With Halloween right around the corner I felt it was time to break free of the reviewing slump and set aside a small portion of time to watch at least one horror themed film, which led me back to the underrated vampire lore of the Karnstein family. It wouldn't surprise me too much if the average movie viewer was under the impression that Bram Stoker's Dracula was the literary birth of the vampire as Stoker's character has been the foundation of vampire films for the last 100 years. But to the contrary, it was J. Sheridan Le Fanu who was 16 years ahead of Stoker with his novella Carmilla, a story which no doubt had much influence on Stoker's Dracula.
The first film adaptation of Carmilla was technically 1932's Carl Dreyer's Vampyr (a film those of us in the 1001 Movie Club had the opportunity to watch and review). Though Vampyr is barely a shadow of the original as it removed Le Fanu's eroticism and turned Carmilla into an evil old woman. Camilla would receive a more literal translation in 1959 with Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses. Vadim, who at the time was married the film's star, Annette Vadim, was the first to use the name Carmilla in a film, and dipped it's toe into what some people think is a lesbianism theme of Le Fanu's story. But as a whole Vadim's interpretation wasn't regarded very well by most critics, leading it to become a cult classic adored by a certain niche of fans.
Blood and Roses is the story of Carmilla an young Austrian girl living with her soon to be married cousin Leopoldo De Karnstein. Carmilla has a very deep love for Leopoldo that somewhere in their past he might have once shared for her, but now his love belongs to Georgia and it pains Carmilla. On the eve of a big celebration the topic of the Karnstein history comes to discussion and tales of the legendary Karnstein vampires. Carmilla notes the striking resemblance between herself and her ancestor Mircalla Karnstein, a vampire who killed the fiancee's of the man she loved so that she would be the only one bound to him.
It's this night that the legend of Mircalla begins to become a reality when an explosion in the grave yard, set off by fireworks, opens up the tomb of Mircalla. Her spirit calls out to Carmilla who eventually enters in and is seemingly possessed. Now Mircalla will once again do whatever is needed to be with the one she loves, Leopoldo. The rest of the family shirk off Carmilla's strange behavior and believe she's simply acting out due to her hidden jealously towards her cousin's marriage, but too many signs point towards a clear presence of the long dead spirit of Mircalla Karnstein.
The reviews I came across from fellow bloggers contained all praise for what they referred to as nothing short of an underrated classic, one of Vadim's best films, and one person even went as far to claim Blood and Roses was one of the best vampire films ever made; I don't share those. Blood and Roses is definitely a worthy addition to the Karnstein lore, but it's far from groundbreaking, barely creepy (with the exception of the dream sequence) and for the most part quite uneventful. I found Vampyr to be much more dark and spooky and Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy to be more overall entertaining. Blood and Roses reminded me of Dark Shadows with a much higher production value; lots of inferring, lots of vampire talk but very little on screen portrayal. But maybe that's the beauty of the film to it's fans.
The original French cut supposedly adds a certain ambiguity to the film, by removing the narrative by Mircalla and replacing it with narrative from the character of the family doctor who believes the entire Mircalla persona is all in Camilla's mind. Supposedly this lends the audience to question whether or not Camilla is mad or truly is possessed by an evil spirit. Although even without Mircalla's narrative I would think the answer is pretty clear as there's many blatant signs throughout the film, and especially the conclusion. In the end, I'm going to have to pull the "artsy" card on Blood and Roses it's a borderline vampire film that tends to focus more on the look of the film than it really does any definable vampire story. Every-time the vampire angle popped up the story seemed quick to subdue it and never quite step pass the threshold, whereas Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy goes all in.