Jason Henderson's FB Feed

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Crypt of the Vampire

I've been busy working on Alex Van Helsing Book 3 (which is due to HarperCollins in February) but you can't work all the time. This week I caught Crypt of the Vampire, a 1964 adaptation of Carmilla starring Christopher Lee.

Note: It's strange to me how diverse our choices are today for rare video-- more than ever before you have a good shot at finding a movie you're looking for, but your choices will scattered everywhere. In the past couple of weeks I've gone different places for Crypt of the Vampire (Amazon Video on Demand), Blood & Roses (streaming on Netflix) and  The Eyes of Laura Mars (last night on Verizon FiOS Video on Demand.)

But about Crypt of the Vampire. This is a version of Carmilla that adapts Sheridan LeFanu's original stories in different ways than I've seen before. In most adaptations (notably Hammer's Vampire Lovers)-- a seductive and well-born vampire called Carmilla Karnstein visits the young ingenue Laura, steadily seducing Laura before either triumphing with Laura as a new companion or failing when the supporting cast grows wise to Carmilla's antics and destroy her. Hammer got a whole cycle of films out of their "Karnstein Saga," and in fact LeFanu's plot is so well-constructed and full of intrigue that it has become a go-to blueprint for vampire movies.

There are some big differences in Crypt of the Vampire. There's no trailer I could find, but here's a Paul Hardcastle video that uses some great footage in time to the music. Check out especially the vampire/succubus floating out of the darkness at 5:34.

Here, the Karnsteins are the main characters, trying to outlive the curse of an evil Karnstein ancestor who was executed as a witch long ago. Christopher Lee plays the patriarch, doting on daughter Laura, who might have inherited the witchy curse. No sooner does Laura's nurse conduct a seance calling for help from what we might call the Old Powers, into their lives comes a stranger to become Laura's best pal and help her out of her doldrums. I can't for the life of me figure why all the characters have been thrown up in the air and switched around like this, but the skeleton of the tale is still Carmilla. I'd go deeper into the plot, but look: either you're the kind of person who likes to watch black-and-white public domain gothic horror movies or you're not, and my synopsis won't make any difference.

Besides, a synopsis would be tough. This is A-grade slow-moving gothic horror, and by that I mean a class of movies like Castle of Blood and Black Sunday that are all atmosphere and only tangential relation to sense. We have creepy castles and chanting witches, longing looks and weird dubbing (the movie is an Italian-Spanish co-production). One genuinely interestting element here was the fact that the vampire is able to move about as a sort of astral projection, leaving her body safely hidden away in a coffin (the better to keep it safe from staking).
I'm always at a loss when trying to explain these films. You don't watch a movie like Crypt of the Vampire the way you watch, say, Philadelphia. If it sounds from my description as though I didn't like it, that's not the case. I genuinely love them.  They are an aesthetic; less like films and more like wallpaper, reflections of an imaginary, weirdly dubbed, foggy world.

No comments:

Post a Comment