The Velvet Vampire (1971)
Stephanie Rothman was one of Roger Corman's protegés and, while one would expect more of a female gaze from her films, they were often the usual list of exploitation films, from women in prison to softcore comedy to horror. Probably her most well-known film was 1973's Terminal Island, one of many films about American girls getting in trouble and being sentenced to tropical prison camps. Before that, however, she did try to get a little bit more artsy with The Velvet Vampire.
Lee (Michael Blodgett) and his wife Susan (Sherry E. DeBoer) meet a mysterious woman named Diane (Celeste Yarnall) at an art exhibition. Much to Susan's chagrin Lee is automatically attracted to Diane and accepts an invite to her home in the middle of the California desert. Susan, though not exactly happy about the situation, decides to come along.
Once at Diane's home Susan is ill at ease, having a number of strange dreams that are shared with Lee. It soon turns out that Diane is much older than she appears, and is in fact a vampire, still living in the desert to be near the grave of her husband Victor. It also appears that although she herself is attracted to the couple that her baser instincts will take hold unless they can escape.
The one thing that I noticed right away in this movie was Rothman's direction. Except for a part where Johnny Shines is supposed to be playing at an art gathering and is obviously filmed somewhere else, the movie truly looks good. It also has a great soundtrack, with some of the more surrealistic scenes being reminiscent of Zabriskie Point. One of the best shots, however, is Diane in a red dress in a cemetery, with the rest of the colors washed out to grey so that she stands out vividly.
Unfortunately, other than directing, a good portion of The Velvet Vampire is a slog, largely due to the fact that none of the three leads can act. I guess Michael Blodgett was drunk most of the time, Sherry DeBoer brought along her acting coach (which, if this was the result, she shouldn't have bothered) and Celeste Yarnall is good at looking mysterious, but little else. She is probably the best of the group, but even so she was there for a paycheck, so I doubt she really put a lot of effort into the role.
There are still a number of set pieces I enjoy beyond the dreams. There is the beginning when Diane pretends to be weak and helpless to lure some food, and then there is a long pursuit through the Los Angeles Greyhound station as Diane stalks Susan toward the end. It was shot guerilla style, without permits, and it works. Unfortunately, it all wraps up with a predictable ending.
The Velvet Vampire (1971)
Time: 80 minutes
Starring: Celeste Yarnall, Michael Blodgett, Sherry E. DeBoer
Director: Stephanie Rothman
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