Sunday, March 28, 2010

Carmillas: "Blood and Roses" (Review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Herein is the last in my series of reviews of filmed adaptations of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's vampire classic Carmilla. Next up, Roger Vadim's 1960 motion picture Blood and Roses. Such was its English-language title. In French the movie was more usually known as Et mourir de plaisir ("To Die of Pleasure").

My feelings about this flick began and remain mixed. What cannot be denied is that it captures something interesting and emotionally real amid an air of fantasy blending with reality. Other critics have noted its mood, which manages to convey eroticism with virtually no sexuality. No small feat. And the tale is a compelling one--despite the fact I don't really like any of the characters (an overrated "requirement" in my opinion).

But it isn't really an adaptation of Carmilla at all. The t.v. shows House and Monk have more to do with Sherlock Holmes than this film to do with LeFanu's tale.

Relocating the story to modern-day Italy, Vadim begins with the family Karnstein. In this case, they are a still-extant noble house with branches in Italy and Austria (those who know European history should find this very easy to accept). Legend tells of peasants attacking the Karnsteins in the 1700s out of fear they were vampires (again, historically this make some sense) with only one survivor--the beautiful Millarca, saved by her lover and cousin Ludwig. But Ludwig proved unfaithful. He nearly married three times, but each of his fiancees died soon before the wedding.

So the tale is told by Carmilla, last remaining Austrian Karnstein who lives with her cousin Leopoldo in an Italian estate. All agree Carmilla resembles long-dead Millarca while Leopoldo looks like Ludwig. We can see where this is going, but in general the script eshews the flavor of cliches. A dream-like atmosphere descends as a costume party begins to celebrate Leopoldo's engagement to Georgia. The nearby ruins--including the tomb of long-dead Millarca--become the setting of an elaborate fireworks display. Fire and mist abound while revellers in capes and masks dance and gossip in the night. A drunken Carmilla--only too obviously in love with her cousin--appears in a costume identical to that in Millarca's portrait (amusingly, this frightens away a couple of school girls reciting a poem for the event). Later, she stares into her reflection in a pool while a voice from the ruins summons her. Millarca extends her power, brings her latter day doppelganger to the tomb, which opens at her touch. We don't see what happens next but the result seems clear. Millarca walks again, taking possession of Carmilla's body.

All this makes for a good movie, and in the hands of a fine director like Vadim, the results do more than entertain. They move. They even compell.


This is not LeFanu's story. Instead of a strange and mysterious love affair between two girls, we have an immortal stalker of a handsome man at the apex of a romantic triangle. Instead of love or at least obsession between vampire and victim, we see a vampire pursuing her prey with little more feelings than a snake has for a bird. The slow pace of 19th century rural Styria gives way to modern Italy, amid coroner inquests and official inquiries and a stream of visitors to the Karnstein home. Elements of the original remain, but more as set pieces (effectively used).

Two other versions of Carmilla I know were filmed. One was a 1960s BBC production starring Jane Merrow, almost certainly lost. The other was for French television in the 1980s that I'm trying to get my hands on. Wish me luck! Another--rather lurid--version, complete with sword fights and copious female nudity, is supposed to be filming in Europe right now. When and if it is finished and released, expect a review from me. And if you know of any versions I've not mentioned, you'll earn much gratitude on my part for sharing!


Taliesin_ttlg said...

You'll know of these I'm sure and, in many cases dismissed them as nominal adaptations (if at all) but...

A nominal adaptation of Carmilla is found with the blood spattered bride

Vampyr isn't even Nominal but does claim to be an adaptation

Not really a vampire movie, long hair of death actually lifts part of the Carmilla story during its length, the same happens with Death Smiles at Murder.

So, no straight adaptaions but interesting mimics or claims to adapt, at least.

Zahir Blue said...

Yeah, the only one I'd halfway consider is THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE, at least in terms of an actual adaptation. Not that these are bad movies but they don't fall under the umbrella of genuine adaptations of CARMILLA (any more than DRACULA 2000 is an actual adaptation of Stoker's novel).

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

There was a really horrible movie called Vampires vs Zombies ( ). One of it's alternate titles is Carmilla the Lesbian Vampire. There is lesbianism in it, and they keep mentioning Carmilla. But mostly it just irritates, and drags, and barely has any zombies.

Just to add to the list of Carmilla movies.

Christine said...

Atmosphere in this film is wonderful - so beautiful, so elegant, so romantic. Blood and roses indeed!

Anonymous said...

Did you do a review of the HBO episode with Meg Tilly and Roddy McDowell? Not a completely faithful adaptation, but decent.

Zahir Blue said...

Yes indeed, I did do a review of Nightmare Classics' "Carmilla."