Stephanie Rothman was a unique tal­ent in 1970’s b-movie cin­e­ma.  She was a female direc­tor at a time when it was vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble for a wom­an to get a break in that dis­tinct­ly mas­cu­line pro­fes­sion.  She fur­ther dis­tin­guished her­self by carv­ing out her own niche in the tough world of exploita­tion film, find­ing suc­cess as a direc­tor and screen­writer before mov­ing on to run Dimension Pictures with her hus­band Charles Swartz.  Along the way, she cre­at­ed a few dri­ve-in clas­sics like The Student Nurses and Terminal Island.

It would be nice to include The Velvet Vampire in her ros­ter of clas­sics — and some crit­ics do — but Your Humble Reviewer found that it fell short of the mark for a few rea­sons.  The Velvet Vampire is essen­tial­ly a 1970’s Californian riff on the sto­ry of Carmilla.  Celeste Yarnall toplines as Diane LeFanu, a well-to-do art col­lec­tor who lives in the desert.  She entices young stud Lee (Michael Blodgett) at an art gallery event and he talks his jeal­ous girl­friend Susan (Sherry Miles) into spend­ing a week­end at Diane’s desert estate.

Supernatural trou­ble soon rears its ugly head when the two arrive.  Their car breaks down, the locals are dis­tinct­ly un-wel­com­ing and Diane and her home have the same mys­te­ri­ous, entranc­ing yet fright­en­ing vibe.  However, the strangest things hap­pen at night: Lee and Susan find them­selves shar­ing a recur­ring night­mare in which Diane inter­rupts them dur­ing a desert love­mak­ing ses­sion to take Lee away.  The two must fig­ure a way out of their pur­ga­to­ry-style trap before Diane can make their mutu­al night­mare come true.

The Velvet Vampire has a lot of dis­tinc­tive ele­ments that will stick in the mem­o­ry. The film uses its arid desert locale to atmos­pher­ic effect, thanks to love­ly pho­tog­ra­phy by Daniel Lecambre.  Yarnall gives a com­mand­ing per­for­mance as the title char­ac­ter, cre­at­ing a pres­ence with­out resort­ing to famil­iar vam­pire-movie man­ner­isms.  There’s also the occa­sion­al effec­tive moment of creepi­ness, the best being the recur­ring night­mare the two heroes share: it includes a stun­ning moment where Diane emerges from a mir­ror.

Unfortunately, the sto­ry that con­nects the­se ele­ments nev­er real­ly gives it the sup­port it needs.  Rothman presents an alter­na­tive view of the vam­pire mythos — for exam­ple, Diane is free to move about in the sun though she is care­ful to stay cov­ered — but it is nev­er ful­ly explored or defined.  In fact, Rothman nev­er real­ly seems com­fort­able with the story’s hor­ror ele­ments and tends to rush through the set­pieces in a per­func­to­ry, unen­thu­si­as­tic man­ner.

The most unfor­tu­nate mis­step is it fails to use its female-cen­tric twist on vam­pirism to explore a the­me or mes­sage.  It’s mere­ly there as a twist of expec­ta­tions and noth­ing more — and the film’s inabil­i­ty to explore the relationship/conflict between Susan and Diane means it falls short of bet­ter of female vam­pire films like Daughters Of Darkness.  Susan is also an annoy­ing­ly pas­sive char­ac­ter who doesn’t become active until the plot makes it nec­es­sary.  The fact that Miles gives a flat, often grat­ing per­for­mance as our hero­ine seals the character’s fate.

Simply put, The Velvet Vampire nev­er makes good on its poten­tial as a hor­ror film or a fem­i­nist com­men­tary piece.  Vampire com­pletists might find it worth a spin but the film is best viewed as a time cap­sule rather than a suc­cess­ful exam­ple of exploita­tion film­mak­ing.

Vampires, Mummies & Monsters Collection [4-Film Feature]

Vampires, Mummies & Monsters Collection [4-Film Feature]

Vampires, Mummies & Monsters Collection [4-Film Feature]      In The Velvet Vampire, a cou­ple accepts an invi­ta­tion from the mys­te­ri­ous Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall, The Mechanic) to vis­it her in her seclud­ed desert estate. Unaware that Diane is actu­al­ly a cen­turies-old vam­pire, the cou­ple soon real­ize that they are both the objects of her seduc­tion and cravings…When Baron Frankenstein is killed by his cre­ation, his daugh­ter Tania (Rosalba Neri, aka Sarah Bay) cre­ates her own crea­ture using the bril­liant mind of her assis­tant and the body of her dimwit­ted ser­vant in Lady Frankenstein. She not only ends up with the per­fect lover, but one that can destroy her father’s killer. Also star­ring Joseph Cotten (The Third Man) as Baron Frankenstein.Lisa (Linda Blair, The Exorcist) was look­ing for­ward to a nice, relax­ing vaca­tion at the fam­i­ly cab­in, but instead she bears wit­ness to the bru­tal death of her friends and fam­i­ly at the hands of a group of mind­less punks in Grotesque. As the thugs close in on Lisa, they don’t real­ize they are about to come face to face with some­thing far more hor­ri­fy­ing than themselves.From deep with­in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, Professor Douglas McCadden ships the coffin of Ankh-Vanharis to the California Institute of Sciences, where X-rays reveal five dia­mond­like crys­tals hid­den with­in the coffin. Technician Peter Sharpe steals the crys­tals, but he doesn’t notice that the pow­er­ful X-ray has revived a green fun­gus. When the coffin is opened at a uni­ver­si­ty press con­fer­ence, the reporters uncov­er more than they bar­gained for. The mum­my has dis­ap­peared … the Time Walker is alive again!