This was an extra feature on the Daughters of Darkness BluRay. I’ve been meaning to review it for years. I was under the impression that it was an English-dubbed French film, but now that I watch it again, I see that I was wrong; it’s Spanish.
The plots of the two films are similar–a newly married couple is beset by an ancient but chic lesbian vampire–but the former is based on the legendary Erzsebet Bathory and her atrocities, and the latter is one of many adaptations of Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla.
We meet the newlywed couple in this film speeding along in a convertible. They are so newly married that the bride Susan (Maribel Martín) is still in her wedding gown with a full length veil. Her husband (Simón Andreu), who doesn’t seem to have a name, stops at a hotel so they can change. Susan doesn’t want to; she’d rather drive on “at 90 miles an hour”, she laughingly responds. But stop they do. Hubby leaves her on the front steps of the hotel with their luggage while he parks the car. No valet service here.
As she enters the hotel alone, Susan notices a woman seated inside a parked car, watching her.
A bellman shows her up to her room. As she starts to remove her veil and dress, a man with a stocking over his face emerges from the closet and attacks her. She lies in a faint while he tears open the front of her dress to rape her.
But when her husband comes upstairs a moment later, Susan is sitting alone on the bed. Her dress isn’t torn. The rape was some kind of terrible hallucination.
Susan tells her husband that she doesn’t want to stay in the hotel. “I don’t like it here.” And who can blame her, after that?
Hubby sees how disturbed she is and listens to her request. They get back into the convertible, still dressed in their wedding clothes, and drive directly on to his beautiful ancestral home. The servants, a married couple groundskeeper and housekeeper, are delighted to have the young master home again with his bride. Dialog establishes that he hasn’t been there in at least 10 years; he tells the servants’ 12-year-old-daughter Carol (Rosa Rodriguez) that she was just a baby the last time he saw her.
Carol mentions at this point that her teacher has died, but nothing more will come of this tiny plot point until near the end of the film.
The housekeeper offers to help Susan undress. It’s bad luck for her to tear her wedding dress. But Susan says that she prefers to do this unassisted.
Not that she will. As soon as they are alone, Susan and her husband both confess to some nervousness about making love together for the first time–and I think we can safely assume that this is her very first time. Then he tears the dress off her very in much the same way the hallucinatory rapist did.
It’s their honeymoon, so in the days that follow the young couple have lots of sex all over the house and woods, and are occasionally observed or overheard by the smiling servants and even young Carol. Susan laughs at first at her husband’s bursts of passion no matter where they are, but she gets tired of it more quickly than he does and starts trying to avoid him during the day. I think what kills the fun for her is that he likes it rough; he doesn’t strike her, but he takes a sort of boyish schoolyard-bully pleasure in pulling her up by her hair, or knocking her over and repeatedly pushing her down when she tries to stand.
When they aren’t having sex, Susan sketches. She’s pretty good, capturing accurate likenesses of her husband and Carol. As an amateur artist, she’s interested in the old paintings around the house, especially the family portraits. She notices that they’re all of men. Where are the women?
Carol tells her that all the portraits of women were put into the cellar by Hubby’s grandfather after his own bride tried to poison him before running away to Paris. The girl takes Susan down to the cellar to show her.
Among the dour-faced Victorians in black and elegant 18th-century ladies, Susan discovers one painting that has the face cut out (Carol playfully sticks her face through the hole and both of them laugh).
The woman in the portrait is dressed in a lavender-colored bridal dress and long veil; she holds an elaborate dagger in one hand and wears rings on all her fingers with the gemstones turned in toward her palms. Blood is spattered on the canvas.
The painting is labeled “Mircalla Karstein, 1767”.
Susan’s husband shows her the ruined chapel where Mircalla is buried and tells her the old family legend.
Mircalla Karstein is remembered by her maiden name since she wasn’t married long enough for it to count. According to the family legend, she murdered her husband on their wedding night because he tried to make her do “things that were unspeakable” but unspecified. She was found beside her dead bridegroom the next morning in a catatonic state, unmoving, silent, as if she too were dead, but her body was still warm. It was two years before they buried her, Hubby concludes the story.
