Monday, October 26, 2020

Blood and Roses / Et mourir de plaisir (1960)

Roses always fade in a Vampire’s hand.”-Carmilla (Annette Stroyberg

I’ve always loved the supernatural femme fatale Carmilla since I was first introduced to her in Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride (1972). There was something so appealing about the sapphic predatory vampiress from J.S. Le Fanu’s 1872 novella, whose influence was all over the erotic vampire films from the 1960s and 1970s I loved, and more. After I reviewed The Blood Spattered Bride, naturally, I felt compelled to read Carmilla, a short but marvelous piece of gothic literature. I loved the dark, forested isolated castle setting and the peculiar relationship that develops between Laura and Carmilla. After reading it, I felt I had hipster boasting rights to tell people who never heard of it that I knew of and read a vampire book that was written twenty-five years before the more well-known Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Now, the book, Dracula is much more developed, but it is astounding how many story similarities there are between Dracula and Carmilla (itself sharing similarities to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unfinished Christabel (1816)). I don’t think there can be any doubt that Carmilla heavily influenced Dracula. 

It’s been a delight to explore different adaptations of Carmilla, such as The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Crypt of the Vampire (1964) as well as movies influenced by Carmilla like Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Daughters of Darkness (1971). I remember thinking back in 2013 that the time was right for new Carmilla movies. I must have been asleep the last seven years, because I only recently learned that there have been new Carmilla films being made, such as The Unwanted (2014), The Curse of Styria (2014), Carmilla (2015), a Carmilla web-series that eventually got a follow-up movie called Carmilla the Movie (2017), and most recently Carmilla (2019) from Emily Harris. I just recently checked out the 2019 movie, and all I can say is, what a powerful ending. I’d say it comes pretty close to the modern Carmilla film I was hoping for.


 

One adaptation that took a long time for me to finally revisit was the French-Italian produced Blood and Roses from 1960, directed by and co-written by Roger Vadim (And God Created Woman (1956) and Barbarella (1968)). I recall being a little disappointed by how modified the original story from the book was, and I remember having a hard time paying attention a few times, but I’ve come to appreciate it for the Roger Vadim film that it is. I also see it now more as someone’s own separate creation, who used their knowledge of the book as a springboard to bring their own vision to life, with little interest in retelling the same story. There are certain elements to it that remind me of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1943) as well. I’m thankful for the German DVD, released around 2014, I believe, that really lets viewers fully appreciate Claude Renoir’s lush and colorful cinematography. Blood and Roses has a top-notch look and feel to it that would inspire many Eurohorror films to come. Joe Dante said, “this picture practically invents the Eurohorror film as we know it.”

 

Blood and Roses is Carmilla reimagined in the present day, for 1960, in the Roman countryside, filmed in Tivoli, Italy at the Villa Adriana, a Roman emperor’s retreat, constructed from 125 to 134 ce. This ancient complex is really a marvel and is a generous locale for this kind of visual movie. The place isn’t what you’d call a castle, but my brain kept thinking it was a castle every time I watched the film. In the film, it is where a grand celebration is being planned for the engagement of Count Leopoldo De Karnstein (Mel Ferrer) to a judge’s (Marc Allégret) daughter Georgia Monteverdi (Elsa Martinelli). Presumably along for the festivities is Leopoldo’s relative Carmilla (Annette Stroyberg-then Vadim), who’s friends with Georgia but has been close to Leopoldo since she was a child. Carmilla seems to display a melancholic unease over the engagement. Could she be jealous, and if so, of who? Or is she just entranced in thoughts of emulating her supposed vampire ancestor Millarca?  

Mel Ferrer’s Count is an old school gentlemanly type who can get pretty pushy at times. He ranges between likable to churlish. He has a ballroom style dance scene with Carmilla that is really quite charming, and his piano-side fisherman mime is a light hearted brief break from the gloominess.


