Sunday, May 11, 2008

Blood and Roses – review

Director: Roger Vadim

Release Date: 1960

Contains spoilers

Anticipation is a strange thing. It builds expectation and expectations are designed, the cynic might say, to be dashed. I have wanted to see Blood and Roses for the longest of times. Based on Carmilla, I had heard much about the film and wanted to experience it for myself.

Then visitor OllieMugwump posted a comment on my review of Black Sabbath and mentioned that it was posted at YouTube. Watching a film via YouTube doesn’t seem the best way to view a piece of cinema, but for now it is the only chance I’ve had. Truth be told, despite the thanks that need to go to the poster, it wasn’t the cinemographical experience I’d hoped for – yet I’ve put that to one side for this review I hope. Obviously low res due to being on YouTube, the source video was faded and gitchy. It was not letterboxed and it was the US release (which has excised 13 minutes, including the overt lesbianism allegedly in the French original). However, as flawed as the experience was, I have finally got to see a version of this.

It is alleged that Roger Vadim stated that Blood and Roses was not a vampire movie. Who knows what he thought he made but with a basis of a classic of vampire literature, the word vampire used liberally in the dialogue and vampiric activity a-go-go (as it were), this is certainly a vampire film. After an introductory voice over from Mirllaca Karnstein – in which she mentions travelling 500 years ago which seems a continuity glitch – we cut to a get-together in modern day Castle Karnstein.

Leopoldo De Karnstein (Mel Ferrer) is organising his engagement party to Georgia Monteverdi (Elsa Martinelli) and has brought firework expert Carlo Ruggieri (Alberto Bonucci) in to provide the climax. Ruggieri has found the perfect location for the display – an old abbey between castle and village situated on a hill. His decision causes consternation amongst the staff as the graveyard is said to be haunted by vampires. All the Karnsteins were vampires, explains Leopoldo, up to 1765 (this is why I think the 500 years remark was a glitch), when the villagers led by a local priest unearthed the corpses and staked and burnt them.

Leopoldo’s cousin Carmilla (Annette Vadim) states that one survived, Mirllaca. There is a portrait of her and Carmilla points out the likeness to herself and then tells Mirllaca’s story. Mirllaca was in love with a man named Ludwig but died on the eve of their wedding, he vowed eternal love but was then unfaithful. He became engaged three times but, each time, his fiancée died mysteriously on the eve of their wedding – victims of Mirllaca. When the villagers attacked the graveyard her tomb was empty – having been saved by Ludwig. There is a faded flower in the portrait and Carmilla explains that flowers always fade in the presence of a vampire. She intimates that the vampire is still ‘alive’ and that Leoplodo resembles Ludwig.

The party. Carmilla is not there but all seem to talk of her, it is intimated that she has violent depressive mood swings. Leopoldo finds her in her room drunk and demands she attend the party. When he leaves she throws her dress to one side and we hear Mirllaca speak to her, Carmilla is succumbing to her powers and wishes to wear her ancestor’s wedding dress – which she does. At the party the locals recognise the dress but then the fireworks start. Something goes wrong and the abbey explodes.

We see Carmilla, in a daze, walk to the abbey. The explosions continue around her as Mirllaca draws her on, she states that she wants to possess Carmilla’s spirit. Her tomb has been exposed and the lid of her sarcophagus has been loosened, it will only take a touch to open it. Carmilla touches the lid and it slides open. Carmilla backs away she seems to smile as something approaches and then screams.

This underlines the unusual aspect of the film. Carmilla was in love with Leopoldo and thus jealous of Georgia. These feelings, and her weak mental health, allow the spirit of Mirllaca to possess her and make her a vampire. There is less and less of Carmilla and more and more of Mirllaca until, eventually, Carmilla is dead. As the film progresses we see some interesting vampire lore.

Animals are scared of vampires and we see this on two occasions. There is a captured fox that is scared (but it would be anyway). We also see her horse react to her, bucking and spooking as she comes near. Now other horses nearby do not spook and it is interesting, folklore-wise, to note that her horse was white (white horses were used to detect vampires in some folklore variants). Flowers fade when in her possession and she finds sunlight oppressive, though she can function.

She seems, at times, to loose touch with the modern. Her historical knowledge is complete (contemporary to Mirllaca) but she cannot work a record player properly. She must sleep at night in her tomb to gain rest – handyman Giuseppe (Serge Marquand) spots a phantom in white, which begins to cause local panic, and this is Carmilla. Garlic is said to repel vampires, but we do not see if this is true.

She must feed upon blood and the one victim who is killed is a servant named Lisa (Gabriella Farinon). She is stalked by Carmilla, in a wonderfully shot scene where Carmilla seems to glide juxtaposed by Lisa’s panicked run – made all the more special by the Irish harp based soundtrack. Lisa has marks on her neck when she is found but the kill has been disguised as if she had fallen off a cliff, the examiner believes the marks were made by the chain of her cross.

