You have to hand it to French director and screenwriter Roger Vadim: he had a way with the ladies. Unfortunately, he always cast those wives and girlfriends in his movies. His wife Marie-Christine Barrault starred in four of his French TV movies, Bridget Bardot starred in And God Created Woman, and Jane Fonda in Barbarella. And when he opted for a longtime affair in lieu of marrying Catherine Deneuve (Fréquence Meurtre, aka Frequency Death), she starred in Vice and Virtue. And Annette Stroyberg (credited here as Vadim) starred in this “art house” lesbian vampire romp.
If you’ve never experienced Vadim’s work, one must take into consideration that he got his start in the visual arts as a fashion photographer; for his films he employed famous French cinematographer Claude Renoir. So Vadim’s version (French title: Et Mourir de Plaisir; aka And Die of Pleasure; Americanized titles: Blood and Roses/To Die With Pleasure) of Sheridan Le Fanu’s influential short story “Carmilla” (part of his 1872 collection In a Glass Darkly) forgoes the adaptation conventionality of Hammer Studios’ early ‘70s “fleshy” trilogy variations of (the highly-suggested watches) The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil, aka “The Karnstein Trilogy” (and Hammer’s other effective vamper, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, acts as sidequel). Others lurking in the La Fanu catacombs are the more straightforward, third adaptation, Terror in the Crypt starring Christopher Lee (1964); the first was Carl Theodor Dreyer’s equally-dreamy Vampyr (1932). The creepiest and most atmospheric of them all (unofficially) is Mario Bava’s looser-read of Black Sunday (1964) (which also pinches from Nikolai Gogol’s 1835 Russian vampire tale “Viy” contained in his collection Mirgorod) that stars the heart-weeping Barbara Steele as a vampire-witch hybrid (one of the film’s alternate-titles was, in fact, Revenge of the Vampire).
If you’re raised on cinema’s modernized, CGI-blood suckers—ones that blatantly swish through screenwriter-guru Syd Field’s Paradigm, coughing and wheezing under a rising sun on the run to the medi-script offices of Golden, Towne & Truby—then Vadim’s vamps aren’t your goblet of corpuscles. For this ain’t no fanged fiend of the Al Adamson Blood on Dracula’s Castle variety. This is a vampire of class and style: a Nantucket vampire; not a Bowery bloodsucker.
Vadim is all about impressions. He gives you rich set designs and stunning cinematography awash in colors enveloping dreamy visuals; he fills your eyes with pleasure (a singular drop of blood across flesh of breast; a dreamscape view through a set of French Doors of Carmilla swimming a water-filled room); he fills your cortex with the psychological and the ambiguous.
Is it real? Is it a dream? Is a stunning female vampire thou art loose on the lush Euro-estate of young Carmilla’s family? Or is she experiencing a mental breakdown as result of suppressing her homosexuality for her bisexual girlfriend Georgia (Elsa Martinella of Elio Petri’s “art house” take on Richard Cornell’s The Most Dangerous Game: The 10th Victim) who’s rejected her for marriage to a young squire? As Carmilla ran off to wallow in self-pity, did she stumble into the tomb of vampire? And is that vampire in control and causing Carmilla to commit acts of murder?
Two “Thumb Up,” right Sam? So, have we decided: Am I the “Siskel” here?
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.