Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Blood Spattered Bride – review


Director: Vincente Aranda

Release Date: 1972

Contains spoilers

I’d wanted to see this movie for quite some time, unfortunately the DVD is rather expensive, available generally only as a second hand disc – as far as I can tell. Luckily Blue Underground added it as a bonus disc to the special edition of Daughters of Darkness – making it worth re-buying that disc, especially as a kindly friend offered to buy my standard release of the other movie. It also means that I’m going to be re-watching Daughters of Darkness and you’ll get a review of that very soon. Note the cover I’ve used is not, therefore, my edition.

The film is nominally based on Carmilla, in that there is a lesbian vampire, named Mircalla/Carmilla Karnstein (Alexandro Bastedo). That’s really about it on the taking from Carmilla front. The film is a dreamscape, indeed dreams are mentioned often, including a quote from Plato on screen at the head of the film and within the dialogue. susan in wedding dressIt is also a rather Freudian examination of the three stages of womanhood, maiden, mother and crone. This is quite loose, there is a young girl named Carol (Maria-Rosa Rodriguez) who represents the maiden. The bride Susan (Maribel Martín) is, by dint of her being a new bride, the mother – though she has not been through childbirth. Finally there is Carmilla, who might look quite young but, as she is two hundred, represents the crone.

Interestingly these are the only three characters that have names, either relayed in the dialogue or within listed credits, focusing us on the fact that it is these three who are the focal point of the symbolism. Having established the ‘faces’ of womanhood the film then examines the battle of the sexes and the darker dynamics of masculinity and femininity as masculinity becomes threatened by the empowerment of the feminine. The film can seem illogical at times, but no more illogical than a dream. Indeed we can never be sure about what is reality and what is not.

Alexandro Bastedo as Carmilla/MircallaThe film starts off innocuously enough with a bride, Susan, and her husband (Simón Andreu) in his car. They arrive at a hotel and she goes to their room as he parks the car. As she enters the hotel she sees a blonde woman parked in a nearby car (Mircalla/Carmilla). Once in her room she places her veil in a wardrobe and then puts her nightdress onto the bed. She returns to the wardrobe and is grabbed by a man who smothers her with her own veil. He has no face, as it is obscured by a stocking, and he pushes her to the bed and rips her dress open intent on raping her.

When the husband walks in she is sat on the bed, her veil clutched to herself and her dress intact. It has been a dream or a vision, representing her anxieties about loosing her virginity, certainly, but it also illustrates for us that the division between fantasy and reality in this film is blurred. We cannot trust everything we see, but all we see has a meaning.

the shrouded figureShe does not want to remain in the hotel and they continue to his ancestral home. They meet the staff but are quickly ensconced in the bedroom. The housekeeper (Montserrat Julió) offers to help her remove her dress, it is bad luck to rip a wedding dress she explains, but Susan refuses her help. Looking out of the window she sees a shrouded figure. Alone with her husband it is clearly time to consummate the marriage but he is rough, he rips her dress open. In the morning she seems concerned that she pleased him.

At first they seem happy enough, but she begins to want to avoid his constant advances. She even tells him it is the way with women “all or nothing”. As this occurs we also get some Freudian symbolism coming through. The Husband is hunting with the housekeeper’s husband (Ángel Lombarte) when they come across a fox in a trap. The husband comments it is beautiful and is told it is a female, he lifts his gun and shoots the vixen. At another point Susan locks herself in a pigeon coop, essentially caging herself, and ties the key to a pigeon to carry away and so the husband breaks down the door.

Susan also sees the hooded figure again, calling her a bride, and discovers that all the family’s female portraits are in the cellar. She finds one, of a woman with a dagger, whose face has been cut out. The portrait is labelled Mircalla Karnstein, with a date of birth but no date of death. The husband takes Susan to Mircalla's tomb, telling her that Mircalla killed her husband on their wedding night because he did ‘unspeakable things’ to her and actually desecrates the tomb, breaking a bone.

Freudian murderMircalla visits Susan in her dreams, biting her and giving her a dagger that then appears in reality. Later Susan dreams that Mircalla retrieves the dagger, which the husband had hidden, and she stabs him violently, with Mircalla’s help. The rhymic thrusting of the dagger is reminiscent of intercourse and Mircalla cuts the man’s heart out. It also begins to appear that Carol is somehow complicit in all this.

In the most surreal scene of the film the husband buries the dagger at the beach and spots a hand and snorkel in the sand. He digs and uncovers a diving mask, and then an otherwise naked woman. Her name is Carmilla, and the ghost of Susan’s dreams is now corporeal among them…

Carmilla bites SusanSo far it might not sound so vampiric, other than a bite, and the vampirism is unusual. Carmilla does bite and her bite seems to change Susan. She also, during the biting scene makes a vitriolic attack on men, telling Susan that her husband violated her and ‘spit inside her’ to control her.

There is a marvellously bizarre description of a bite, seen by the housekeeper’s husband, relayed at one point when it is said that they were “Howling, like two cats in heat…Sleeping in coffin they sounded like vampires.” To be honest, when we are witness to Carmilla biting Susan later they do cry out, but it is clearly orgasmic cries – as they are off screen by this point the inference is that the bite has ended and they are making love. The Doctor (Dean Selmier), who is called in by the husband, refuses to believe in vampires and states that Carmilla is clearly a paranoic pervert and suggests that lesbian acts are somehow debased and disgusting.

checking her teethCarmilla sleeps in a coffin and we are told that vampires cannot die. At one point her lips are pulled back to reveal her fangs but she has none, her normal sized canines are covered in blood however. The bite marks received are in the shape of normal human bites. When the husband tells the story of Mircalla, though it is vague, he hints she was buried alive.

Beyond this there is very little lore other than a hint that to kill a vampire the heart must be removed – though there is some doubt as to whether this is a permanent solution.

Maribel Martín as SusanActing wise it all seemed to work, though the film is dubbed. The soundtrack wasn’t too bad, but there were certain times when it was a little too strange and obtrusive. Some of the cinematography is excellent, especially the scene in the pigeon coop. The film has an abrupt ending, which again had a Freudian undercurrent visually, but which I will not spoil.

This film will not be to everyone’s taste. It is a psycho-sexual drama, with Freudian symbolism. Those going into this expecting a horror, even a surreal one, will be disappointed. That’s not to say it does not have its horrific moments but it is not the true purpose of the film.

I personally found it fascinating. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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