August 17, 2014

SUMMER OF BLOOD, Day 78: The Velvet Vampire (1971)

Directed by Stephanie Rothman. Starring Michael Blodgett ("Lee Ritter"), Sherry Miles ("Susan Ritter"), Celeste Yarnall ("Diane LeFanu"), and Gene Shane ("Carl Stoker"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Shout! Factory/Universal)
Running time: 01:20:15
Country: USA, Philippines

THE VELVET VAMPIRE has been collecting dust in my DVD collection ever since I bought it as part of a Shout Factory 4-pack, which also includes GROTESQUE and TIME WALKER. With a title like "THE VELVET VAMPIRE", I can't say there was much interest on my end to check it out, but I finally pulled the trigger out of pure desperation for "Summer of Blood" content. And man, I'm sure glad I did. What I thought was gonna be a silly vampire movie ended up being quite the psychedelic, dreamlike horror film dripping with atmosphere.

A mysterious woman named Diane meets a married couple - Lee and Susan - at an art show and invites them out to her home in the desert for the weekend. "Oh, I'd love to have both of you", she says. Prior to this, you get the impression that the married couple are swingers, so perhaps Diane's verbal invitation has a double meaning. But then again, considering the name of the movie, it could even have a triple meaning. OH MY GOD! Anyway, Susan - a petite blonde - doesn't seem too crazy about the idea but goes along with it nonetheless. Needless to say, her husband is stoked on the possibilities.

After having some car troubles en route to Diane's place, the married couple are rescued out in the desert by their host, who picks them up in her awesome dune buggy and takes them back to her sprawling, isolated home. Continuing their flirtatious dialogue from the art show, Diane and Lee engage in a conversation full of sexual innuendo, to the point where it crosses over into self-parody territory. Oh, and it should be said that Diane lives with her man-servant. As far as Lee, he's kind of a douchebag, but it's kinda hard to blame him for his behavior when he's married to such an annoying, whiny woman like Susan. Yeah, she can be a bit much.

Considering the title, you assume Diane is luring these people into her home so she can drink their blood and kill them or turn them into vampires. But really, as the film goes on, her endgame isn't really clear. She kinda seems like a vampire but she kinda doesn't. For one, the desert isn't exactly the most ideal dwelling area for a creature of the night. Secondly, sunlight has no effect on her, aside from the fact that she expresses her hatred for it, which, again, begs the question: "Why the desert?!" And, as far as her motives, it becomes clear that she wants to seduce both Lee and his wife, but for what reasons?

There's some interesting stuff going on in THE VELVET VAMPIRE on a psychological level. The presented vampire elements and its accompanying story seem like a metaphor for a relationship running its course, with Diane representative of the temptation that pulls one of them away from the other, and the surreal recurring dreams of Susan being symbolic of her jealousy and vanishing confidence. Or I could just be putting way too much thought into an erotic vampire movie. The only real ammunition I have for the theory I mentioned are Susan's recurring dreams, which are a highlight of the film for me. And it's not to say that Diane is merely just this background character who acts as a catalyst for a psychological element that might not even be there in the first place. She's appropriately mysterious and ends up being a very interesting character too. It's suggested that her vampirism is the crutch she leans on while grieving the death of someone close to her, which she still hasn't completely gotten over. It's almost like she's trying to fill a void in her life that was created when the person she's mourning passed away. Vampires are often seen as being powerful and in control, whereas Diane is the type of vampire who's on the opposite end of the spectrum: flawed, tragic, lonely, miserable.

THE VELVET VAMPIRE is heavy on the horror atmosphere thanks in part to a surprisingly creepy score consisting of moody acoustic-guitar plucking with a subtle electronic backdrop. The film is a nice balance of surreal, dreadful Gothic horror and psychedelica. Overall, it's good stuff. Flawed but interesting. As a vampire movie, it's not so great. But, as a surreal, moody product of the early 70s, it's a neat little film with an amazing score to boot. However, it does take a silly turn towards the end involving a mob of cross-carrying hippies. As far as the cast, two things of note: 1) lead actor Michael Blodgett went on to write TURNER AND HOOCH, and 2) Gene Shane, who played the Tarot Card-reading biker in one of my personal favorites, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, has an appearance in this.

Score: 7

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