That right there, friends, is radness in a clamshell. Yet again I fell victim to the doesn't describe anything description on the back of the box and figured I was in for an over the top slasher flick. Instead, I was treated to a sublime gothic take on Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla with director Vicente Aranda's The Blood Spattered Bride (1972).
Yes that's right- much to my shame I had no idea what this movie was about until I popped it in the ol' VCR. Bad horror fan! Bad! Go sit in the corner and think about what you've done!
Now that my shortcomings as a walking horror encyclopedia are out of the way, let's get to it. Carmilla is, of course, the 1872 novella that spawned a genre: the lesbian vampire tale. From Blood and Roses to The Vampire Lovers to Daughters of Darkness and beyond, there have been numerous cinematic interpretations of Le Fanu's work over the years with varying amounts of blood and smut. The Blood Spattered Bride falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum- though the blood flows, at times, copiously, the film is never as lurid as its title suggests; though there's ample (body-double) nudity on display, the movies's most erotic moments happen off-camera; and though you may roll your eyes at the thought of yet another lesbian vampire movie (though I can't imagine who would!), The Blood Spattered Bride is an intelligent take on feminism and sexual politics that's got atmosphere to spare.
Newlyweds Susan (Maribel Martin) and her nameless husband (Simon Andreu) honeymoon at his ancestral estate after an aborted stay at a modern hotel- Susan was understandably uneasy there after she...endured? suffered? indulged in?...a violent rape fantasy. She becomes only more high-strung after they arrive at the sprawling mansion, mostly due to her husband's boorish behavior. He is continually (and I really do mean continually) in lustful pursuit of his young bride, so much so that Susan attempts to lock herself away from him. Her sexual anxiety reaches critical mass when he follows her into the woods, grabs two handfuls of her hair and lifts her off the ground, then tries to coerce her into fellating him. I can't imagine why she'd be reluctant!
Susan begins to have dreams of a woman in a bridal gown who gives her an ivory-handled dagger. Eventually she finds a faceless painting of the same woman tucked away in the basement; Susan's husband relates the story of a distant relative, Mircalla Karstein, who murdered her husband on their wedding night when he wanted her to perform "unspeakable acts". The husband then proceeds to open Mircalla's crypt, conveniently located right on the estate grounds. Is Mircalla the woman in Susan's dreams? If she's only dreaming it all, why does Susan now possess the ivory-handled dagger? What does it all mean? According to a psychiatrist, it's simply a typical case of a woman's excitable nature- the only cure for which is a series of injections and a big dose of bedrest, during which she's more than welcome to stare at the yellow wallpaper on the walls.
The husband decides to dispose of the dagger once and for all; he buries it on a remote beach where he encounters (in what has simply got to be one of the strangest character introductions in any film in the history of ever) a mysterious blonde woman (Alexandra Bastedo). Naturally, he takes her home.
As you may have guessed, the mysterious blonde woman (who remembers nothing but her own name, Carmilla) is the same woman who appears in Susan's dreams. She disappears from the mansion the next morning, but she and Susan continue to meet each other- at the crypt, in the woods- anywhere so they can engage in neck biting, sexy times, and plenty of kill your husband pillow talk.
Events escalate to a bloody, bizarre, and ultimately downbeat ending that leaves plenty of questions hanging in the air: is Carmilla a vampire, or does she simply fancy herself to be one? Is she the reincarnated spirit of Mircalla, or is she simply, as Susan's doctor puts it, a "dominating lesbian" and a "paranoid pervert"?
Questions regarding plot aside, The Blood Spattered Bride also raises more political questions for the audience as the focus shifts during the course of the film. There's no question we're meant to sympathize with Susan early on- her husband is a callous jackass who is quite possibly the most annoying person on the planet. He knocks her around, teases her, and all but forces himself on her until she finally admits that she hates him. Once Carmilla enters the scene, however, and her relationship with Susan blossoms into something resembling love, the men of the film become the protagonists, hunting down and ultimately destroying the women. Are the filmmakers endorsing the patriarchal order by eliminating the feminists? Do the filmmakers really consider homosexuality to be "perverted", and thus heterosexuality must win out in the end?
Or is this just a lesbian vampire exploitation flick? I guess it's up to you to decide.
Regardless of how much thought you want to put into The Blood Spattered Bride (or how much though you think went into the making of it), there's no denying that the film looks and feels gorgeous. Aranda opts for slow tracking shots and long takes, imbuing the film with a sense of the gothic and an atmosphere that's positively languorous and unsettling. Bride meanders along as dreams and reality intertwine, and the pace of the thing will undoubtedly make it or break it for you. The cinematography is fantastic, and it's impossible to grow weary of gazing at Susan and Carmilla.
Though I caught this on VHS (duh), it's currently available as a bonus on the 2-disc special edition of Daughters of Darkness, released a couple of years ago by Blue Underground. If you dig gothic tales of lesbian vampires (and who doesn't, duh), I highly recommend it.