 

I do like the way Vadim et al. put a ghost story spin on the vampire tale. There is more emphasis on ancestral significance and Carmilla’s personal connection with her long-entombed forebear Millarca, who was said to have been a vampire and is rumored to still be entombed somewhere, waiting to return. I love the early scene in the living room, where many of the characters have gathered to discuss and plan the engagement party and the fireworks display. When the conversation tuns to vampires, Carmilla foreshadows Millarca’s return with a dreamy, reverb-heavy speech in a first-person, soft-focus, perspective that’s done in a way that feels like Millarca herself is in the room, watching everyone’s faces. A soothingly haunting harp theme is also heard that really places a nostalgic tenderness to the supernatural threat in the film.


 

On the night of the celebration, where a medieval style costume party is taking place, Carmilla, not feeling festive, is having her own one woman party in her room, drinking and dancing on her bed, refusing to come down even when Leopoldo reproaches her for her behavior, tossing a costume at her, ordering her to get dressed and come down to the party. In a drunken daze, Carmilla visits the old villa wardrobe where she is compelled to wear Millarca’s old white gown and turn heads when she finally joins the party, resembling the woman from the ancestral portrait in the villa, further foreshadowing Millarca’s return. People seem to think she is acting out or showing off, but it starts to become apparent that something is calling to her, and without really knowing it, Carmilla is heeding the call. Stroyberg wandering, in a languid almost sleepwalker-like state, the smoky cemetery at night in her white dress is one of the film’s most memorable and pleasing visuals.

 

Mines unknowingly leftover from WWII are accidently ignited from the firework activity coming from the ancestral cemetery, which opens Millarca’s tomb and draws in Carmilla unwittingly. Carmilla seems to come face-to-face with an unseen deity that one presumes is Millarca. It’s ambiguous what really happens here. Does Millarca possess Carmilla, does she kill and replace her, having her exact likeness? Or is Carmilla just mentally unwell? I like the way the film toys with all possibilities. What is certain is that Carmilla is never really the same after returning from the ancestral tomb the morning after the ball, and her attraction really starts to shift towards Georgia.

 

Carmilla does become deadly at this point, and usually when she’s alone with another woman, she goes into a subtle predator mode. There’s a real striking scene where she stalks Lisa (Gabriella Farinon), a villa handmaid, chasing her through the woods like a familiar that refuses to detach from its fleeing master. The doomed seamstress can’t shake her and ultimately yields to the seductress. 

It was only a matter of time before Carmilla’s perfectly white dress was getting bloodstained, at least as a metaphorical image in a mirror. Carmilla seeing blood on her dress in her mirror image is a little Lady Macbeth-like, a reminder of Carmilla’s guilt or who she might really be. She can’t wash it away, and when she rips the bloody dress away, her breast is still fully covered in blood underneath.

 

Annette Stroyberg portrays Carmilla/Millarca with such grace and nuance. She daydreams a lot with an air of languor and ennui. That part towards the end where Carmilla visits the slumbering Georgia, and Carmilla can be seen lurking behind the bed frame, creepily eyeing Georgia, and around to the bedside before it transitions in to a dream sequence is really one of the most haunting highlights of the movie. It’s quick, but it has a lasting impact, and it is eerie as hell. This is when I realized that I had come to love Roger Vadim and co.’s interpretation of Carmilla here.

