In December, 2011, Raquel Welch came in at #2 in Men’s Health magazine’s Hottest 100 Women of All Time list. As a follow up, Eric Spitznagel interviewed Ms. Welch for the March 2012 edition.
Among other recollections is a delightful description of a day’s shooting on the B-movie classic, One Million Years B.C., in which our heroine utters only three lines while wearing the infamous fur bikini:
“I thought, okay, that in a nutshell is what it’s all about. They don’t want to hear anything from me. Just show up in the costume and take orders. He said, “See that rock over there? That’s rock A. When I say action, you run from rock A and when you get to the middle of the frame, you look up at the sky like there’s a giant turtle growling down at you. You scream, run to rock B and we break for lunch.”
Check out the entire interview at Men’s Health online.
Roger Vadim was a pioneer in sexually explicit filmmaking. His 1956 film And God Created Woman (starring Brigitte Bardot, to whom he was then married) pushed the boundaries of acceptable on-screen sexuality in mainstream cinema. At the same time, his style, tastes, and sensibilities transcended what had been previously classified as pornography. By combining an erotic sensibility with a talent for visual storytelling, Vadim paved the way for more sexually explicit imagery in mainstream cinema not only in France and in the rest of Europe, but also, eventually, in the United States.
Et Mourir de Plaisir, the French title of Roger Vadim’s erotic vampire film Blood and Roses (1960), translates as “And to Die of Pleasure,” a title that hints at the pleasures—and the deaths—that we are about to witness.
Blood and Roses is Vadim’s retelling of Sheridan Le Fanu’s (credited as Le Vanu in Vadim’s opening credits) lesbian vampire tale “Carmilla.” Set in Italy rather than Le Fanu’s Styria, Vadim’s Carmilla is not the barely remembered figure of a remote past, but a modern woman with a modern tale to tell. In an opening sequence, we are introduced to Carmilla through a voiceover in which she begins the story of her most recent incarnation.
The story is told as a flasback. A marriage is about to take place, and the festivities are being arranged. Leopoldo is about to marry Georgia, much to his cousin’s (Carmilla) chagrin. Leopoldo is of the family Von Karnstein, and Carmilla is his “first cousin and childhood playmate, last descendant of the Austrian branch” of the family von Karnstein.
When a family servant reveals that it will be difficult to find villagers to help set up the fireworks display—which, as it turns out, is to be based in the old abbey, the site of the family cemetery—Leopoldo and Carmilla reveal that the von Karnsteins were known vampires. Vampires, that is, until 1765, when the peasants revolted and staked the members of the Karnstein family whose bodies resided in the abbey. All of the members were put to rest, and the bodies exhumed, except for Carmilla’s distant relative, Mircalla, to whom Carmilla bears more than a passing resemblance. Her body was moved, and her eternal life saved, by her fiancé, Ludwig, to whom, it just so happens, Leopoldo also bears a more than passing resemblance.
Ludwig, it seems, was unfaithful to Millarca’s memory. On the eve of three subsequent marriages, Ludwig’s fiancee died. “Millarca’s doing, I suppose,” Georgia says.
Pointing to the rose resting in the hand of the long-dead Millarca in the family’s heirloom, a protrait, Georgia asks Carmilla, “The rose is faded. Why?”
“Flowers always fade when a vampire touches them,” Carmilla responds. And, of course, the roses in the film wilt and fade at Carmilla’s slightest touch.
And thus, we are introduced to the love triangle that will form the rest of the story: Carmilla, Georgia, and Leopoldo.
Vadim takes quite a few liberties with the original story as penned by Le Fanu. By introducing Leopoldo (and Ludwig before him), Vadim transforms Le Fanu’s tale from one of love and affection between two young women to one of a jealous woman’s efforts to keep her man, even if that means seducing the woman he loves.
While rather tame by today’s standards, Blood and Roses raised more than a few eyebrows in its day. Georgia is clearly quite taken with Carmilla’s brooding sensuality. And Carmilla, although she embarks on her flirtation with Georgia with Leopoldo in mind, seems more than a little intrigued by the beautiful innocence and heartfelt naiveté of the friendly and gregarious Georgia.
