Friday, February 15, 2008

The Blood-Spattered Bride (1972): or, Sex IS Violence

The Blood-Spattered Bride is included as a bonus feature on the Blue Underground Daughters of Darkness special edition, almost as an afterthought. I mean, Daughters of Darkness is the real attraction with all the extras and documentaries and commentaries and such. The impression is that they just had BSB lying around and decided, "Hey, this is about Lesbian Vampires too...let's toss it on there for shits and giggles." And so they did.

I watched DoD and loved it (though I loved it less than Jose Ramon Larraz's 1974 masterpiece Vampyres, still to my mind the best of the lesbian vampire subgenre) and then put the disc aside to immerse myself in other horrors, barely giving the other flick on this set a second thought. But after Jean Rollin's surreal slice of wonderfulness called Shiver of the Vampires reawakened my thirst for blood-covered nekkid Eurobabes, I remembered Blood-Spattered Bride and thought "What the heck, this should be good for a little titillation," emphasis on the "tit."

MAN, was I not ready for this movie! It literally floored me. It knocked me on my ass. Then it kicked me in the ribs, ran its nails down my back, and spanked me with a leather belt. And I liked it, oh yes I did. I liked it a lot.

The movie begins with young virginal Susan (played by the gorgeous Maribel Martin, who also lent her gorgosity to MMMMMovie-fave The Bell from Hell) and her new husband on their way to his rich family's country estate for the honeymoon. When they stop at a hotel for their first night together, it becomes clear that Susan's nervousness is more severe than just a blushing bride's excitement--sitting in the honeymoon suite, waiting for her groom, she has a day-mare about a masked man (who looks a lot like her husband) coming in and violently raping her on the marriage bed! She's so traumatized by it that she refuses to stay in the hotel, and they press on to the family estate, not having consummated the marriage. The husband is obviously upset about it, but defers to her fragile, feminine sensibilities.

"How 'bout this? How 'bout YOU do the goddamn dishes?"

Once at the family manor, we get the usual introduction to the weird family history. Susan wonders where all the portraits of the women in the family are, and her hubby mentions offhand that they're in the basement, as his grandfather had ordered due to some woman-hating history. Apparently one of the family brides, Mircalla, had murdered one of the patriarchs on her wedding night, leading to a generational distrust of wicked, wicked women. Susan is understandably worried about her place as a woman in such a family, but not being an aristocrat decides to put it aside while celebrating her wedding. She meets a young female cousin, 14-year-old Carol, whose youth and innocence will become an important symbol later in this symbolism-filled flick.

Susan can't put off her husband's advances forever, and eventually their marriage is consummated, though obviously she's none too happy about it--while she is in love, she also feels ravaged physically, and her husband's rapacious sexual appetite begins to take its toll on her fragile psychological state as the days wear on. It also doesn't help that he begins to show himself a true son of the woman-hating family tradition, aggressive and insensitive and concerned only with his own sensual needs.

There are some truly wonderful character moments scattered throughout this part of the movie, as when Susan puts off her husband's pawing advances with an exasperated "No, no, please! You're like a puppy, waiting to be given his food!" But the theme is particularly well-illustrated in a tense scene where Susan locks herself in a pigeon coop to escape her husband's lust, and he paces wolf-like outside before breaking in to have his way. When the 14-year-old cousin interrupts them in flagrante delicto, Susan takes the opportunity to run away.

"I wanna break...I wanna break my..."

While she's struggling with her repulsion to her husband's appetites and her guilt over that repulsion ("I love you, I don't hate you!" she tells him, obviously trying to convince herself it's true), Susan is also learning more about the mysterious Mircalla's story, even finding her defaced portrait in the cellar due to Carol's secretive help. The painting which shows Micalla (sans face) wearing strange rings and carrying the decorative dagger that she probably used to kill her husband. As if by magic, the dagger appears in Susan's bedroom that night, the first in a string of increasingly disturbing and weird occurences. Susan begins to dream about a strange, otherworldly woman, and in one amazingly sexy and disturbing dream sequence she and the woman use the dagger to bloodily murder Susan's husband, with lots of turnabout-penetration images that can't but be symbolic. When Susan wakes up clutching the dagger and standing over her sleeping spouse, she begins to fear for her sanity.

