Blood and Roses

May 28, 2012 at 9:37 pm (9 Heads, Blood and Roses) (, , , )

Blood and Roses – 1960 – France

Blood and Roses is a French flick adapting Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla. Other adaptations include Vampyr (Danish, 1932), The Vampire Lovers (British, 1970), and The Blood Spattered Bride (Spanish, 1972). While Carmilla created the lesbian vampire archetype, this is barely apparent in the edited U.S. release of Blood and Roses, missing much sexuality from the French version. I find the resultant ambiguity intriguing, but some would disagree.

Italian Count Leopoldo’s engagement stirs jealousy in his childhood friend Carmilla. Visiting Leopoldo’s ancestral tomb, Carmilla is possessed by a vampire’s spirit. She maintains some sense of herself, but shares the vampire’s memories and desires. This manifests in strange scenes where she terrifies a horse, dances to outdated waltzes, and suddenly knows ancient history. As Leopoldo’s countryside estate undergoes wedding preparations, Carmilla struggles to separate her two identities and reconcile her feelings for Leopoldo. It’s a sad, sublime, and occasionally amusing tale dealing with love, envy, and innocence lost.

Blood and Roses is a beautiful flick. The ethereal Carmilla is stunning. The cinematography enchants with ponderous long takes and shimmering “golden hour” shots. The score is hauntingly subdued, especially the clàrsach (“Irish harp”) music. And some of the scenes are unforgettable. A dazzlingly chaotic fireworks display ends in a catastrophic explosion. Carmilla tenderly kisses a speck of blood from the lip of Leopoldo’s fiancé. Then there’s a hallucinogenic dream that’s one of the best I’ve seen. The film fades from color to black and white, aside from the vivid blood blossoming on Carmilla’s dress. A figure swims by her window, leading her through a masquerade ball in a field of bicycles to an operating room where face-painted nurses perform surgery in glowing red gloves. Arrestingly horrifying.

Despite its poster’s hyperbolic tagline (“It plunges you into the midnight zone beyond the grasp of reason!”), Blood and Roses shows great restraint. There’s only one murder and it’s without gore. Instead, Blood and Roses appeals to the emotions, with wonderful subtlety. It’s one of the few flicks to capture the gloom, romance, and pathos that make vampire legends so enduring.

Rating: 9/10 Shrunken Heads. Blood and Roses is a rare instance on this blog where a flick may be called “beautiful”.

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