 

This Carmilla adaptation feels more like a ghost story than a vampire story, but I do appreciate the way the film handles both elements. Most of the time, it does feel like an era piece with only a few reminders of the present day like the airplane scenes that bookend the movie, with the isolated ancient villa setting making everything seem so timeless. The ending is beautiful, subtle, and emotional, a bittersweet reminder of a tragic past coalescing with a tragic present. Surprisingly the movie does feel longer than its seventy-nine-minute run time, but that might just be innate to the languorous nature of Carmilla and her affliction that she is doomed to endure. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

 




 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Emanuelle and Joanna / Il mondo porno di due sorelle (1979)

So, here we are, nearly ten years in to writing for this site, and it would look like I’m finally getting around to covering an Emmanuelle movie… Well, not quite… In fact, Emanuelle and Joanna seems to me to be an anti-Emmanuelle movie, since I believe the literary Emmanuelle is mainly about embracing and normalizing sexual taboos. Whereas the protagonist in Emanuelle and Joanna is haunted by sexual taboos and is seemingly punished for her altruism by providence, or the scriptwriter if you prefer. I felt it was much too negative to be in line with the sexually positive but still iconoclastic spirit of the writings of Emmanuelle Arsan (Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane) and to me had a little more in common with the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Emanuelle and Joanna, who I’m assuming are the two women seen on the movie poster engaging in what is surely a kind of esoteric sex ritual, aren’t even in the movie. The lead sisters, alluded to in the film's Italian title, are Emanuela (Sherry Buchanan) and Giovanna (Paola Montenero). I don’t feel duped at all though, because this is the kind of shit I go for, a pleasing dark piece of dated erotica that sends its protagonist down a rabbit-hole of perverts.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Candle for the Devil / Una vela para el diablo (1973)

The pleasures I tried to deprive myself of assailed my mind more ardently…” –Madame de Saint-Ange (Marquis de Sade)


I feel like A Candle for the Devil (aka It Happened at Nightmare Inn) from Spanish filmmaker Eugenio Martin, director of the astounding Horror Express (1972) and the rare gem Aquella casa en las afueras (1980), was that demented shocker I was always looking for when I was channel surfing as a kid looking to satiate my thirst for something twisted with big bloody kitchen knives and bloody nightgowns. It’s also an intelligent and thought-provoking film with enough memorable moments to prevent anyone who watches it from entirely forgetting about it. I had only seen it twice, in its cut and uncut version, but for years it had been stored in my memory as a truly special Spanish horror film that I knew I would revisit someday to write about.

After I first watched it, I remember feeling cheated out of the definitive experience of A Candle for the Devil after finding out the version I watched titled It Happened at Nightmare Inn from a bargain DVD box set was heavily cut, omitting the graphic violence and nudity. I still thought it was a pretty sweet film even in its censored form, but of course that’s not the version I wanted for my collection, and so I later ordered off for a DVD-R containing the uncut A Candle for the Devil, with Esperanza Roy’s (from Return of the Evil Dead (1973)) nude scenes thankfully intact. The film has since been released on Blu-ray in 2015 by Scorpion Releasing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Devil in the Flesh / Venus in Furs (1969)

Have you heard about the lonesome loser, beaten by the Queen of Hearts every time?” -Little River Band 

The book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch Venus in Furs (1870) is a great inspiration to those of us who wish to be better poets for the women we love, the women we worship, the women we want to be dominated and enslaved by in the bedroom. I found a lot to relate to from Masoch’s writing, but I was kind of bummed that the book turned out to be a cautionary tale in the end. (Way to kink-shame, Book.)
  
Massimo Dallamano, cowriter and director of one of the best gialli ever made, What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), directed a couple good modern adaptations of Victorian era books: the aforementioned Venus in Furs and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde. Dallamano’s Dorian Gray from 1970 really feels updated for its era, trying something a little bit different while remaining faithful to the spirit of the novel. The same could be said of the Dallamano directed Devil in the Flesh (aka Venus in Furs, not to be confused with the Jess Franco film of the same name, from the same year).

