Carmilla: Sexy vampires of Olde England

B+ Gothic horror
Written by Emily Harris, from a story by Sheridan Le Fanu
Directed by Emily Harris

I find vampires much more interesting than other supernatural creatures of horror fantasy. Unlike that other popular form of the living dead – zombies – vampires seem downright housebroken. They can treat you like an honored guest…until they start drinking your blood. Best of all, they’re sexy.

And Carmilla is a very sexy vampire movie, and much of it quite kinky. There’s no actual sex in the picture, and it’s better for that. But the film contains dreams of blood and foreplay that are both gruesome and arousing.

The film is set in a time and place where even thoughts of sexual arousal were forbidden. It’s the English countryside, and judging from the clothes and technology, it’s set in the late 1700’s or the early 1800’s – in a deeply religious household.

Teenage Lara (Hannah Rae) lives with her emotionally distanced, widowed father and an extremely strict housekeeper (Jessica Raine). The smallest act of disobedience, or even just curiosity, is paid off with corporal punishment. To make things worse, Lara is left-handed – a sign of the devil in that time and place. The housekeeper tries to break this sinful “habit” by binding her left arm behind her back.

Then Carmilla comes into Lara’s dreary world. She’s not really named Carmilla; she gave herself that name after losing her memory – the result of a carriage accident. Or was it an accident? As Carmilla heals from the wounds of the mishap, Lara starts having strange dreams of blood and sex.

When wide awake, the two young women become close friends. Lara is naturally rebellious, and Carmilla easily strokes the fire of Lara’s desires. Soon they’re kissing passionately and exchanging blood.

I should explain that Carmilla doesn’t follow the general vampire rules put down by Bram Stoker. Neither of the girls are bothered by the sun. They eat regular food. No one has fangs. They don’t much care for crosses, but this isn’t a major problem for them.

Director Harris and cinematographer Michael Wood provide considerable atmosphere, even if it occasionally borders on the clichéd. We know immediately this is a period film – before the costumes give it away – because the exterior day scenes are soft and misty. Another horror movie cliché, and an effective one: Occasionally the film shows us extreme closeups of bugs and worms, enhanced by very loud sound effects.

Wood also does an excellent job lighting interior night scenes. These rooms really look like they’re lit by candles, and yet you can see everything the filmmakers wanted you to see.

Based on a story by Sheridan Le Fanu, written before Stoker’s Dracula,
Carmilla is about atmosphere and suppressed sexuality. More than that, it’s about the evil of those who believe that they are morally in the right.

Carmilla is available via virtual cinema, but not through a Bay Area theater. The closest theater you can stream it from is the Varsity Theater in Davis.