moment. Widow is the true standout and one hopes to see her involved in more projects going forward. Cunha adds an exotic edge to the film with the bulk of her lines delivered in french. she’s also a pillar of strength. Cunha brings a defiant edge to her role that allows her to be the one person with the credibility to stand up to Grando.
Tribades differentiates itself from its sources of inspiration is its message. The male followers of Bathor are consumed by and ashamed of their lustful thoughts. More than that, they’re terrified that they cannot bend the women to their will or tell them what to do with their bodies. Rather than accept equal footing, Grando and his followers seek to destroy what they can’t understand. The hypocrisy of a privileged class that refuses to accept responsibility for their actions is laid bare on screen. Even as the women isolate themselves away from Grando and his men, that temptation still exists, and the men can or will not control themselves or own their feelings.
The means Fantine and Èlisabeth combat persecution offer a message of inner rather than physical strength. While a handful of the female vampires manage to stave off extermination with physical retaliation for a short while, there are only so many adversaries they can overcome before exhaustion on the sheer force of numbers will overwhelm them. The two lovers offer a much different and last kind of strength. It’s one grounded in self acceptance, and a defiance in not allowing outsiders to define you.
As Tribades makes its way through the festival circuit, it’s a work all genre fans need to keep their eyes peeled for. It will appeal to fans of 70’s Hammer, aka “the weird years” and those that appreciate the softcore eroticism of Franco and Rollins. It’s a smart, sometimes beautiful peace of work by a team that continue to evolve as filmmakers.