Monday, June 17, 2013

The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)

I’ve been hooked on The Blood Spattered Bride for quite some time now, one of those films that always seems to call me back. Every now and then a feeling of Déjà vu will leave me longing to return to that old family mansion that radiates with ancestral significance and a haunting history of mariticide. The men of this house seem to die young. Nearly every generation for two-hundred years, the wives seem ambivalently intent on murdering their husbands shortly after their weddings, a curse that began when Mircalla Karnstein joined the family and was entombed with the dagger she murdered her husband with on their wedding night. This curse led to a type of stigma towards the women of the family, with the result that all the family portraits of the women be buried away in the cellar like some kind of shameful family secret.

Still in their wedding clothes, the current master (Simón Andreu) and his new young bride, Susan (Maribel Martín of A Bell from Hell), will be arriving to the aforementioned cursed house to spend their honeymoon, deep in the forested countryside. He hasn’t been to this place for years, but the servants are still employed, and everything is made up for a pleasant stay for the newlyweds. Shortly after the consummation, and the loss of Susan’s virginity, a ghostly bride begins to visit Susan in her nightmares, offering her an undulated dagger, imploring her to use it on her husband for defiling her.

Spain’s take on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic novella, Carmilla, is a damn fine Eurocult horror with some beautifully evil ambiance (no surprise there) and rather twisted sexuality (no surprise either). It’s very well made and doesn’t feel cheap enough to call exploitation, even if it is, and it actually succeeds at being pretty creepy. I’m hesitant to call this "erotically charged" horror, since I feel that something erotic should be capable of sexual arousal, but the sexual situations are twisted and awry, to say the least. The rape scene, awkwardly placed at the beginning, gives it a bad initial taste; the relationship between Susan and her chauvinist husband is not romantic, and the meetings between Susan and Carmilla feel more tragic than kinky since Susan is seduced and dominated and more or less a poor victim of the female vamp. It’s obvious this one is trying to disturb and unease rather than supply cheap sexual thrills.



Andreu and Martín have an interesting and perhaps volatile chemistry. Andreu’s performance as a disrespectful, but oddly not entirely unlikable, husband really works at turning up his wife’s vulnerability to outside influence. Susan becomes a trapped woman with very little options, which feeds her susceptibility to Carmilla who offers a possible way out but, nonetheless, a different type of imprisonment.

Early on, Susan has some kind of dreadful fantasy or hallucination of being raped in a hotel room while her husband is downstairs. It’s lurid and unpleasant, and it’s easy to assume that the film might be declaring early on what type of audience it’s gearing itself towards. As unnecessary as it seems, it does have a purpose, being a foreboding symbol to what her relationship to her husband is going to be like. It is also an early demonstration of the effect that Carmilla has on Susan’s subconscious, as Carmilla could be seen outside of the hotel, suggesting that the fantasy/nightmare may’ve been fed to her. It makes Susan not want to stay at the hotel anymore, which results in her husband taking her to his family estate for the honeymoon instead, a place nearer to Carmilla’s tomb.



When they reach the marvelous manor, her husband introduces Susan to what appears to be the only occupants, a couple servants and their daughter, a twelve year old girl, Carol (Rosa Maria Rodriguez). Carol is a sort of wildcard to the story, always quiet, probably witness to all, and most likely not an exception to Carmilla’s influence.

Jokingly, Susan refers to her husband as timid, but he proves as anything but during the consummation, tearing at Susan’s bridal gown, eerily echoing her rape fantasy back at the hotel. Susan’s husband’s disrespect towards her sporadically continues, pulling her hair and making sexual advances at every opportunity, as if it is his right. Think she might’ve married the wrong person?



I hate the way he treats her, but I’m surprised to not find myself loathing Andreu’s character as much as I should. There’s something likable about the actor who I fondly remember from a few quintessential gialli: Death Walks at Midnight, Death Walks on High Heels, and Forbidden Photos of a Woman above Suspicion. He’s kind of a similar character in those films. 

Susan begins avoiding her husband, and the tension between the two reaches a pinnacle in a brilliant scene where she effectively sends a message to her husband as a statement of desperation to avoid contact with him. Susan locks herself into a bird pen, ties the key to a pigeon, and lets it fly away, while her husband watches on the other side of the locked door. Of course he’ll not have any of this, and, not feeling at all remorseful for what he’s reduced her to, he has no trouble kicking the door open to reach his wife, whom in his head; he has every right to be in full physical contact with, whenever he pleases.



Preempting Mircalla’s/Carmilla’s first visit to Susan in her dreams, to tilt her ambivalent feelings of her husband towards the side of hate, Susan makes a pretty admirable stand against her husband’s feeling like he can indulge himself whenever he feels, by stopping him from unbuttoning her, successfully driving him away for the time being. One of Susan’s nightmares in particular is definitely one of the bloodiest for its time and is easily the money shot of the movie. She’s in a violent state the second she awakes, sometimes attacking her husband and having an unhealthy fixation for the dagger Mircalla gave her in her dreams, found in her bed upon awakening, that she’s able to reacquire no matter where her husband hides it, be it buried in the woods or on the beach.



I enjoyed the interesting bit on dream theory, where Susan's husband consults a book in the mansion study to find some sort of alternative explanation to her violent dreams. Reading a passage from the book he’s opened, her husband tries to break the dreams down philosophically as a subconscious desire to direct harm to those she feels the most affection. Susan counters this by grabbing the book and reading another passage aloud that a woman’s nightmares sometimes represent an acceptance of a repressed desire towards aggression, particularly when facing an event of great importance to her, the loss of her virginity. He feels it is nonsense, but Susan pretty much hit it on the head with that one, as it seems much more in line with what is going on.



