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B70-15239

Blood and Roses (1961) is Paramount's version of the 1960 French film ...Et mourir de plaisir (Le sang et la Rose), or The pleasure of death (the blood and the rose). The film was directed by Roger Vadim and written by Claude Brulé, Claude Martin, Vadim, and Roger Vailland. Credit also goes to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, who wrote the novella, Carmilla, that served as the film's basis. While the film can be found on DVD, its French script is dubbed or subtitled.

Synopsis Edit

As Dr. Valeri, a friend of Leopoldo von Karnstein’s many friends, is flown to Rome, he recalls to some of his fellow passengers his last experience there.

Leopoldo has guests over for dinner, among them the doctor, Carmilla Karnstein, an engineer, and Georgia, who is Leopoldo’s fiancée. He plans to throw her a costume party, and the engineer is in charge of an associated fireworks show. When the engineer tells the guests the location of the show, the Karnstein cemetery, they are alarmed. To help him understand why, Leopoldo and Carmilla share the villagers’ superstition in Karnstein vampires, which were exterminated years ago except for one, Millarca von Karnstein. (Carmilla bears a striking resemblance to Millarca as she stands next to a portrait of her.) Carmilla continues to tell Millarca’s story, of roses faded by her touch.

Later, at the party, the fireworks set off abandoned mines from a war. Carmilla investigates. She comes upon Millarca. From this point forward, Carmilla is different. She frightens animals, avoids sunlight, and wears a white dress, as Millarca wore in her portrait, and stalks her handmaid, Lisa, who is found with marks on her neck and having fallen off a cliff. The doctor believes in a medical cause of death, but Gluseppe, a servant, knows otherwise. He tells some children that a vampire killed Lisa. He shares what he knows about vampire strengths and limitations, which falls in line with Carmilla’s behavior since the ball.

Georgia falls prey to Carmilla next, who wakens from a nightmare about Millarca to bite marks on her own neck. Leopoldo hears her whispering “Millarca,” and runs after her. Too late, he finds her killed by the explosives set off to control-detonate the  last abandoned mines under the cemetery.

Major Themes Edit

Adultery and Unrequited Love Edit

These related themes take a turn away from the simple and blatant nudity and sexuality of, say, The Vampire Lovers. Here, sexuality is tasteful, not overdone, but done properly. Rather than leave one feeling as though they are watching a soft-core pornographic video, they feel they are witnessing sincere emotions being expressed in between longer periods of foreshadowing and repressed feelings. Throughout the film, the viewers are aware of Carmilla's love of Leopoldo, and Georgia claims in the end to have known all along, but much is left unsaid outside of Carmilla's Mircalla story, and even then she is speaking for Mircalla, and at best for herself indirectly. Just before Leopoldo and Carmilla kiss, after the "piano scene," they recollect the past. They make it clear that something unique exists between them outside of Leopoldo's engagement with Gerogia. At the end of the story, Dr. Valeri theorizes that Millarca was a split-personality of Carmilla helping her cope with her unrequited love for Leopoldo.

Science vs. Superstition Edit

Ruggleri and Dr. Valeri represent scientific thinking, while the villagers' fear of Karnstein vampires is only superstition. The juxtapositions of the two types of knowledge occur symbolically during the fireworks scene, while directly during the autopsy of Lisa. The fireworks show marks the ingenuity of the engineer, Ruggleri, who must apply scientific laws and rational thought to manipulate the show to his liking. As his fireworks show is failing due to unexpected landmines, Millarca becomes a reality for the first time. The juxtaposition could hardly be more direct, as it is also during Lisa's autopsy. The doctor believes her fall must have been accidental, and the marks on her neck made by her necklace. Although Carmilla is not shown pushing Lisa off the cliff, that that happened is obvious. Gluseppe, a servant, and two young children know the marks were made by a vampire. In The Vampire Lovers conflates the to types of knowledge, rather than juxtposes them, in the doctor, who is the first one to prescribe garlic and a cross to repel Carmilla.

Reception Edit

The film gets average-to-slightly-positive reviews overall. In The New York Times, Howard Thompson appreciates the film’s restraint combining “haunting music and eerie mood” and mentions the beautiful scenes in the film, but for him the acting fell short. However, a French Film Site reviewer, in part, wrote that actress Annette Stroyberg stole the show and brought Carmilla to life. Of the user-based rating sites, Letterboxd and IMDb users rate the film at an average of just over three out of five stars. As of December 10, 2014, Rotten Tomatoes had no user ratings of the film. 

Significance of Adaptation Edit

This French adaptation is significantly different in style from others (and the novella). In one sense, the perspective of the narrative is from Carmilla's point of view, rather than her victim's. Besides the fact that it is set in Rome, Italy, absent of castles (but not of cars), and introduces new concepts behind vampirism, such as the fading of a rose and some characteristics described by Gluseppe--besides all this, the film is all painted French, from its language to its style. Considering that the American version of this film has even been edited significantly from the French original to take out most of the lesbian overtones shows the influence of French culture unique from American at the time it was released. This film created new, non-vampiric Karnsteins that were even self-aware of vampirism in their pedigree. Another bold move was to throw away the idea that Carmilla is reliant upon her mother and an invitation into a home in order to prey on someone. The Vampire Lovers is about two families that Carmilla gains access to through her mother, one of which through the carriage scene that originated in the novella but is not in Blood and Roses.

While the film moved away from the hunchback character, who was a charm-bringer, it kept the idea of ambiguity, if not even escalated it, from the original novel. It is explicit both that the doctor is sure that Mircalla is Carmilla's split personality developed to deal with Leo's marriage, but viewers are shown in the end that Mircalla must have been real because Georgia is now a vampire. It is also ambiguous how Georgia feels about Carmilla during the kissing scene. Carmilla has her lips on Georgia's, and Georgia neither pulls away from nor embraces Carmilla. Leo interrupts the moment before Georgia reveals what she feels about the moment.