Alone with Georgia in the greenhouse where they’ve taken shelter from the rain, Georgia tells Carmilla that she knows that Carmilla is in love with Leopoldo. In that moment, Carmilla notices a drop of blood on Georgia’s lower lip. She moves slowly toward Georgia, while Georgia stands transfixed, and kisses Georgia lightly, gently sucking the drop of blood from her mouth.
Carmilla’s attraction to Georgia is explained away by Giuseppe, the groundskeeper and one of the more superstitious among the castle’s inhabitants. “Do they only kill women?” the girls ask Giuseppe.
“If it’s a female vampire,” he responds. He goes on to warn, “The worst thing is when a vampire identifies her life with her victim. Then, when she kills her, she becomes a vampire, too.”
The continuing appeal of Blood and Roses is in its evocative style and tone. Gothic romanticism permeates the film, with its remote location and crumbling façade (the movie was filmed at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, Italy). The music (an original score composed by Jean Prodromidès) is beautiful and the melodies, haunting, especially the Irish harp as played by Elene Polonska.
The gothic sensibility of Blood and Roses is brought into the (1960s) present with the occasional touch of realism: Carmilla’s love of the current Latin dance tunes; the legacy of World War II, and air travel. And the dream-like quality of the film is added a certain luster with the surrealistic dream sequences that pepper the film.
The film shares an air with other films of the era; Mario Bava’s Black Sunday comes immediately to mind. Like Vadim’s Carmilla, Bava’s Katia is a young woman possessed by Princess Asa (both played by Barbara Steele), the long-dead spirit of a deceased, supernatural ancestor. It’s hard to say whether one film influenced the other, as they were both made in 1960. But Bava and Vadim certainly shared influences, and both were to influence the filmmakers—and the entire film industry—that followed in their wake.
And what is the fate of our beloved Carmilla? Is she, as she believes, possessed by the long dead spirit of her ancestor, the vampire Millarca? Or is she, as the “modernists” claim, a victim of her own fantasy, brought about by her desire for her cousin, Leopoldo?
Perhaps we will never know for certain.
February was a busy month, and Women in Horror month completely passed me by. But when I saw that the Final Girl Film Club pick of the month was the lesbian vampire classic Blood and Roses, it was like getting a second chance. Blood and Roses is a favorite of mine, and it’s a delight to be a part of Final Girl’s Film Club!
Over at Jezebel, they’ve been discussing “The Tyranny of Sexy: Female Werewolves in Pop Culture.”
I’m delighted to see so much enthusiasm for women werewolves! When Women Who Run with the Werewolves was published in 1995, women werewolves were hardly on the radar, let alone generating so much excitement. I guess I’ve got the Underworld series and Twilight to thank for that.
The article uses Elizabeth Clark’s thesis “Hairy Thuggish Women: Female Werewolves, Gender, and the Hoped-for Monster” as its starting point. In her thesis, she makes the argument that werewolves are specifically coded as masculine, and one of the reasons we don’t see more female werewolves is because of the transgressive nature of such “masculine femininity.” She argues that the sexualized nature of women werewolves is designed to “neutralize the jarring effect” of such “masculine” women.
I stumbled upon Clark’s thesis several weeks ago, and read it with great interest. So much of what she has to say is so very true. In my own writing, I draw upon popular culture as well, but focus more on the historical and mythological underpinnings of the archetype. (I’ve been a horror fan since I was a child, and the classic monsters—those who are featured among the Universal classic films—are among my very favorites: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man.)
It’s important to note that sexuality is at the core of female monsters, whether vampire, werewolf, mummy, or (significantly) witch. Many of the monstrous aspects of women in horror are taken directly from the Malleus Maleficarum, a book published in 1486 describing how to identify, prosecute, and convict witches. It’s full of—ahem—charming quotes such as:
All witchcraft comes from carnal lust which in women is insatiable.
The descriptions of witches are not only still widespread in much hate speech today, but also central to the theme of female monstrosity. For example, back in 1986, Pat Robertson said:
[The] feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.
(You can always count on Pat Robertson for colorful hate speech.)
