Title: Blood and Roses
Director: Roger Vadim
Cast: Elsa Martinelli, Mel Ferrer, Alberto Bonucci, René Jean Chauffard
Synopsis: When an aristocratic Leopolda de Karnstein introduces his fiancée Georgia to his family, she’s mysteriously drawn to a family tomb while everyone else is distracted by a fireworks display. However, the tomb contains a vampiric ancestor; after this encounter, it is thought that Georgia could be possessed by its spirit, or is she? Strange occurrences and unexplained deaths occur, all the while the couple becomes entangled in a ménage à trois with Karnstein’s childhood friend (and cousin) Carmilla.
Critique: One of the many adaptations of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (alongside Hammer’s The Karnstein Trilogy, The Blood Spattered Bride and elements of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) falls into the hands of Roger Vadim, and who better than to take of the quintessential gothic lesbian vampire story? Despite his body of work having more misfires than satisfactory titles, Vadim’s penchant for erotic cinema is unrivaled in the conversation of risque sixties-era European movies. While his infamous Barbarella is unparalleled in its cult appeal, his original And God Created Woman is a more important film than it is interesting. The barely coherent Metzengerstein entry in the anthology horror movie Spirits of the Dead is an hypnotic Poe adaptation.
However, his 1960 Blood and Roses feels like the most effective utilization of his sexually precocious and gothic tendencies. It’s a formal affair that houses his deceptively childish fixation with the female anatomy, revealing an almost mature exploration of the bawdy supernatural. Blood and Roses could very easily drop into the fetishy territory that one would expect from a vampire story with lesbian overtones. But Vadim’s curiosity about this world is an atmospheric slow burner. Of course, the women are on display, modeled in a very deliberate manner, and yet there’s little in the way fetishized gazziness. Vadim’s fascination with beautiful women for beauty’s sake feels so innocently obvious that Blood and Roses isn’t the porny affair that we’d experience years later from Hammer’s The Karnstein Trilogy (The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil) but a calibrated effort to infuse the material with the lusty allure that horror was founded on.
A virtual precursor to Euro-Horror, Vadim’s 1960 feature is oozing with superlative visual chops. At times vibrant, at other junctures meditative with Cocteau infused surreal imagery Blood and Roses is garish pop-art-horror cinema that is inarguably influential and pioneering.
Vadim’s reputation as a cult director is valid. However, we might speak of the director with more regard had this movie met a wider audience.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: While Roger Vadim’s And God Created Women is an older release, that kind of veers into Criterion’s more forgotten titles. However the film is still in print, and there’s talk that there are more Vadim titles, What if Don Juan Were a Woman and The Night Heaven Fell is in contention for a future Criterion treatment. Naturally, this could open the door for a movie like Blood and Roses, when in fact, Blood and Roses should take precedence as it’s a cult classic that has virtually any life on home video. Vadim’s feature is also the victim of multiple cuts and running times. There’s a French, German, and American cut, each with different material, running times, and image quality. So, who better to cull this curating mess out of the dark and onto a 2-4K Blu-ray disc for all to enjoy? After all, fans are still clamoring for a Blood and Roses Blu-Ray, and so far, no one has risen to the occasion; if not Criterion, then maybe Shout Factory?