Velvet Vampire (1971, dir: Stephanie Rothman, cast: Celeste Yarnall,
Michael Blodgett, Sherry Miles, aka Cemetery Girls, The Devil Is a Woman,
Through the Looking Glass, The Waking Hour)
don't make 'em like this anymore.
this cat who's hanging out at this art gallery, and he meets this artist
chick, who invites him and his old lady to her groovy hideaway in the desert. And this cat, he really digs this chick, so one night they make love, not
war. But his old lady catches them, and seems she's got a hangup
about free love, so she lays a heavy trip on him. Too bad he doesn't
listen, 'cause it turns out this chick is a vampire....
Velvet Vampire is a product of its time. A vampire film replete
with hippie counterculture icons and attitudes. Lee (Michael Blodgett)
feels little compunction about committing adultery with Diane (Celeste
Yarnall), and when his wife Susan (Sherry Miles) finds out, he answers: "Okay,
so we made love. So what's the big deal?" Director Stephanie
Rothman (a Roger Corman protégé) herself seems to share Lee's
attitude. Susan is miffed at Lee's infidelity, but quickly shrugs
it off. At worst, she threatens to "get back" at him by taking a
tumble with Diane herself.
is common to films featuring young female vampires, Diane swings both ways,
although she has no clear preference. In Vampire
Movies, Robert Marrero writes that while Diane "has no quarrels
about drinking male blood ... it is quite obvious that she prefers women
for sex." Well, it's not obvious to me. Diane has a male housemate, and her
initial flirtations are directed toward Lee (Michael Blodgett), not Susan
(Sherry Miles). Whatever pillow talk she may impart to Susan, Diane's
actions speak louder than her words.
of the 1960s has not worn well with age. Cinema's 1940s noir anti-heroes
remain influential and emulated, whereas onscreen hippies often appear
silly, even unintentionally hilarious. Yet The
Velvet Vampire overcomes its anachronistic milieu, and remains a
beautifully haunting film, this despite a low budget and occasionally rough
production values. Its erotic dream desert sequences, underscored
with "dreamy" acoustic strings, evoke a psychedelic LSD trip.
Oliver Stone was influenced by The Velvet Vampire when filming Jim Morrison's desert sojourn in The
Doors. The desert dream sequences within the two films share
a deep sensibility, although Stone's larger budget naturally allowed him
to shoot more than a bed and mirror upon sand.
critics have praised The Velvet Vampire's
desert locale. In Dark
Romance: Sexuality In The Horror Film, David J. Hogan regards Rothman's
locations to be her "cleverest twists" on the vampire legend, citing both
the desert and "clogged streets of Los Angeles." Actually, L.A.'s
(ineptly filmed day-for-night) streets are barren at the
film's start; and at film's end, the characters never get past the bus
it's a strikingly memorable scene, intersecting counterculture with vampire
mythos. Susan is escaping Diane through the bus terminal, desperate
for allies, when she comes upon a gathering of sandal-clad Jesus freaks,
looking like extras from Godspell. Eager to help, no questions asked, they descend on Diane with their crosses. The scene is clever, humorous, and strangely poignant. One simultaneously
feels sympathy for both Diane and Susan.
Vampire Film, Silver and Ursini remark on the film's "low-lit interiors
full of unnatural colors." I didn't find the colors so unnatural,
from a blue vs. red-orange lighting contrast, a contrast that appears
in many horror films (The Lift, The
Last Horror Film, aka The
Fanatic). Here, Diane sits in a red room behind a two-way mirror,
observing Lee and Susan make love in a bedroom bathe in blue lighting.
for art decor, I think The Velvet Vampire makes for an interesting study in the cinematic use of costumes. In the film, costumes underscore characters.
pure Susan wears bright yellows, whites, and pinks. Only after she
puts on a rough earth-toned jacket (lent to her by a gas station owner)
is she able to destroy Diane with her cross-wielding hippie cohorts.
Diane primarily dresses in passionate reds and dark red-oranges when seducing
men, but in stiff yellow or white dresses when approaching women.
"blue-for-boys," but switches to a morally ambiguous striped-shirt after
he commits adultery.
Indian housemate) wears a pink top along with his blue jeans.
mechanic's girlfriend (who is spunkier than Susan) wears a pumpkin-orange
top when confronting Diane, but this strong orange color is no match for
Diane's red top.
states in his Overlook
Encyclopedia that, despite the film's reputation, he can't see any
feminist interpretation to it. I agree there. The
Velvet Vampire is essentially about a vampress practicing a parasitic
free love, who is finally defeated by an "uptight" woman and her Christian
this inventive and eerily ambivalent penultimate scene is marred by a final
scene; a cheap and unnecessary "surprise twist" ending. Another weak
point is the film's in-joke homages that are a little ... too too. Diane's last name is La
Fanu (her dead hubby, get it?), and she meets Lee and Susan at the. Stoker Gallery (get it?).
Even so, The
Velvet Vampire is an enjoyable tale, imaginative despite its simple
storyline, occasionally tense and brutal, beautifully filmed and scored,
Review copyright by Thomas
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