31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.
Nature of The Velvet Vampire Shame:
Unwatched Scream Factory LE Blu-ray
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
#3. The Velvet Vampire
Euro-trash vampirism makes me weak in my horror-loving knees. Stylized photography. Vibrant colors (usually red, obviously) foregrounded against a muted color palette. Heightened vampiric subtexts. Nudity and sexuality depicted as power, domination over mortal weakness.
Directed by Roger Corman disciple Stephanie Rothman, The Velvet Vampire, only emulated the Euro-styled vampire film. Rothman had written a follow-up to her successful film Student Nurses called Student Teachers, but the producer shifted the focus of the film to capitalize on the success of the European vampire film Daughters of Darkness.
1971 turned out to be a banner year for films of this particular model. In addition to The Velvet Vampire and Daughters of Darkness, Jess Franco released his masterpiece of erotic vampirism, Vampyros Lesbos. Rothman’s film, however, flopped at the box office. She believes this was due to the American audience’s inability to compartmentalize the film as either a traditional horror film or a full-on piece of exploitation.
Doe-eyed Lee Ritter (Michael Blodgett) and his vapid (“vapid” is really putting it quite nicely) wife, Susan (Sherry Miles) join the beautiful and mysterious Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall) at her desert estate. Diane, meanwhile, begins to put the moves on both of them. The couple begins having shared, foreboding psychedelic visions. Diane’s emotional sorcery leads them both to transgression.
Sidenote: The name Diane LeFanu is a reference to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, author of the vampire novella Carmilla that pre-dated Bram Stoker’s novel by 26 years.
The non-existent narrative benefits the more European aspects of the production. The story provides the blank canvas for striking imagery and hypnotic dream sequences. Celeste Yarnall makes the most of this space and all but consummates her love affair with the entranced viewer.
That the American audience failed to embrace The Velvet Vampire is not surprising. While Yarnall’s vamp dominates the film with stoic sexuality, the ultimate motivations for her actions serve to diminish her menace and strengthen the character as flesh and blood rather than a self-serving monster. By adding grey to the black and white relationship between the vampire and its prey, Rothman complicated the emotional balance of the film — a development that undermined standard audience expectations.
The film’s sexuality also likely contributed to misapprehensions about Rothman’s intent. European sensibilities would have been far more accustomed to casual nudity as an aesthetic choice. Diane LeFanu uses sex to torment and control her unwilling guests. They are both repelled and obsessed by their host. The lack of graphic sex — despite the rampant sexuality — might have further confused an audience signed up for traditional Corman-brand low-budget trash.
Indeed, the performances of houseguests Blodgett and Miles belong in the realm of moldy and forgotten exploitation. Both turn in off-putting performances that nearly sink the film entirely during the first thirty minutes. Miles, especially, shrieks and recoils with a purposeful commitment akin to reading the TV Guide for enjoyment. The actress reacts the same to every scenario. Getting bitten by a snake? Walking in on her husband having sex with a vampire? Burnt toast? The emotion is called “open-mouthed dullard.”
The Scream Factory Blu-ray looks quite good. Colors seem to have been pumped up relative to the DVD and the grain seems entirely consistent with most low-budget films of the era. A few minor blemishes remain — it’s clear that Shout! cared enough to release this cult favorite, but expected only minor returns (if any) on its investment. An ever-present low-volume static rumble mars the soundtrack as a testament to this half-finished restoration job. Fans of the film should not complain, however, as The Velvet Vampire looks as good as it ever will, and a minor hum on the soundtrack won’t deter anyone’s overall enjoyment.
Keep in mind my weakness for this style of horror and gauge the film accordingly. Like my prior Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober review of The Devil Doll, I enjoyed the film’s twists on the formula. While much of Rothman’s film follows the guidebook to Euro-trash vampirism, it’s clear she made this movie with a certain amount of sympathy for her vampiric anti-heroine. Celeste Yarnall’s Diane lives and breathes in ways that the on-screen humans do not. Some artificial art-house transgressions and unfortunate performances detract from the overall package, but The Velvet Vampire has earned a place as a rough and underseen gem of cult cinema.
30Hz Movie Rating:
Shout Factory released a limited run of The Velvet Vampire on Blu-ray. It appears the Blu-ray is now OOP and selling for upwards of $40. The film can still be found on a Shout Factory 4-film DVD called Vampires, Mummies, and Monsters.
2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon
2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon
#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken