Vampires have always been the most sexy and loved movie monsters. Starting with Dracula himself, following through The Lost Boys and continuing into Twilight, bloodsuckers have gained a reputation as the hip, romantic undead beings. It’s not just the male vampires that can be fashionable, either, as director Roger Vadim (Barbarella) showed the world in his 1960 film Blood and Roses.
Blood and Roses is the story of Carmilla (Annette Vadim, Roger’s then-wife, and star of Les Liaisons Dangereuses), a young Austrian woman who lives with her cousin, Leopoldo De Karnstein (Mel Ferrer from “Falcon Crest”). Leopoldo is engaged to be married to the young Georgia Monteverdi (The Trial’s Elsa Martinelli), and Carmilla is jealous, believing that Leopoldo’s love should belong to her and her alone. One night, during a celebration for Leopoldo and Georgia’s impending nuptials, some errant fireworks set off an explosion in a graveyard that opens up the tomb of Karnstein ancestor Mircalla (also played by Annette Vadim), a legendary vampire who was known to kill all of the spouses of the man she loved. Now awoken, Mircalla calls out to Carmilla, enticing her to do what her heart is telling her to do and kill Georgia. Leopoldo must save his bride-to-be from Carmilla and Mircalla, while trying to figure out if Mircalla is real or just a figment of Carmilla’s warped imagination.
Blood and Roses is based on the novel “Carmilla” by Sheridan Le Fanu, the same novel that inspired Vampyr, The Blood Spattered Bride and Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, among many others. Roger Vadim adapted the book for the screen himself with help from Roger Vailland (The Day and the Hour). Vadim takes Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire character and pushes her through a modernist Technicolor filter, resulting in the interesting combination of gothic sexiness that is Blood and Roses.
To be fair, Blood and Roses is not a traditional vampire film. In fact, for much of the movie, it comes off as more of a ghost story than a vampire tale. Mircalla seems detectable only to Carmilla, and Carmilla seems to be possessed by a spirit more than she is under control of a vampire. There are even hints that Mircalla is all in Carmilla’s mind, serving and acting as the unconscious hostility that Carmilla feels towards Georgia. Blood and Roses is a much more subliminal vampire movie, concentrating more on mind control and vengeance than neck biting and blood sucking.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Roger Vadim film without beautiful women, and Annette Vadim and Elsa Martinelli are both exactly what one would expect an actress in a Vadim film to be. Both are classically gorgeous and fit the Vadim bombshell mold perfectly. Vadim explores the homoerotic side of the women just briefly enough for it to not seem like exploitation, so Blood and Roses ends up a wonderfully filmed supernatural period piece that is equally scary and sexy.
One of the more stunning scenes in Blood and Roses occurs towards the end of the film as a dream sequence. In the scene, Carmilla comes to Georgia while she sleeps, and Vadim drains the color out of the film and Georgia is taken on a surrealistic journey that is the predecessor to the “rubber reality” that films like A Nightmare on Elm Street would explore later on, blurring the lines between reality and the dream world so that not even the viewer can tell the difference. Although it takes place late in the film, the dream sequence is really the turning point of the story and one of the more memorable segments in Blood and Roses.
Suave and sexy vampires have been a staple of monster movies since Bela Lugosi’s Dracula charmed audiences in the 1930s. Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses shows the flip side of the coin, proving that hip and happening vampirism is not just for the guys.
**Watch Blood and Roses on Netflix Streaming.**