I have seen every single filmed version of Carmilla with two exceptions–the BBC one from the 1960s (starring Jane Merrow, almost certainly lost) and the French t.v. miniseries from the 1980s (still looking for).
Blood and Roses, directed by Roger Vadim, one would think might prove rather faithful to the original. At least we Americans have that impression of European filmmakers. In fact it varies quite a bit. One gets the sense–not for the last time–LeFanu’s tale ended up as little more than a partial inspiration for somebody else’s story.
Which doesn’t mean this translated into a bad film! Hardly!
Vadim’s flick to a real extent relies on the vampire’s POV, initially from her grave where she sleeps, waiting for the right series of events for her resurrection. As such she seems to spy voyeur-like upon the modern Karnstein family. Just like the audience in fact! Of course, that is an English-language addition. The uncut, untampered original contains far more ambiguity, thus matching LeFanu more in tone if not plot.
We meet Leopoldo De Karnstein (the story has been moved to post WW2 Italy), and his cousin Carmilla (a lookalike to reputed vampire ancestress) who moodily watches Leopoldo announce his engagement to her friend Georgia. We’re also told of the vampire legend, of Mircalla who married her cousin Leopold but died and then seemed to devour every young lady Leopold sought to wed for the rest of his life. Carmilla goes wandering into the family tombs on the grounds of an abandoned monastery or convent. She encounters what seems to be the vampire’s tomb, screams, and emerges from the ruins somehow different. She hovers near Georgia in all kinds of semi-erotic situations, while the latter has an amazing dream about them both. Local girls begin dying suddenly. People begin to fear a vampire! Carmilla herself seems to die falling on a farming machine, but a hint continues that perhaps…just perhaps…her soul has transferred to Georgia. She has her Leopold again.
The biggest praise I can offer this film remains its look and atmosphere, all of which help recreate the odd sense of mystery the novella possesses. Even the famous costume worn by Mel Ferrar as Leopoldo, with its sweeping Renaissance cape and winged bat mask, highlights how tables are being turned. The vampire here is not a dashing Dracula-esque male, but the pretty blonde. He is in a real sense her victim, as she seems to consume the woman he loves. On the other hand, how come he never notices? Likewise, as lovely a presence as Annette Vadim may be, her Georgia comes across as a cookie cutter ingenue. Why should Leopold notice a complete change in her personality, after all? The man doesn’t pay any attention to such things. Was Vadim himself commenting on this, or simply buying into a subtly mysoginistic formula?
Either way, the whole story becomes something different by shifting focus away from the female victim of the vampire and their relationship. Making it about a rivalry for the same man hardly echoes LeFanu’s themes of the feminine versus masculine. Rather it places the Male at center stage, not only as far as power in this world but in terms of value, plot and motivation.
Also, I’m left with wondering why the update? Financially it makes more sense rather than making a costume drama, of course. That seems logical, if unfortunate. Yet I see no justification in the script for moving the story about a century forward — save perhaps to juxtapose our modern rational world with that of a mystical past? That would be cool, and I don’t mind it.