Interestingly, many of the descriptions of the evil of witches in the Malleus Maleficarum have also been applied along racial and ethnic divisions, particularly (at the time) gypsys and Jews.
In my opinion, it’s these persistent beliefs, and how they manifest in mythology and archetypal imagery, that inform our pop culture notions of monstrosity.
In tracing the history and mythology of women werewolves back to the demonization of ancient goddesses and the (much later) demonization of women as witches during the witch trials, what I’ve found is that there may be historical, cultural, and mythological reasons why men are more likely to be werewolves than women:
Early images of the Goddess also included the wolf-god as her male consort. Males who were dedicated to the worship of the Goddess in her wolf form are often associated with early man-wolf imagery. As Christianity made inroads into pagan and Goddess-worshiping cultures, wolves and their man-wolf images became associated with the Devil. In the years between 1520 and 1630, an estimated thirty thousand cases of werewolves were recorded in France alone. Werewolves, the Devil’s creatures, were believed to aid and abet witches in their “evil deeds.” Many women were accused of “riding a wolf,” the implication being that they were on their way to a witch’s sabbat. Although some women were accused of being werewolves, the majority of women condemned during this time were accused of being witches. Mostly men were accused of being werewolves. The persistence of the archetypal image of the Goddess and her wolf consort may explain, at least in part, why werewolves are, more often than not, men.
“Introduction,” Women Who Run with the Werewolves
Not that there isn’t room for more women werewolves in the world. I, for one, would love to see them.
It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out — and come back for more.
~ Bela Lugosi
I still remember watching my first horror film at the age of 5. I can’t remember exactly which film it was, although I’ve narrowed it down to two*. What I can tell you is that it scared the living daylights out of me, and I had nightmares for weeks. But I loved it. Even when I woke up in a cold sweat, there was an electricity, a joy, that I hadn’t experienced before. I was scared, yes, but I was safe. And excited. Thrilled, even. I started looking forward to the next one, then the next one, and then the next one.
People are still surprised to discover my love of horror films. Even other women who love horror films.“There are so few of us,”one told me.“You’re the first other woman I’ve met who loves them as much as I do. I thought I was the only one.”
If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that we’re not alone. And when it comes to women who love horror, Women in Horror month has brought us to the fore and helped us to find each other like never before. Hannah Neurotica, editrix of the awesome feminist horror ’zine Ax Wound, proposed Women in Horror Recognition month to bring attention to women in horror.“We are writers, directors, producers, artists, eery musicians, creepy doll makers, FX artists. We are audience!”she writes.“If you are not deep in the underground with publications like Ax Wound, Pretty/Scary, Chainsaw Mafia, etc you might not even know women are out there doing these things.”
When I first started writing feminist perspectives on horror, there were a lot of women who were far from shy when it came to letting me know that I was a part of the problem, that embracing horror as an art form was tantamount to“perpetuating violence against women.”
Granted, there are many films where women are, as Hannah puts it,“bloody babes and soon-to-be gut piles in peril.”But there are plenty more where women are quick-witted, resourceful, self-reliant, resilient, and — perhaps above all else — brave.
In all the horror films that I have done, all of those women were strong women. I don’t feel I ever played the victim, although I was always in jeopardy.
~ Adrienne Barbeau
Scream queens. The genre is what it is, in part, because of women who made their careers screaming at the top of their lungs. These women were most assuredly women in peril. But they were not women who sat idly by while their men were out having adventures. No, they were in the midst of it all, deep in the fray.
In the beginning, there was Fay Wray. In film after film, Wray made good use of not only her looks and her talent, but also her lungs. And in doing so, she paved the way for the many scream queens who followed in her footsteps. While Fay Wray may have found herself in peril, she also played characters who thrived on adventure, whether as Joan Xavier in Doctor X, the young women who lures the maniacal killer to his eventual capture, or as Ann Darrow, the starving actress turned adventurer in King Kong, who not only endures the great ape’s attentions, but is also instrumental in bringing Kong, the eighth wonder, to New York.
Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein may not have had much choice in the matter when she was created by Victor Frankenstein to be the creature’s mate, but she certainly let her disdain for the idea be known through a blood-curdling (and now famous) scream.
