Vicente Aranda, 1972
Starring: Simón Andreu, Maribel Martín, Alexandra Bastedo, Dean Selmier
A young woman named Susan is on a honeymoon with her husband, but becomes anxious and distressed when she imagines a man raping her in their hotel. A strange woman also seems to be following them, though only Susan sees the woman. Her husband agrees to leave and they travel to his ancestral home, a mansion out in the countryside. Still anxious and remote, Susan explores the house and learns that the portraits of the female Karnstein descendants are all kept in the basement and one of the portraits has had the face cut off. Her husband explains there is a family legend that the woman, Mircalla Karnstein, killed her husband on their wedding night when he tried to do unspeakable things to her.
Susan begins to have increasingly bad dreams and finds a dagger on her pillow, which returns regardless of how many times her husband tries to hide it. She begins to have nightmares where the mystery woman encourages her to murder her husband. He is out on the beach one day, when he discovers a nude, disoriented woman buried in the sand. He takes her home to recover and she bonds closely with Susan. The woman says she is named Carmilla, but can’t remember anything else about herself, though Susan recognizes her as Mircalla Karnstein and the woman from her dreams. Though Susan is at first afraid, she and Mircalla begin an affair and Mircalla drinks her blood. Her husband finally believes her, but it is too late, as Susan and Mircalla go on a killing spree across the Karnstein estate.
Also known as The Bloody Bride, Bloody Fiancée, Blood Castle, and ‘Till Death Do Us Part, Blood Spattered Bride belongs to a tradition of similar films from around the same period, many of which were adaptions of Sheridan Le Fanu’s tale of lesbian vampire love, “Carmilla.” Examples include Belgian film Daughters of Darkness, Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy, including Vampire Lovers, Lust of a Vampire, and Twins of Evil, Jean Rollin’s handful of erotic vampire films, Roger Vadim’s sublime Blood and Roses, and even a Z-grade American film like The Velvet Vampire. But if you find the aimless erotic romps of Rollin’s films frustrating, the unsettling Blood Spattered Bride may be for you. There is the requisite amount of gore, gothic sets, and girl-on-girl action, but not of it is particularly excessive. There is always the sense that writer and director Vicente Aranda puts the story first, bolstered by plenty of surreal and nightmarish moments.
While the beginning of the film is full of unspoken dread and menace, thanks to Susan’s rape hallucination and tensions with her new husband, the second half becomes a full-fledged lesbian vampire flick, mostly due to the fact that her husband refuses to believe anything she tells him. There is the dagger that just won’t go away and, like Susan’s growing subconscious fears, the threat of death and violence manifests in the seductive form of Mircalla. It’s particularly interesting that the film changes at the point when Susan’s husband summons a doctor to examine her – it he is who introduces the idea of vampirism.
As with basically every lesbian vampire film ever made, the pacing is slow and the plot is dreamlike. This is surely one of the most effective though, with some very memorable scenes like Susan’s imagined rape and Mircalla’s introduction – buried alive in the sand, breathing through a snorkel, with her breasts exposed. In another dream sequence, a heart is cut out, but that is probably the most overtly violent thing that happens in the film.
You are either going to love this film or find it incomprehensible. There’s some wonderful cinematography from Fernando Aribas and plenty of effective, dreamlike imagery, for example a wonderful scene where a terrified, silent Susan locks herself in a giant bird cage to get away from her husband. She ties the key to a bird, which flies away. The gloomy ending packs a punch and concludes on a wonderfully ambiguous note, where Susan’s husband will be punished for her literal crimes and his more figurative sexual ones.
Aranda also leaves some nice ambiguity as to whether Mircalla is really a vampire or not, which ties in nicely with the film’s themes of female sexuality and the historically repressive nature of heterosexual love. This is one of the few horror films with an overtly feminist theme that I’ve been able to enjoy, probably because it tries to operate on the level of the primal, instinctive, and subconscious.
Maribel Martin (A Bell from Hell) is excellent here as the confused, naïve Susan. Her nude scenes were apparently done by a stunt double because of her young age in this film. Alexandra Bastedo (The Ghoul) is lovely as Mircalla and uses her limited dialogue effectively, remaining more a figure of fantasy than a solid, developed character. Simon Andreu (Trauma, Death Walks on High Heels) is fittingly unlikable as Susan’s invasive, insensitive husband. While he obviously has affection for her, he doesn’t seem to view her as a person capable of her own thoughts or feelings and this attitude is ultimately why events spiral out of control. Genre regular Angel Lombarte (Autopsy, Horror Rises from the Tomb) also makes a welcome appearance as his thoroughly unsympathetic servant.