After Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, the major classic of vampire literature is Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla, which itself influenced Stoker's work. Carmilla has been adapted for the screen numerous times, more (The Vampire Lovers) or less (Alucarda) faithfully, going back at least as far as Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr in 1932. The Blood Spattered Bride is an interesting take on the story and is, in many ways, one of the best of the artsy and erotic 1970s movies that are frequently categorized as "Eurosleaze."
That's obviously a loose descriptor. There's a lot of variation as to exactly how "artsy" or "sleazy" these movies really are. Bride rates far to the artsy end of the scale, but it shares with the rest a certain unashamedness about sexual topics. It's fair to say that Bride is an exploration of sexual topics as much as or more than it is a horror film. On the surface, the monsters are vampires. Beneath the surface is a subtext, hidden about as well as the nation of Canada, in which sexual fears are at the root of all of the film's events. It's essentially a struggle for power in the male/female relationship, and one side turns to vampirism to get an edge over the other.
Surrealism lies at the heart of The Blood Spattered Bride. It is a quiet film, and some of its dreamlike imagery is truly arresting. The setting is moved from centuries-old rural Austria to a woodsy, seaside, castle-filled area of modern Spain. Even in an era when so many European films leaned toward beautiful, poetic imagery, Bride stands out as a feast for the eyes.
The film opens with Susan and her husband, in a little sports car, zipping through peaceful country highways en route to their honeymoon. A mysterious atmosphere is set immediately: There is little dialogue and no backstory. We have no idea who this couple is or how they met, and the husband doesn't even have a name. Against Susan's wishes, they stop at a hotel where a blonde in another car stares at Susan.
The husband parks the car, and Susan goes to the room, where a man jumps out of the closet, rips off her wedding gown and smothers and rapes her. Or does he? When the husband returns, he finds Susan unharmed but distraught and with her gown intact. The man who jumps out of the closet, which had been empty just a moment before, appears to have been her husband, and he used her wedding veil to smother her.
Susan clearly has a deep fear of physical intimacy and serious misgivings about the man to whom she's married. This is not entirely unjustified: When they finally get around to sealing the deal, he rips the dress off of her just like the attacker in her vision. Fortunately, he then treats her with gentleness and tenderness, and the two enjoy each other's bodies. For a while. Then, just after she sees the blonde from the hotel walking through the woods in a bridal gown, his behavior becomes markedly more jerkish and she loses her sexual attraction for him. When he imposes himself on her in the family aviary, she spreads out her arms as though being crucified.
Susan finds her husband's family to be very patriarchal. A gallery of family portraits includes no women, and it turns out that all of the women's portraits are relegated to the cellar. This was done after a grandfather suspected that his wife was poisoning him. Susan investigates the portraits and finds one of Mircalla Karnstein. Mircalla is dressed in a bridal gown, sports rings worn in a distinctive fashion, is spattered with blood, holds a distinctive dagger, and is reputed to have killed her husband on their wedding night 200 years earlier. Later that night, the mysterious blonde gives Susan the dagger from the portrait and bites her on the neck.
This alarms Susan, but her husband is not particularly understanding. His violent nature towards women has been shown symbolically through his participation in a fox hunt and literally by his sexual aggression. He now clobbers her with that most dreaded weapon of the 20th century caveman: He grabs a psychology text off the shelf and uses it to explain why her concerns are so silly. A physician friend reinforces this opinion- you can always count on doctors to hate women- and worries about her "infantile" character.
The one thing the husband can't explain away is how Susan finds the blade no matter where he hides it, so he buries it on the beach. There, he finds the blonde buried in the sand and brings her home. She wears nothing but a set of rings, reversed as in the portrait of Mircalla, and introduces herself as Carmilla. It does not require Sherlock Holmes-like deductive powers to figure out Carmilla's connection to the story.
Susan may not want to be touched by her husband anymore, but she sneaks off with Carmilla each night. A witness to their activities describes their howls as like cats in heat. Carmilla's vampirism is performed as a ritual and prefaced with an anti-man speech that is full of language like "ravaged" and "violated." To Susan, it's the right message at the right time, and it serves to focus her own anger. They regard killing as an attack on male arrogance and a strike against masculinity. Weapons that symbolize manhood, such as a flesh-piercing dagger and a hunter's rifle, are subverted and used against men.
This is a rare example of dubbing done well. The movie was filmed in English, but it was dubbed to remove the actors' Spanish accents. All too often, such actors have no feel for the material, but here the voice actors give subtle, excellent performances that perfectly match the onscreen action.
Psychologically, does any of this hold water? I don't know. Freud would probably say "yes." It makes a good story, at any rate. There are a couple of missteps where the subtext is made just too ham-handedly obvious, and the lazy, cop-out ending undercuts the film's point. Otherwise, the movie is excellent.