Like the Bride before her, Julia Adams was less than thrilled with her paramour, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. While certainly in peril, she was also something more: a marine biologist, a strong (and strong-willed), intelligent, and resourceful professional woman at a time when women were expected to stay home and look after the house and children.
And these are just to name a very, very few of the now famous Queens of Scream.
Women aren’t always in front of the camera, screaming to high heaven. More and more, women are in behind the camera, too, as writers, directors, and more.
When I watched movies like The Goonies and E.T., it was boys having adventures. When I watched Nightmare on Elm Street, it was Nancy beating up Freddy. It was that simple.
~ Diablo Cody
With the release of Diablo Cody’s Jennifer’s Body last year, it seems the mainstream press discovered that women love horror films. Michelle Orange of The New York Times (“Taking Back the Knife: Girls Gone Gory”), in grappling with the seemingly contradictory reality that“box office receipts show that women have an even bigger appetite for these films than men”comes to the conclusion that“[a]udiences love a woman who can take back the knife.”
“Some of us just like that stuff,” Diablo Cody says in response to Orange’s questions about women and horror. “We like suspense, we like to be scared, we like to have visceral reaction in the theater.”
In“Horror Films…And the Women Who Love Them!,”Entertainment Weekly’s Christine Spines also notes the ever increasing box office returns from women who love horror. Spines talks to women and men, producers, directors, and actresses, all of whom come back to the feminist theme of empowerment in horror.
“Horror films tap into the most primal fears,” says Orphan producer Susan Downey.“And when we put a woman through this mythological journey and have her come out at the end kicking ass, the guys get the eye candy they want and the girls get the sense of ’I can face my demon.’”
It may be that it’s only now that the studios are discovering women as something other than woman in peril in the horror genre. Bela Lugosi knew it long before Jennifer’s Body or even Nightmare on Elm Street graced the Silver Screen. Whether it’s looking at the roots of modern horror by way of the gothic novel — consider The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho, examples of a genre which was dismissed as the 18th century equivalent of“chick lit”— or placing Frankenstein — an extraordinary tale written by a young Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the true progenitor of the modern horror story — at the very beginning of the Women in Horror timeline, the truth is women have been at the center of the horror genre since the beginning.
Postscript: If you’re interested in reading more about women in horror, check out Paula Guran’s (Dark Echo) article“What Women Want…in Horror.”
*I still remember the nightmares that movie inspired all those years ago: me running through the woods on a dark and moonless night, barely able to see more than a few feet around me. I’m being chased by something I can’t see, I can only hear, and then only faintly. Whatever is chasing me is invisible, and I never know how close it is until I think I’ve escaped, and suddenly see the invisible creature’s footprints on the ground, at which point I turn and run in the other direction.
When I first saw Forbidden Planet in my teens, I was convinced that it was that film that I saw, and it was the Creature from the Id that was after me. Convinced, that is, until I saw Curse of the Demon a few years later. My dreams were in black and white, much like Tourneur’s classic film, and my dream of running through the woods being chased by an unseen stalker much like the scene in which the demon — if that’s what it is — is in pursuit of Dana Andrews. I’ll never know for sure which of the two films it was, but I’m leaning toward Curse of the Demon. Either way, I was never the same again.
A great start to 2010! My most recent essay, “Vampyros Lesbos: Lesbian Vampires, Sexadelic Style,” is now available in issue #4 of Scarlet: The Film Magazine.
Released in 1971, Jess Franco’s psychedelic lesbian vampire film is a one-of-a-kind journey into the inner life of a world weary lesbian vampire and her intended victim.
“On the surface it would seem that Vampyros Lesbos is a story of love gone awry, of Nadine’s attempted seduction of Linda, and Linda’s rejection Nadine, of her lifestyle and everything the lifestyle has to offer. In the end, however, it’s the tale of two women, each with their own desires, and each with their own means of attaining the objects of their desire.”
Available at Universal Newsstands, Hollywood Book & Posters, Creepy Classics, Horrorbles, Midtown Comics, Scary Monsters, DreamHaven, Oldies.com, Dark Delicacies & more. Overseas Scarlet may be ordered from Cinema Store & Hemlock Books (both in England).
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