Friday, September 30, 2011

Random Film Review: The Velvet Vampire

Dir: Stephanie Rothman | 1971 | 80mins | USA

1971 was a good year for lesbian vampire films. Harry Kumel's sublime Daughters of Darkness, starring cult actress Delphine Seyrig (Pull my Daisy, Last Year at Marienbad) stood head and shoulders above the rest as a stylishly erotic take on the Elizabeth Bathory legend. Hammer films released Countess Dracula, also liberally based on Elizabeth Bathory, as well as Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil, both inspired by J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Camilla, a novella about a female vampire, published 25 years before Stoker's Dracula novel. Then there's Jess Franco's typically baffling and dreamlike Vampyros Lesbos, which needs no translation and was apparently inspired by the deleted first chapter of Stoker's Dracula, called Dracula's Guest.

Also dreamlike but not so much lesbian, though she swings both ways, is The Velvet Vampire, presumably also loosely based on Bathory and/or Camilla, in that it features a female vampire. Though low-budget and amateurish, its unique and unusual setting goes a long way. Much of the film takes place in the scorching heat of the Californian desert, creating a washed out and dreamlike ambiance (put a bed and a mirror in the desert and voilĂ , you've got instant Dali). Very much contemporary for its time, it features a cool yellow dune buggy, a groovy, atmospheric music score and a young, hip, free-spirited L.A. couple.

Lee and Susan Ritter meet glamorous but weird Diane LeFanu (gettit?) at an L.A. art gallery opening where within two minutes of talking they've accepted an invitation to stay at her desert villa for the weekend. Expecting a Palm Springs type get up, they're slightly disappointed to find Diane's place isolated in scrubland desert. Things don't improve when they're given a local sight-seeing tour of an abandoned mine (where Susan gets lost), a graveyard and an old western town (where bikini-clad Susan gets bitten by a snake on her thigh and has Diane suck the venom out). Amazingly, by this point Susan has actually settled in to things and quite likes the desert, whilst Lee, after sleeping with Diane, is keen to leave. Typical male. After having weird dreams (pictured, above) that seem to come true, and slowly piecing two and two together, the young couple work out that Diane is a vampire and try to get back to L.A. as soon as possible.

Like the film's unique setting, the sultry and alluring Diane is a unique vampire. She eats raw chicken liver and doesn't seem affected by the sun, so long as she wears her wide-brimmed black hat. Her reflection can be seen. And like Romero's Martin a few years later, Diane may not even technically be a vampire. Though in the end it's the crucifixes that get her.

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