Friday, 21 September 2007

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

The Velvet Vampire is a very low-budget 1971 American vampire movie, and is unusual for a horror movie of that era in being directed by a woman, Stephanie Rothman. It’s an odd mix of traditional and non-traditional vampire movie elements. It has a very conventional plot, with a young couple staying at the house of a mysterious woman who turns out to be a vampire. On the other hand it has a contemporary setting (still unusual for a vampire flick in 1971), a vampire who spends a lot of time in the sunshine, and a complete absence of gothic trappings. And a complete absence of shadows – everything is bathed in brilliant sunshine. The biggest problem is the acting, which really is dire. The desert setting works very well, and there are some nice visual touches. The dream sequences, with the young couple making love in a bed in the open in the middle of the desert, watched by the vampire woman, are very effective. Rothman achieves an unsettling dream quality very economically without any special effects. Visually the movie is always interesting, with a bold use of colour (perhaps not surprising, as Rothman had worked with Roger Corman). The soundtrack kept reminding me of the classic (and very disturbing) early Doors song The End, and it also works well. The movie could be seen as showing the clash between two counter-cultures, the decadent vampire counter-culture of sex, death and blood and the hippy free love and peace counter-culture of the early 70s. The vampire lady doesn’t have to work terribly hard to seduce these two young people! I suspect that the actors were cast because they looked right for their parts, which they do. They certainly weren’t cast for their acting abilities! It’s a fairly slow-moving but strangely hypnotic film. Despite its faults, and despite some slightly cringe-inducing 70s moments, it has more than enough interesting qualities to make it worth your while trying to find a copy. If you’re a vampire fan you’ll definitely want to see it. It probably won’t appeal to modern horror fans accustomed to large doses of gore and mayhem, but if you enjoy subtle and off-beat horror it’s highly recommended. The Sinister Cinema DVD looks surprisingly good – it’s fullscreen (I have no idea what the original aspect ratio was) and a little grainy in places but overall it’s clear and bright and the colours are vivid and natural-looking.

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