Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Final Girl Film Club - Blood and Roses (1960)

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Roger Vadim's take on a vampire classic.

Although the author's name and the title of his story may not be instantly recognizable, Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, a vampire tale first published in 1872, more than twenty years before Bram Stoker's much more famous novel Dracula, is a story that has inspired many films in the horror genre. Some use the story as direct source material, others are only connected to certain elements of it - for example, most lesbian vampire films owe something of a debt to Carmilla, as it is believed to be the first vampire tale to have a lesbian tone to it.

French filmmaker Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses is one film that notes Carmilla as its inspiration, although Vadim and his three co-writers really only used some character names and bits of the backstory created by Le Fanu as a base to build their own story upon.

The film is set in what was then the modern day, although its Italian locations feel timeless. It begins with a gathering at the Karnstein estate, where everyone is preparing for the impending marriage of Leopoldo De Karnstein to Georgia Monteverdi. During this gathering, Leopoldo and his cousin/childhood playmate Carmilla tell the history of their family, revealing the fact that the locals have long believed the Karnsteins to be vampires. The villagers were so frightened of the wealthy family that in 1765 they revolted against the Karnsteins, raided their family cemetery, dug up the bodies, staked them and burned them. Only one corpse escaped this treatment - the corpse of Millarca, saved from the peasants by her beloved, her cousin Ludwig.

When Millarca died, Ludwig promised his eternal love. But once she was dead, he did not remain faithful to her, getting engaged three different times. All three times, Ludwig's fiancees died before the wedding, killed by the undead spirit of Millarca.

A portrait of Millarca hangs in the Karnstein den, and she looks exactly like Carmilla. Carmilla even has a dress that once belonged to her look alike ancestor. Judging by her mood swings lately, Carmilla seems to be attracted to her cousin Leopoldo much like Millarca loved her cousin Ludwig, upset about his engagement. Could history be about to repeat itself?

Leopoldo throws an extravagant costume party in honor of his wife-to-be, complete with a fireworks display. Unbeknownst to the Karnsteins, retreating German forces had stocked mines in the ancestral cemetery, mines which are detonated by the fireworks. The tomb containing the body of Millarca is blown open and Carmilla, wearing Millarca's dress, wanders inside... She removes the lid from Millarca's coffin...

After that night, things get even stranger around the Karnstein estate, the strangeness centering on Carmilla. Animals fear her. There are times when she acts like she just stepped straight out of 1765. She makes return trips to Millarca's tomb. Georgia has a show-stoppingly stylish nightmare about Carmilla and Millarca.

When Georgia pricks her finger on a rose thorn and puts the finger to her mouth, Carmilla kisses a drop of blood off her lip in a more-than-friendly manner. She nearly succeeds in seducing Leopoldo. She hallucinates bloodstains on her clothes...

People from the surrounding area start turning up dead. Murdered.

Has Carmilla suffered a mental breakdown and descended into inappropriate behavior and murder, or was Millarca really a vampire, and has her spirit inhabited her modern day dead ringer?

Vadim's original cut of the film kept it ambiguous, there was no solid answer, members of the audience were left to decide themselves, they could go with either answer. The version of the film put together by its American distributor not only cut 13 minutes out of the movie, paring it down to a mere 74 minutes, it also removed all mystery by adding a narattion by the spirit of Millarca that makes it blatantly clear - in the U.S. cut, Carmilla undoubtedly falls under the spell of a vampire's spirit.

I've only seen the U.S. version of the film, but keeping in mind while watching it that Vadim did not intend for a narattion that tells us what's going on every step of the way to be in his film, I could see that the ambiguous version of it would have been a much more intriguing way to tell the story.

Still, for viewers who are interested in watching a classy mood piece that tells a vampire story in a slightly unusual way, the U.S. cut of Blood and Roses still fits the bill quite nicely.

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