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Justine (2016)

Justine, your prison was my kingdom come.” -Virgin Steele 

Were it not for Jess Franco, I probably would not have had even a passing interest in the writings of eighteenth century troublemaker Marquis de Sade, Donatien Alphonse Franҫois, but thanks to Franco films like Marquis de Sade’s Justine (1969), Eugenie (1970), Eugenie de Sade (1973), and this prominent S&M aesthetic very much characteristic to a lot of Franco’s films (as well as Renato Polselli’s), it was only a matter of time before I would wonder: “why the hell am I not reading de Sade?”. Reading a book by de Sade had been on my bucket list for a good six or seven years. (It didn’t help that I was partially turned off by de Sade after watching Pier Paolo Passolini’s Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) due to the film’s shocking depictions of cruelty and grossness that the Jess Franco films rarely reached). 

Well, I finally read my first de Sade novel, recently, titled Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue (1791), and it was all kinds of fucked up. It was cruel, disgusting, evil, sickeningly disagreeable… And I could hardly put it down. I won’t go as far as to call it a horror novel, but a lot of the sadists poor Justine encounters are outright terrifying, especially the head-cutter character. De Sade seemed to pull no punches. He morally outraged to the extreme and probably intended to.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Assignment Terror / Los monstruos del terror (1970)

Halloween always gets me in the mood for the classic Universal monsters, so I thought I would revisit a Spanish monster mash-up (done in the vein of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) and House of Frankenstein (1944)) that I had not seen in over ten years.

Assignment Terror is one of the Paul Naschy films I revisited the least for some reason. Naschy wrote and starred in it, but at the same time I couldn’t help thinking it needed a little more Naschy. Paul Naschy’s scripts usually come off as real personal projects, but, even with the presence of the Universal monsters that inspired Naschy’s childhood love for horror, I didn’t quite feel that as much with Assignment Terror. But to be fair, it is quite early in Naschy’s filmography. Plus, I can see how Naschy might’ve thought it best to have his tragic lycanthrope character Waldemar Daninsky step aside a little to make room for the other classic monsters. In the end, it still ends up being Naschy’s show and what I think is an alright old-school monster movie that has got a few neat tricks up its sleeve. The whole thing is of course messy and flawed but also kind of whacky and fun.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Macumba Sexual (1983)

For me, going back to Macumba Sexual is going back to my Jess Franco origins, as it was the second Jess Franco film I ever saw, the first being Mansion of the Living Dead (1982). I came across both Severin DVDs of these films at a video store in 2007 and took a chance with Mansion first even though I was expecting it to be terrible (I had heard of Jess Franco and a not so revered zombie movie by the name of Oasis of the Zombies (1982)). At the time, I was desperate for something new, and I was sort of fascinated by the cheap looking blind dead Templar rip-offs on the DVD cover (Diet Tombs of the Blind Dead?). My expectations were low, but it turned out to be a funny, sexy, ultra-weird, and surprisingly atmospheric horror movie with a captivating lead actress, Lina Romay (born Rosa Maria Almirall). I shortly went back to the store for Macumba Sexual and, despite some frustrations, have been hooked on Jess Franco ever since (thanks Severin!).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Evil Eye / Malocchio (1975)

Evil Eye is that kind of movie that gracefully tries to do it all but ends up not really knowing what to do with itself afterwards. When looking at the film as a whole, it feels like a nice recap of the enduring motifs of the giallo, occult, gothic horror, and erotica film, and for that it will surely find a place in the hearts of Eurocult fans (it certainly has for me), but it’s hard to tell if it is a work of genius, a mistake of a masterpiece, or just an empty, routine cash-in. Is it great or not-great? I honestly have referred to it as both.
  
The Spanish, Italian, Mexican co-production Evil Eye (aka Mal de ojo in Spain, Malocchio and Eroticofollia in Italy, and Más allá del exorcismo in Mexico) is directed and co-written by Mario Siciliano. It was also co-written by Spanish writers Julio Buchs and Federico De Urrutia. Interestingly, Buchs and De Urrutia have several co-writing credits together, such as Alta tension (1972) and A Bullet for Sandoval (1969), many of which Buchs directed. Evil Eye seems to be the very last film either writer worked on. Julio Buchs died in 1973 before the film was released.

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