Blood and Roses

12/13/2015 12:38

Film: Blood and Roses (Et mourir de plaisir)

Year: 1960

Director: Roger Vadim

Writer: Roger Vadim and Roger Vailland

Starring: Mel Ferrer, Elsa Martinelli and Annette Stroyberg



This film is one that I first heard about when I was working through my lists of horror films to see in order to round out my viewing. I decided to give this a rewatch as part of my Journey through the Aughts and Italian Horror month synced up. The synopsis here is a lonely and bitter young heiress – jealous of her cousin’s engagement to another woman – becomes dangerously obsessed with legends surrounding a vampire ancestor, who supposedly murder the young brides of the man she loved.

We start off with a voice-over narration telling us that we are in a modern world and that no one believes in the supernatural anymore. The woman states that despite this, vampires are still alive. They are lying dormant, including herself. The voice we are hearing is that of Annette Stroyberg.

We then meet the cast. The patriarch of the family is Leopoldo De Karnstein (Mel Ferrer). His fiancé is Georgia Monteverdi (Elsa Martinelli). A man who is going to do fireworks for the engagement party has arrived and that is where the introduction to everyone is coming from. He is Carlo Ruggieri (Alberto Bonucci). He has arrived to go over with Leopolod the final preparations. Also here is his cousin who is from a different line, Carmilla (Annette Stroyberg). The two of them were quite close grouping up. There is also a Dr. Verari (René-Jean Chauffard) and a servant named Giuseppe (Serge Marquand). Georgia’s father is also there, Judge Monteverdi (Marc Allégret)

Carlo wants to set up his fireworks in the abbey behind the house and it is then revealed that it is an old cemetery. It used to house the ancestors of the family, but they are no longer there. We then learn that the family was actually vampires back until 1765. They were supposed to be wiped out, all except one. There is a painting of Milanka who is the vampire in question and she looks a lot like Carmilla. She tells the story of this vampire who loved her cousin and that she would kill all of his fiancés since she could not be with him.

The party that we were seeing the prep for goes on, but Carmilla is being anti-social. We see that Leopoldo truly loves Georgia while also has a close connection with his cousin. Carmilla decides to join the party, but she puts on the wedding dress of her ancestor. During this we’re getting more of the voice-over as it seems she’s being drawn there. This makes those at the party uncomfortable. The fireworks start, but it causes an explosion. Carlo talks about how this has never happened and he is ashamed. An investigation starts to see what happened.

The voice-over narration continues and it is calling to Carmilla. She goes into the crypt and finds the tomb of the woman from the painting. Giuseppe sees Carmilla dressed in white and thinks that she is a phantom. She becomes even weirder, almost going into a psychosis of a sort. Animals become afraid of her and she doesn’t remember how to use more modern things like a record player. Leopoldo thinks she is just being herself while Georgia is worried. When Lisa (Gabrillea Frainon), another servant, dies nearby, there are weird marks found on her neck. Has Carmilla become a vampire like her ancestor or has she just lost it due to the grief of her love marrying someone else?

I will say that I didn’t know much about this film coming in that first time, but I did see that it was version of the novel Carmilla, which I knew to be a famous vampire novel. Coming in for that second viewing, I didn’t necessarily remember a lot about this other than this same information. It did look quite familiar as I got back into it though.

What I did learn is that this movie is taking that novel and putting it in a modern setting. I think that makes for an interesting piece of cinema here. Carmilla, much like her ancestor who is thought to be a vampire, loves Leopoldo. He doesn’t love her though like that. They were close as children, but grew apart and he does love Georgia. She wants to be friends with Carmilla, which to an extent they are. Carmilla though will always have that jealous there.

I feel I should really go into if there are really vampires here or not. The voice-over narration is interesting. The beginning and the ending for that is for us. I almost feel that when it is drawing Carmilla to things, she is hearing it. It is interesting to have this in the modern setting as we know vampires aren’t real. There is someone who is mentally unstable like Carmilla to fall into thinking she might have become one. I take that she is doing that though because Milanka and her are in a similar situation so by taking this on, she can do what her ancestor was supposedly doing. I think this is really a film of mental illness and there really is no vampire.

Another thing that I feel this movie is exploring that comes from the novel is lesbianism. It isn’t as prevalent here though as the ‘vampire’ wants to be with Leopoldo. She does target women though and by eliminating them, it would put her in the position to get what she wants.

What I will say from here, this movie actually has some interesting arthouse aspects to it. When get this scene where Carmilla thinks she has blood on her dress. She sees this when she’s looking in the mirror. It drives her mad to break the mirror and break down. We also get another with a nightmare that Georgia is having. I thought that was cool, especially since most of it is in black and white, but there is red that is popping. Aside from that there aren’t a lot of effects, but what we get is good along with the cinematography.

From here I should go to the acting. I would say that we have really two stars in Ferrer and Stroyberg. The former is good as someone who does love his cousin Carmilla. He thinks that they can still be close where she knows that is no longer possible. I don’t think he is doing anything wrong though. Stroyberg does a great job at playing this mentally disturb woman who doesn’t know who she is or what she should do. Martinelli and the rest of the cast do round this out for what is needed.

The last thing that I briefly wanted to go over would be the soundtrack. I really like the music selections, especially the harp that is used. It really just fits the timeless vibe this movie is trying to give off. We’re in a modern world, but exploring things from the past and I think that the sound design really helps there.

So now with that said I’m glad that I gave this a second watch. I think that we have an interesting concept here to modernize this novel while exploring some interesting things. I do think they toned down some of the themes and ideas from the story though, bringing more of a look at mental illness here that does keep me interested. The story is lacking a bit. It does fly by with its 75 minute runtime. I think the acting is good and there’s a bit of arthouse flair to it with the soundtrack helping there as well. After this second viewing, my rating here is still as an above average movie overall. Just really lacking some things for me to go higher, but I do still enjoy this one.


My Rating: 7 out of 10