Some might call the movie slow-paced, and there's truth in that--however, even though I was nearly an hour into the movie and no vampire woman had shown up yet (except in dreams, and then not of the bloodsucking variety), I was still completely drawn in and mesmerized by the fantastic character development, the struggle between the male aggression and the female vulnerability, Susan's inner struggle with feelings of duty to her husband and to herself, and some truly arresting visuals. Slow, but not boring--I was totally enraptured.

Of course a strange woman DOES appear on the scene (the otherworldy, mind-bendingly gorgeous Alexandra Bastedo), the spitting image of the woman from Susan's dreams. (The woman's first appearance is on the on the beach, where Susan's hubby finds her completely buried in the sand wearing snorkeling gear! It's so weird as to be almost surreal, but it's also very, very wonderful.) She says her name is Carmilla, and she quickly becomes Susan's closest friend and confidante, taking her husband's place in Susan's affections.

Rough diving.

There's a great scene here where the husband is talking, trying to get on Carmilla's good side, and all the time the two women are silently bonding, excluding him. It's a quiet but intensely character-building scene, as we see that this woman/woman relationship--a more-than-friendship, a marriage without a man in it--is both Susan's greatest desire and her husband's greatest fear. As more and more strange happenings occur around the new houseguest and Susan's attachment to her gets more and more "unnatural," the husband finally pays attention to the family legends. All this leads to a climax that I don't want to spoil--suffice to say it was bloody, shocking, symbolically devastating, and in the last couple of scenes, completely gobsmacking!

This movie is not your standard vamp flick, as Carmilla is more a vengeful revenant than standard-issue vampire. For instance, though she does drink blood and bite Susan (in a scene that's totally mind-blowing in its sexay-ness), she has no problem being out in the daylight and doesn't seem too worried about religious imagery.

But what the movie is really about, and uses the vampire legend to underscore better than any other movie I've ever seen, is the dark side of sexual politics and relationships--the Mars/Venus thing taken to bloody symbolic extremes. And it's hard to take sides in the struggle--while the husband is clearly repugnant, the rampage that Carmilla leads Susan on is also disturbing, even if they are in a sense "returning the violence that was done to them." The film seems less concerned with whose side to be on than with showing the messed up, tragic consequences of old fashioned sex roles meeting what was at the time the new feminism. Not that one was better than the other, but that the very nature of the struggle was not sexual, but violent--or rather that sex in such a situation IS violence, in a very real and tragic way.

"No, I'm pretty sure that's the gall bladder.
Damn it, we'd better look in the textbook."

I probably haven't spent as much time thinking about a movie after the credits rolled as I have about The Blood-Spattered Bride in ages--I want to revisit it soon, and I wish it had a features-laden special release to rival DoD, as I believe this is a far superior movie. It's rocketed up the charts from nowhere to now being one of my favorite horror movies, period. Great cinematography, great script, great character development, good acting, beautiful women, and something to think about afterwards...what's not to love?

Off the thumb charts. See this NOW.


Mr. Karswell said...

I love this movie too... Maribel Martín is such a little fox. She's tremendous in La Residencia too, and of course Bell From Hell is one of the the all time greats as well.

The Vicar of VHS said...

I've never seen that one, but I will definitely keep my eyes open for it if Maribel is in it.

I did notice that both here and in Bell From Hell Maribel uses a very obvious body double for the nude scene, which I can respect, I guess, even if I don't like it. :) Still, she's a great actress, the strongest thing about this film and one of the strongest about BfH.

Plus, I can't complain here too much--what we lack in Maribel exposure, Alexandra Bastedo MORE than makes up for. Man, is she gorgeous...

Anonymous said...

I keep hearing and hearing about this one. I can't believe I still haven't seen it. Soon enough....Soon enough.

Nine-Fingered Menace said...

I recently reviewed this one on my movie-review blog; largely as a way to purge some personnal demons that have recently raised their ugly heads. Definately the difinitive unhealthy relationship. Also, I read somewhere that the end was nowhere near as gory as the scene the director wanted to do, but the censors said no. Wonder what his issues were.

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