When Susan wonders if Mircalla is still in her tomb, Hubby digs around in the rubble until he finds a bone and calls it “Auntie Mircalla’s”. In another display of his schoolboy sense of humor, he chases Susan with it and waves it in her face until it really upsets her.
There’s no sex that night. Susan says she doesn’t want to. When Hubby sulks, she tells him, “It’s about time you learned about women. It’s all or nothing.” So I guess it’s Nothing from this point on.
This is when Susan starts to have dreams about the woman she saw in the car outside the hotel on her wedding day. She’s also seen her wandering around the woods dressed in a lavender gown and veil like the clothing in the defaced portrait.
The woman (Alexandra Bastedo) appears at the bedside and gives Susan the dagger that was in the portrait. “It’s yours now.” Then she bites Susan on the neck, but rolls away and ducks down on the far side of the bed when Susan screams and her husband bursts in.
This is the closest that this film comes to a scene that’s actually from LeFanu’s Carmilla. In the original story, it happens when the heroine is a little girl of six. And there’s no dagger.
Susan insists that there’s someone under the bed, that a woman has been in the room. Her husband looks under the bed and finds no one. He calls it a nightmare, even though Susan discovers the dagger there under her pillow.
In the morning, Carol claims that she brought the dagger into the mistress’s bedroom earlier that evening–after it was given to her for Susan by a lady she met in the woods.
Susan and her husband spend the day reading aloud from books in the library, trying to find rational explanations for what’s occurred. They dig up various psychological/philosophical theories from Plato to Jung about how dreams and nightmares are the manifestation of unspoken and unfulfilled wishes. Susan reads aloud from a book that claims women feel aggressive after losing their virginity, resentful of the loss even as they desire it. She calls this last an awful book. Hubby dismisses the theories he doesn’t like as nonsense, although he can’t entirely reject the unspoken wishes idea even though it suggests a problem in their sexual relationship that he doesn’t really want to deal with. At Susan’s request, he hides the dagger somewhere where she can’t find it.
That night, Susan has an even more wild and violent dream. The woman wakes her and shows her the dagger hidden inside a grandfather clock. They return with the dagger to the bedroom where Susan’s husband lies asleep. Together, they stab him in the chest multiple times until he’s a grisly churned-up mess, and we get two blood-spattered brides for the price of one. Then, with the dream-woman’s encouragement, Susan kneels beside the bed and cuts out her husband’s heart.
When she wakes, she’s still kneeling beside the bed over her sleeping husband. But Hubby is okay. There’s no blood, and no dagger.
Susan has a burst of hysterics when her husband wakes and tries to take her in his arms. She fights him until he slaps her, then he phones his doctor friend, who doesn’t have a name either. The doctor gives Susan a sedative to calm her down, then the two men go into another room to talk privately. They discuss getting a psychologist, even though Hubby doesn’t like this idea either. He thinks they can solve their problems without outside help. The doctor says that Susan has “infantile tendencies,” and her husband agrees that she’s very young, “a child.”
I’m not sure how old she’s supposed to be… twentyish perhaps? The person she gets along best with in the household is Carol, which hints that she’s not that much older than the twelve-year-old girl. There’ll be other indications that Hubby considers his new wife a child, although he’s not terribly mature himself in spite of being a few years older.
Sedated Susan has drawn a sketch of the woman in her dreams. When she shows it to her husband, he repeats some of the things they’d been discussing the day before about dreams. He says that in the moment of waking, dreams can blur with reality, but once one is fully awake, dreams and reality must be kept distinctly separate. He draws a hard line on one corner of her sketch to illustrate the solid wall that should stand between the sleeping and waking world.
To prove that this woman is not just a figment of her imagination, Susan gets up to show her husband that the dagger is hidden exactly where the woman showed her it would be.
Hubby scoffs until he sees that the dagger is indeed inside the clock. That’s not where he hid it. He buried it in the woods.
So how did it get there?
Carol’s mother is certain that the girl followed him out to the woods, saw where he buried it, and dug it up to bring back to the house. Carol doesn’t confirm this, and Hubby tells her that they will agree upon an explanation to tell Susan that doesn’t involve a ghostly woman in the woods.
