By G.G. Graham
26 years before Bram Stoker had even began to dream up Dracula, an Irishman named Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu put out his scandalous novella Carmilla, a Gothic horror that follows the many guises of a vampiric noblewoman as she ensnares beautiful young girls in her unholy desires.
While Dracula (a biter in more ways than one) has seen his story adapted on film far too many times to count, Carmilla (mixed with a dash of Countess Bathory) has mostly been relegated to B-movies and bad subplots in genre tv shows. Drive in mutants will likely recognize her story from the sleazily stylish Daughters of Darkness which featured in Joe Bob’s Christmas In July marathon. While that 1973 flick is a fantastic place to start, these 5 films deep dive into the lady loving, bodice ripping, sex and death madness of the lesbian vampire movies’ too short 1970’s heyday:
The Vampire Lovers (1970)
The legendary Hammer studios helped kick off the vampire vixen craze with The Vampire Lovers. Peter Cushing and Douglas Wilmer try to save their towns and noble families from Ingrid Pitt’s slyly seductive Carmilla Karnstein. While not as explicit or lurid as things would later get, the seduced virgins, dimly lit castles, cleavage baring period costumes and trippy dream sequences would all become subgenre trope. This Gothic camp classic launched two sequels and a horde of Sapphic seducers onto the drive in scene.
This last gasp British entry stars Marianne Morris and Playboy centerfold Anulka as Fran and Miriam. The pair are lesbian lovers who lure passing strangers into their abandoned castle for fun, food, and the occasional threesome. With two beautiful stars and above average locations, Vampyres mixes softcore stalwarts like shower scenes with surprisingly bloody feeding frenzies.The film is unusual in that its a uniquely credible mix of eroticism and dreamy slow burning horror. Come for the eye candy and stay for the story, this movie is the filmic equivalent of reading Playboy for the articles.
The Devil’s Plaything (1973)
This international production was the brainchild of sexploitation impresario Joseph Sarno, about a cult like coven’s quest to resurrect their lesbian vampire queen into a new body. Accordingly, it kind of forgets it is supposed to be a horror movie for the first hour. Expect a parade of bare breasted rituals, bongos and bohemian dancing in a genuine Bavarian castle. There are no major developments in the actual plot until the back half of the movie.
Victims flail their arms wildly to indicate being attacked by bats we never actually see, occult spells are cast that cause little more than faked orgasm noises, and the plot plays hopscotch with anything that might resemble continuity. An occult oddity amongst oddities that’s too focused on titillation to be scary, but too horror trope fueled to be truly sexy. This film is still worth a look for its fence sitting strangeness.
The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)
This Spanish made shocker is a Quentin Tarantino favorite, who stole the title for one of the chapters of Kill Bill. Stunning Maribel Martin plays Susan, a young bride repulsed by her sexually sadistic husband (giallo regular Simón Andreu). When a mysterious guest named Carmilla (Alexandra Bastedo) joins them at their remote manor, Susan has increasingly violent dreams as she is caught up in a whirlwind seduction.
A gorgeously shot film with plenty of feminist and anti fascist metaphor for the arthouse crowd, its also got plenty of weirdness, blood and sex for the drive in. Carmella is dug out of the sand on the beach, nude aside from her rings. Susan has violent dreams of Carmilla helping her stab her husband to death, both women wearing wedding gowns.
When Susan and Carmilla finally consummate their lesbian vampire love, you can’t help but root for them as they go on a murderous spree to kill all the men who have wronged Susan. Better off the undead than stuck with an abusive asshole of a husband who thinks sex is weird bellybutton make outs and rape on your wedding night.
The Velvet Vampire (1971)
Set in the (then) present day, The Velvet Vampire’s blood disease based take on vampirism lets us abandon all of those dark nights and dusty castles for the endless sunshine of the modern California desert. Newlyweds Lee and Susan Ritter (Michael Blodgett and Sherry Miles) accept a new acquaintance’s invitation to vacation at her luxurious but remote desert home. As time passes, the couple realize something is odd about Ms. Diana Lefanu (Celeste Yarnall), and that their host may have seduced both of them in the service of something far more sinister.
Celeste Yarnall is fantastic as the sardonic, eternally poised vampire protagonist. Freed of the usual trope constraints, Diane Lefanu swans through the desert in colorful 70’s high fashion, and eats her snacks of raw meat in an opulent marabou robe. Confident, decadent and dedicated to the good life, its easy to see why she makes light work of seducing our sweet but dim married couple.
While the script, the odd racist treatment of the household staff and Sherry Miles’ terrible line readings leave a lot to be desired, this slice of high desert hallucinatory weirdness does have its charms. A conversation about dune buggies becomes a double entendre filled seduction. Dream sequences are full of candy color chiffon and sex on a random 4 poster bed in the desert, with equal opportunity nudity amongst the male and female leads. While the movie never fully commits to its bisexual tension, its still a uniquely groovy journey to the land of lady loving (literal) vamps.
About The Author: G.G. Graham is a cult film cryptid, horror hag, and exploitation film explorer of the dusty and disreputable corners of cinema history. The street preacher of Z-grade cinema can be found at www.midnightmoviemonster.wordpress.com or on Twitter @msmidnightmovie