Horror Becomes Her - The Velvet Vampire (1971)
Horror and films directed by women are both big blind spots for me, so I am taking this deep dive for all 31 days of October.
The Velvet Vampire is on the verge of a movie that’s so bad it’s good. It mostly takes place in one location, a ranch in the desert, primarily because of the film’s low budget. The film also avoids most gestures towards traditional vampire mythology, such as vampires fearing sunlight, which may have been innovative, but honestly, if Stephanie Rothman could have shot this in a Gothic castle, she probably would have. The acting is also amateurish, and the one special effect is the most obviously fake bat that I have ever seen. Also, the characters inevitably have horror movie brains, and common sense flies out the window at the most crucial moments. The ending is especially ridiculous and is when the budget clearly ran out for even shooting days.
If it were not for the nudity, this film would have been prime Mystery Science Theater material, yet there are some merits to The Velvet Vampire. The music was actually effective at setting mood thanks to Clancy B. Glass III and Roger Dollarhide. Rothman does know how to stage scenes, and there are some decent reveals and interesting choices in her editing. But probably the best part of this movie is Celeste Yarnall as the titular vampire Diane LeFanu. She is a creature with a large physical and sexual appetite, and the whole vampirism as a metaphor for sex is as clear as day here, especially since she is a sexual omnivore and consumes both members of the couple she has invited to her home. Yarnell does well by playing her as a slightly anachronistic creature, and even goes for some laughs with her childish logic about eating raw chicken since raw hamburger is a perfectly acceptable meal. There are also hints about the exceptionalism of White privilege and how it consumes the less powerful, even as it espouses diversity, in the relationship between Diane and Juan.
Rothman was a Roger Corman acolyte, and some of the most talented directors have worked for Corman. Rothman had a lot of creative freedom, but not a lot of financial power, which is why she left Corman to help found Dimension Pictures with her husband. Apparently, her films were characterized by a subversion of tropes found in traditionally masculine genres. There is enough in The Velvet Vampire to show that Rothman had talent, and it is a worthy watch since it touches on compelling ideas that were ahead of their time.