Carol’s mother remains convinced that the child is lying and calls the whole business with the dagger “little girl’s games.”
“Susan isn’t a little girl anymore,” Hubby responds.
“I didn’t mean that, sir.”
He drives out for a walk on the beach, not very far from the house, and sees the end of a snorkel and a woman’s hand sticking out of the sand. He digs a little around the snorkel and finds a scuba mask; there’s a very nice shot from the inside side the mask as the sand is cleared away, looking up at him. Beneath the mask is a living woman’s face, her eyes open and staring.
It’s a striking and creepy image, spoiled by sleaziness when he starts to dig her out–breasts first, and only the breasts–before he leaves her to go and get something to cover her up.
While he’s looking in the trunk of the car for a towel or blanket, the woman gets out of the sand by herself and sits inside the car. She doesn’t seem to know who or where she is, so he takes her home. The housekeeper is surprised by the arrival of this strange, naked woman, but puts her to bed in a guest room.
After a bath and borrowing some clothes from Susan, the stranger is a bit more talkative. She tells Susan that her name is Carmilla. No last name she can recall. Over dinner, she explains to the couple that she was scuba diving, got swept up in the strong tides, and passed out. Until her memory returns and she knows where to go home to, she’ll be their guest.
She looks exactly like Susan’s drawing, and she wears her rings turned palm inward. Apart from the mask and snorkel, the rings were all she was wearing when she rose from the sand.
After dinner, Hubby blathers on about his lack of vocation or occupation and his plans for his future life in his old family home with his wife and their numerous children, but their guest is obviously more interested in Susan, and Susan in her. When he realizes that the women aren’t listening to him, he pettishly announces that it’s time for bed.
Susan compares a sketch she’s made of Carmilla with the one of the woman in her dreams; they look the same. She’s afraid that this is the legendary Mircalla, who has returned to induce her to kill her husband. She tells Hubby that she hates him now, and has since the first time he touched her.
She’s goes out late at night with Camilla, but won’t say where they’ve been when she returns to the house in the early hours of the morning. She has a bite mark on her neck. In spite of her claim that she feels better now, she tried to stab Hubby with that dagger when he notices the bite and asks her about it.
The doctor comes back with more sedatives and Hubby hides the dagger again, this time in a secret compartment in an old trunk. In light of Susan’s hostility and violent behavior, the doctor thinks it’s time for a psychiatrist, but Hubby won’t get one. While he scoffed when Susan spoke of Carmilla and Mircalla being the same person, he now believes it’s true and that they’re dealing with a “supernatural being” and not a psychological marital problem. Probably the neck-bite changed his mind.
He’s also found a little wooden jewelry-type box that belonged to his grandmother. the one who tried to poison Grandpa; this, he shows to the doctor. The box contains a bottle of very nasty poison and the face that was cut out of that portrait–removed, it appears, by Grandma, who was also presumably under the murderous influence of Mircalla when she was a newlywed. Again, it’s the same face. Hubby has also worked out that the names Carmilla and Mircalla are anagrams. (The anagram names are taken from the original story; the vampire lady also went by Millarca when she was stalking one of her victims, and whenever I read the novella I try to come up with other names she could use: Lalcrima, Almalric, Carllima, Claramil, Ami Crall, Irma or Mira Call.)
But the doctor is the voice of rational scientific explanations in this movie and calls it all coincidence.
Hubby then brings in the groundskeeper, who reports how he accidentally discovered the two women in the undergrowth while walking in the woods at daybreak; Carmilla was biting Susan’s neck and both women were “howling… like two cats in heat. Like vampires.”
When Susan goes out to meet Carmilla the next night, the doctor follows her to the ruined chapel to witness some of that biting and “howling” (although it’s more like ecstatic moaning) for himself. Some of the things he overhears the two women say disturb him deeply.
“I hate him,” Susan repeats after Carmilla in a sort of misandrist litany. “He has pierced my flesh to humiliate me. He has spat inside my body to enslave me.”
