Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Final Girl Film Club - Blood and Roses

This month's Final Girl Film Club pick is Roger Vadim's vastly under-appreciated Blood and Roses. If you remember the series I did a couple of years ago on vampire movies, you might remember the well-established trope of the lesbian vampire, originating from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's short novel Carmilla. Carmilla the novel actually pre-dates Stoker's Dracula by about 25 years and there have been several interpretations of it, either literal retellings of the story or other tales that follow the female vampire trope with varying degrees of lesbian subtext (and often plain text). Perhaps the best known and most faithful adaptation is The Vampire Lovers (1970), part of Hammer Horror's Karnstein Trilogy. I'm quite fond of that one, but I do believe I like Blood and Roses even more.

Blood and Roses (1960)

The story begins on an airplane - a setting far removed from the 18th century trappings of the original novel. We hear some vague drivel in voice over about the spirit world, and there's no explanation as yet for why a vampire who has been alive for hundreds of years is flying the friendly skies. We travel to Italy, to a branch of the Karnstein estate. A count, Leopoldo, is about to be married and he's consulting a pyrotechnics expert to design a fireworks show for his engagement party. The fireworks expert has found the perfect spot for the spectacle - the abbey on the estate. This causes some concerned looks from several people in the room, because this is where the old Karnstein cemetery used to be. Thankfully, all the tombs have been empty for a couple of centuries, but this leads to some half-amused/half-serious discussion of the old Karnstein vampire legend.

Leopoldo's cousin, Carmilla, tells the story of her ancestor Millarca (anagrams yay!), who died the night before her wedding in the arms of her lover Ludwig, who swore eternal faithfulness. There is a clear parallel between Carmilla and Millarca and, in turn, between Leopoldo and Ludwig. Leopoldo is marrying a young woman named Georgia, though, and it's clear from the start that Carmilla is jealous. At the engagement party, Carmilla sulks and drinks in her room but eventually joins the party at Leopoldo's infuriated insistence. After a few moments at the party, however, she wanders off again, toward the cemetery. Some unexpected explosions from the fireworks display open Millarca's tomb, and voila - Carmilla is dead, her spirit replaced by that of the sleeping vampiress.

I'd only ever seen one other of Vadim's films, Pretty Maids All in a Row, but I knew enough about Vadim as a filmmaker to be aware of his reputation for sensuality. This seems more restrained than I'd have expected from him, but it still manages to have definite erotic undertones with little winks of partial nudity and, of course, the lesbian subtext which is not as overt as in The Vampire Lovers but is certainly still there. In particular, I have to love Leopoldo's strangely gleeful expression as his fiancee undresses the unconscious Carmilla. See something you like there, dude?

I really, really dug this film. The look is very dreamlike, and a lot of credit must go to Annette Vadim (who plays Carmilla/Millarca) for giving the film its melancholy soul. The highlight of the film, though, is a surreal sequence where Millarca seduces Georgia and enters her subconscious. Wonderfully bizarre stuff and quite ahead of its time. And man, I love the ending.

Great movie. Thanks to Final Girl for picking it.

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