Monday, 27 December 2010

Blood and Roses (1960)

Apart from Bram Stoker's Dracula the most frequently adapted or acknowledged vampire tale must undoubtedly be Sheridan le Fanu's Carmilla. The inspiration for Hammer's Karnstein trilogy - The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil (along with many other films including The Blood Spattered Bride, Daughters of Darkness and Vampyres), the story had also previously provided the basis for Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses, the director's 1960 vehicle for his then wife, Annette, as well as a young and fresh faced Mel Ferrer.

Set in (then) present-day Italy, the film's central character, Carmilla Von Karnstein, is the last surviving member of the Karnstein dynasty. A dead ringer for her long dead ancestor Millarca Karnstein, Carmilla is desperately in love with her cousin Leopoldo despite his engagement to her closest friend Georgia. As Georgia and Leopoldo's wedding day approaches, a fireworks party is held in the Karnstein grounds. Detaching herself from the celebrations, Carmilla finds herself wandering around near the old abbey and when a stray firecracker detonates an unexploded World War II bomb, Millarca's tomb is disturbed and her dormant spirit is free to once again enter the world of the living through the body of Carmilla.

It's not long before the ghostly image of Carmilla, wearing the dress of her ancestor, is spotted roaming the nearby countryside at night. Carmilla struggles through the days, complaining that she is always short of breath, is constantly tired and that the sun burns her. Not only that, but she seeks nourishment through blood, turning her attention towards Georgia before seducing and biting her in an atmospheric dream sequence that ends when Georgia wakes screaming!

Shortly afterwards a servant girl is found dead and suspicion begins to fall upon Carmilla. Seeking sanctuary at the tomb of Millarca, Carmilla is thrown and impaled upon a fence post after roaming too near to a controlled explosion. But as Georgia and Leopoldo fly out for their honeymoon the voice of Millarca intones that she still lives on…

Despite focusing more on eroticism than horror, Blood and Roses remains an elegant and stylish tale of vampire blood lust and predatory lesbian desire. Trimmed significantly upon its' original release, much of the excised footage remains unseen to date. Although Hammer Films had by that time firmly established themselves as the standard bearers of Gothic horror movies, it would still take that studio the better part of a decade to create a film that was so overtly sexual within the context of a horror movie.

Anyone wishing to check out Blood and Roses for themselves will find their options severely limited. To the best of my knowledge the only legitimate version of the film ever made available is the aforementioned truncated, 73 minute version, which was released on cassette by Paramount in the U.S. several years ago in the dreaded extended play format. As if that wasn't bad enough, the film is presented full screen with a fairly dull mono soundtrack. Whilst there are also slightly differing French and Spanish television broadcasts floating around on the ‘fan’ circuit a fully restored and remastered DVD release would be as alluring as Millarca Von Karnstein herself!

Rob Bewick

1 comment:

  1. Great find Rob, this one is new to me. It sounds fascinating and it would be interesting to see what Vadim would do with such material. I'll try to track down a copy of this from the usual places...