Still looking for a rationale explanation, the doctor posits to Hubby that instead of being an amnesiac stranger washed up on the beach, Carmilla is someone Susan knew in school and that they were “close like two sisters, or even closer.” More horrifying to both men than vampirism is the idea that’s what’s going on here is lesbianism of the stereotypic man-hating variety.
Hubby is offended and angry at the suggestion “of such a foul thing!” The doctor, in reply, insists that Susan is probably an innocent victim under the domination of “a paranoiac pervert.” Both women are nevertheless very dangerous to Hubby, since he’s the third side of their triangle.
This conversation puts me firmly on the side of the vampire lady. If she and Susan just ran off together like the Countess with Ilona or Valerie in Daughters of Darkness, I’d wish them well. But the Doctor is right about Carmilla’s / Mircalla’s plan to get rid of Hubby.
Young Carol is also involved; Hubby witnesses her placing flowers on Mircallla’s tomb in the chapel. At this point, the girl’s remark about her teacher dying finally pays off when we see that Carmilla is the new school-teacher. She has one scene, teaching the children about the physiological and chemical properties of human blood, then after the rest of the class has gone, gives Carol an old key, I think to open the trunk where the dagger is locked up.
Not that Susan needs the key. That night, she breaks open the trunk to get at the dagger. The first person she stabs, however, is not her husband but the doctor. Hubby discovers the two women dragging the body down the stairs and Carmilla orders Susan to get him too. ” Kill him! Destroy his arrogance, his masculinity!”
When his wife goes at him with the dagger, Hubby runs out of the house and gets into the car. True to horror movie conventions, the car won’t start. Carmilla bashes on the windshield with a big rock to break the glass while Susan slices the convertible’s canvas roof open. It’s rare to see a man in this kind of danger in a movie, especially from two women, so I give it points for that.
He does get the motor started before they reach him, though, and speeds away to safety.
At dawn, the two women are walking back to the chapel when Carmilla gets her foot caught in one of the traps the groundskeeper has set around the woods. He comes along soon afterwards and wants to tie her up before he releases her foot, but while he’s standing there taunting her, Susan sneaks up behind him and stabs him, then gets his shotgun and shoots him in the face.
Hubby, who has come back to the house without bothering to notify the police or get any kind of help, hears the shot, loads up his own gun, and heads for the chapel. There’s he finds his wife and her vampire lover sleeping naked together in the tomb. even though they were both wearing long lavender dresses just a few minutes ago. He reacts like any husband of his ilk who has caught his wife cheating, vampire lady or otherwise–not to mention the two murders they’ve just committed–by shooting them both, repeatedly reloading his rifle and firing into the tomb until blood seeps out of it.
Carol shows up just then with multiple bite marks on her neck and wearing rings with the gems turned in toward the palm of her hand.
“They will come back,” the girl tells him. “They cannot die.”
She kneels and lowers her head, flipping her hair forward to expose the back of her neck as if inviting him to kill her as well.
He takes up the invitation and shoots her too, then uses the famous dagger to cut out the hearts of all three. Although from the way he grabs Carmilla’s breast, it looks like he’s about to slice that off instead.
I can see why this was included on the Daughters of Darkness disc; they are similar films, but when I watch it I can’t help comparing it to that movie and feeling that it fails to match up on every point. While it does have a few striking images, it’s nowhere near as stylish. And where Daughters of Darkness dealt with its characters, their sexual tastes, and their occasional nudity in a matter-of-fact way, this one tends to have a leering attitude toward its main female characters. Daughters of Darkness‘s nudity was much more equal opportunity, while this is egregiously male-gazy as well as often distastefully connected with brutality.
Hubby isn’t as abusive as Stefan, but we weren’t meant to sympathize with Stefan and I suspect we are intended to be more in sympathy with Susan’s husband than I am. I keep thinking *If you didn’t push her down and pull her by her hair, the poor girl would probably be more eager to sleep with you and less susceptible to the murderous influence of the family vampire.* I assume that Mircalla has tried this on every bride who has come to the house in the last two centuries, but only succeeded with the ones who were unhappy with their new husbands. But we never really get to know her character or her motivations as we do Delphine Seyrig’s immortal Countess Bathory.