One of the most interesting lore aspects concerned what Vadim did with the non-reflection lore. Carmilla is possessed by a vampire, yet she has a reflection. However, at one point, just after killing Lisa, she looks in the mirror and sees blood on her dress that is not there in reality. This does have an overtone of “Out damn spot,” but also has a very nice twist on the standard vampiric reflection lore and their reaction to mirrors – Carmilla smashes a full length mirror angry/horrified at what she sees.

The climax of the film involves a dream sequence that is absolutely marvellous. I had seen clips of it and wondered at the modern aspects to the sequence especially the ‘operation’. In context of the film it works brilliantly, though I will not spoil why, but I will say that it also underpins the clash between supernatural and realist that is an underscoring feature of the movie.

It is a testament to the film that, despite the poor way in which I had to view it, I became lost in it. This, despite Vadim’s claim, is most definitely a vampire movie. What it is not is a horror movie. It is too lyrical, a visual poem on screen and Vadim’s tendency to lose story in his movies to visual brilliance is not an issue in this film – he walks that tightrope well. What is desperately needed is a release digitally restored, uncut, in the original French with subtitles on DVD – come on DVD producers, there is a market for this film.

Despite technical flaws in, and the cut nature of, the version I watched I’d give this 7.5 out of 10, with a vow to revisit if ever I can see it in all its uncut, restored glory.

The imdb page is here.


Derek Tatum said...

>> It is alleged that Roger Vadim stated that Blood and Roses was not a vampire movie. <<

It was probably one of those pretentious "It's not just a vampire movie" things, where a director tries to persuade people that his take on the material is better than anyone else's.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hiyah Derek, quite possibly/probably. I noted Vadim's alleged assertation, however, and had to cover it ;)

good to hear from you btw

Anonymous said...
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Taliesin_ttlg said...

The above comment was deleted as it was spam. Spam will not be tolerated.

OllieMugwump said...

A quirky, yet faithful adaptation of LeFanu. I'm pleased I finally got to see it as well.

Apart from the dream sequence and Lisa's death, my favourite scene is where Leopoldo and Carmilla explain with macabre, child-like glee the Karnsteins' history of vampirism.

You can definately see the influence on Jean Rollin; the Castel twins pulling down their surgical masks in "Livres de Sang" and Serge Marquand starred in Rollin's very-French answer to the zombie film "Les Raisin de la mort".

OllieMugwump said...

Another fairly unique point I forgot to mention is that the vampire 'reincarnates' rather than 'resurrects'; something the Hammer Karnstein cycle seemed to touch on.

One such classic story, no doubt you've probably read, which has such a theme is "A Kiss of Judas" by Julian Osgood Field.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Ollie, I haven't read that, to my recollection - I'll have a search for it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Ollie, I haven't read that, to my recollection - I'll have a search for it.

OllieMugwump said...

Mine's a slightly abridged version in Christopher Frayling's "Vampyres: From Lord Byron to Count Dracula".

House of Karnstein said...

Yes...yes, my vamp friends, the 2.35:1 scope oar French version is the only way to go. Most of the prints floating around are from the old American Paramount vhs in the criminal format of pan and scan. For one willing to search though, there is an uncut ltbx (French lang, eng subs) version out there. However, there is one particular scene that was filmed for the U.S. release that was not in the original French version. From what I gather, Vadim didn't like it and it's questionable as to whether Vadim even directed this scene. The Paragon vhs contains this scene so what I did was inserted it into my French copy (lol).. I know, I know.. but the fact is I personally *love* this questionable scene..Vadim deserves more recognition than he's received over the years, often his reputation as a bit of a playboy has overshadowed his film career.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

HofK, cheers for that. I'll certainly be keeping my eyes out for the version you mention

Anonymous said...

I personally can't think of this as an adaptation of Carmilla since there is virtually nothing of the novella in the story besides some names and implicit lesbianism. "Inspired by" Carmilla perhaps. And the somewhat muddled plot seems to be about spirit possession, doppelgangers, and/or reincarnation (including Ludwig/Leopold) as much as it is about vampirism. Blood And Roses appears to owe more to Poe's Ligeia than to vampire literature.

Even so, I was won over by the end! Full of wonderfully unique surrealistic imagery quite distinct from the usual Hammer/Buffy/Rice fare even prior to the climactic dream sequence. I had been convinced by the quasi-Freudian explanation that Carmilla had simply gone mad with jealousy prior to the final twist - well done. A superior vampire film.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Fair comments Anon. I will say that, compared to some alleging basis on Carmilla this had a closer affinity... I am thinking particularly Dreyer's Vampyr, which is a marvelous film but bears no resemblance at all to LeFanu's story