Another great part that no doubt gets people talking is when, while burying the dagger at the beach, Susan’s husband notices a few fingers and a snorkel sticking out of the sand with someone breathing through it. In a truly bizarre moment he discovers that it’s a nude woman buried there (Alexandria Bastedo). This particular scene is so mind numbing but incredibly creepy and beautiful at the same time. She’s a beautiful woman, washed ashore from the sea, having no recollection of where she came from, only remembering her name, Carmilla. I found it amusing that he just pulls up at his home with a lovely naked woman he found on the beach, but everyone’s willing to take her in and allow her to stay. Susan immediately recognizes her as the woman who visits her in her nightmares, Mircalla (The names are anagrams of each other). Carmilla seduces Susan to leave her bed nightly to nocturnal meetings out in the ruined tomb, where she dominates and feeds on her and further turns her against her husband. Susan’s obsession with Carmilla and her resulting apathy reminded me of addiction, similar to the effect that Dracula has on his female victims that he would feed on nightly. 



Can Susan’s husband save her from the seductive clutches of Carmilla, and more importantly, can he save himself? Well, the ending isn’t the most climactic, but I actually like it. It’s a nice downbeat, gloomy ending that feels appropriate, and a closing newspaper headline reveals the incident to be a type of mass murder that’ll likely end up an unsolved mystery.

While covering The Blood Spattered Bride, I did notice a number of similarities to Jean Rollin’s The Shiver of the Vampires, yet, all things considered, Bride is still quite different from Shiver, overall, not being as poetic and comically outrageous, but the character interaction is stronger here. The portrayal of a troubled marriage and the wife’s growing discontent for her, at times, despicable husband is impressive, which I feel was thanks to the believable performances between Simón Andreu and Maribel Martín. Alexandra Bastedo plays a pretty creepy Carmilla without the use of any makeup.

The film is another testament to the appeal of the Carmilla myth, which, it might seem, has stood in the shadows of the more popular Dracula. However, in the newer Castlevania: Lords of Shadow video game, Carmilla practically replaces the role that is normally reserved for Dracula. Her influence can be felt in numerous works involving female vampires, and Carmilla is known to have influenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We do have The Vampire Lovers, but perhaps it’s time for a modern, faithful film adaptation to Sheridan Le Fanu’s influential but surprisingly unknown work.



11 comments:

  1. This is one of my favorite Carmilla adaptions. The beach scene is, as you said, so eerie in how surreal it is. Beautiful shot film and despite being considered it doesn't feel like an exploitation flick. Fantastic review.

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    1. Thanks so much :)!!!! I do think I may’ve fallen into my habit of getting a little too “synopsy”, but I think there was an appropriate amount of analysis and critique in there as well. Despite my taste for female vampires, I feel I haven’t seen enough Carmilla adaptations. There’s an Italian one I found out about that I want to see with Christopher Lee titled “Crypt of the Vampire” that’s supposedly more-or-less faithful.

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    2. I've heard of but have yet to see Crypt of the Vampire. So far the three Carmilla adaptions I've seen is Ingrid Pitt's The Vampire Lovers, The Blood Splattered Bride, and my favorite which is Et Mourir De Plasir or Blood and Roses as its known in English. None are really all more faithful though. I feel there's yet to be a true adaption to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novel, but much a needed one.

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  2. I saw this for the first time a few months ago and was really impressed. I had never bothered with it over the years, thinking it was a slasher film. But when I got the Daughters of Darkness DVD and it came as a bonus feature, I learned otherwise.

    But yeah, great film, great write-up!

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    1. Thanks, and welcome!

      I think the DVD cover does make it look like a slasher, and it does have its slasher moments, but it isn't as formulaic, and the surreal quality and feminine vampiric theme keeps it in the dark fantasy realm. I do enjoy Daughters of Darkness, too. I hope that most didn't overlook BSB as a kind inferior supplement to DoD to skip or take a pass on, because I do think it's just as good. BSB definitely fits alongside DoD, and the two would probably make a great double bill together.

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    2. Well, haha, I must admit, I jumped right to BSB and haven't gotten around to DoD yet. If in doubt, I let the eye candy factor decide. And BSB had better girls.

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  3. I love this movie. It's so eerie and creepy. I actually am going to watch it tonight. It's been a while since I've last seen it! I might make the fiance give it a try haha.

    Great page here, man. I'm not following you.

    If you wanna chat more horror, swing by my page.

    http://grimmreviewz.blogspot.com/

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    1. Greetings and welcome! The Blood Spattered Bride is definitely one of the better ways to retreat deep into the night on a Friday evening.

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  4. I took the finding of the woman on the beach as symbolically linked with the diagram the husband draws of the dividing line between the real and unreal, which fades out when we dream. Where land meets sea is a similar border, and it's there that he attempts to lose the dagger.

    I saw this and 'Daughters of Darkness' separately and I'm glad for it. They are truly different film experiences. For all of the latter's horror I think I could watch Delphine Seyrig's performance on an endless loop, so pleasing everything about her is to me.

    I've been looking for interpretations of BSB in light of Franco's Spain which allegedly were intended by the filmmaker, but so far I've had little luck.

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    1. Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. It always delights me to know that older write ups still attract interest. I really like your take on this movie’s oneiric beach scene.

      I agree, DoD is certainly a completely different experience, and I too find Delphine Seyrig’s performance a pleasure to witness; there’s something soothing about her voice.

      I’m not very certain about any of this film’s political meaning, but in the comments section to my Bell from Hell write-up, a commenter nicely summarized how the film is an allegory of Spain under General Franco’s rule.

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  5. This is another euro masterpiece!,first saw it in a 'second run' little theater in 1973 that became a grindhouse horror theater on weekends!..we need a blu-ray now!,have the dvd..very gory for it's time.

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