Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Velvet Vampire – review

movie poster

Director: Stephanie Rothman

Release date: 1971

Contains spoilers

This movie is bizarre, with an unusual setting and vampiric lore and the most bizarre slaying of a vampire – which I’ll very happily spoil. It is also absolute pap, but let’s look at the story for a moment.

We start with Diane Le Fanu (Celeste Yarnall) walking along. She sees a motorbike and is starting to turn away when a biker (Robert Tessier) grabs her and tries to rape her. Diane senses someone nearShe manages to twist his knife round and stab him, following which she quite casually goes to a fountain, washes her hands and checks her makeup in a compact. A blues player starts playing (a song called evil hearted woman), in a bizarre segue, then we realise that he is performing at Stoker’s art gallery – into which Diane steps.

Okay we’ve two references here, Stoker and Le Fanu and the two great vampire novelists must be turning in their graves. Oh well...

Lee (Michael Blodgett) approaches a rather uncommunicative blonde girl called Susan or Suzy (Sherry Miles). They in turn are watched by Diane. Diane approaches and knows immediately that they are married, their abortive chat-up routine must have been some kind of game they played with each other. Lee takes Diane to get a drink as gallery owner Carl (Gene Shane) tells Suzy that Diane is a good customer. Diane then invites the couple out to her desert home.

little yellow dune buggyLater, in the bath, Suzy is obviously suspicious but they go anyway. They get to a gas station, where they meet surly mechanic Cliff (Paul Prokop) and then continue to Diane’s but break down. Luckily they hear an engine and it is Diane in a dune buggy. She takes the couple home and says that garage owner Amos (Sandy Ward) will fix their car. Unbeknownst to the couple (or to us until later) she told him not to work on it.

Suzy is not impressed with dinner as it is steak tartar and she dislikes the idea of eating raw meat. Paul Prokop as CliffNot long after that the couple go to bed and the manservant, Juan (Jerry Daniels), tells Diane that there is someone there, around the same age as Victor - the reference becomes clear later. It is Cliff, asked to come out and look at the dune buggy. Diane comes on to him and playfully bites, which doesn’t impress him. Now, the end of the film has a twist but it isn’t much of one as the twist is given away here. A man enters and Cliff backs away from him. We only see the man for a brief moment but, if you spot who it is, then the twist becomes fairly obvious. Cliff tries to get away and walks straight into a pitchfork – dingbat!

Celeste Yarnall as DianeCliff’s scream wakes the couple but Lee tells Suzy it is a coyote! Suzy is a little uncomfortable as she feels that someone is watching her. She’s right, their mirror is a one way window and Diane watches them in bed.

We then enter a dream sequence of a bed in the desert with Diane coming out of the mirror and dragging Lee from the bed as Suzy tries to hold on to him. Suzy awakens and discovers Lee had the same dream except that in his Suzy was pushing him away. The dream sequences happen a few times with different variations.

Long and short of the main story is that Diane tries to seduce both members of the couple, succeeding with Lee and nearly with Suzy. Her actions and attitude during the day are designed to play on their insecurities, and the dreams at night precursor what is happening.

strange visitThere is a strange, and frustratingly little explored, under-story regarding Diane and her husband Victor. Near the house is an abandoned mine (so abandoned in the 1800s because something was attacking the miners), a ghost town and a cemetery. The cemetery has Victor’s grave and he died a week after their marriage. The grave has an 1800s date of death and it is clear that Diane drained him. His grave's location is what keeps Diane in the area and it is not filled but boarded so that the vampire has a tendency to open the grave and lie on the coffin, or even in it with Victor’s preserved corpse.

The vampiric rules are a little unexplained. Diane needs blood (in fact she admits that she needs it more and more) and is very old. She can obviously manipulate dreams. There is a hint of bat transformation in an abandoned mine but it is a hint only and might have just been a natural bat. There is no rapid healing, Suzy stabs Diane in the hand and from then on she wears a bandage. As Diane travels around in the daytime it would seem that the sun doesn’t harm her, or does it?

really strange endingDiane does wear quite covering clothes (compared, at least, to Suzy in her bikini) and does mention that the sun can hurt you if you let it. The bizarre slaying I mentioned comes when Juan and Lee are vamp food and Suzy escapes to LA. Diane follows her (on the same bus!) and chases the vapid girl around a bit. Suddenly she stops and Suzy realises it is a cross which stops her. She steals a crucifix from a convenient cross stall and, when the merchant complains, gives more to nearby people. She then has them chase Diane (one actually shouts “Look at her go!”) – though why they would is beyond me. Diane is surrounded and Suzy realises the sun is hurting her. They pull of her cape and she dies, growing grey haired. It is really one of the most bizarre and illogical endings I’ve seen in a while (then we get the twist that isn’t).

feeding on Cliff's girlThere is also a brief (and I do mean brief) sub-story about Cliff’s girl (Chris Woodley) who is looking for her missing man. She checks the house, as he told her where he was going, and is told he never got there. Then she spots a new grave in the cemetery, gets a shovel, uncovers him and is grabbed by Juan and then fed on by Diane.

Look this is me acting shocked!There is some lovely use of the desert, but the film’s story is flimsy and the premise has logic holes (such as the sun’s effect on Diane). Worst than this is the acting which, without exception, is blooming awful. That said this is an unusual and not often seen movie and one gets the feeling that it was an attempt to make something resembling some of the more surreal European offerings of the time.

Score wise it can only get 2 out of 10 and I’ve probably been generous, but the lovely use of the desert and the surreal elements (when they worked, for example the dreams) has bolstered the score and makes this a tad more watchable than it would have been otherwise.

The imdb page is here.


The Dirge Of Gabriel said...


I just saw the trailer for this among others on the Cemetery Girl's aka Dracula's Great Love dvd - the cinematography and mood of this film looked great but the acting looks atrocious. People seem to like it on IMDB though, even comparing it to Yorga of all films, which has me interested.

I'll put it on my pile to watch nonetheless....the female vampire looks interesting, though I doubt she'd have the same presence as the female vampires from Vampire Lovers, Daughters of Darkness and Vampyros Lesbos to name a few of my favourites....

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel, I might give a film 2 out of 10 but - if it has a vampire - I believe it should be watched anyway

Cliff said...

Nice review. If you'd like to learn a little more about the lovely Ms. Yarnall:


Taliesin_ttlg said...

thanks Cliff