I want to call this film a Gothic vampire story but it does and does not quite fit in that category. Certainly the feel of the film is just that but it is set in the 20th century. The Estate of Leopoldo De Karnstein (Mel Ferrer) and the atmosphere within the small circle of characters is almost Hammeresque. As the film starts we have a voice over from as we look out of the cockpit window of a plane taking off. The voice of Millarca talks about how things have changed in 500 years.
Then we are introducing characters at the Karnstein Estate, Leopoldo has a fireworks expert in to create a fireworks display for his celebration. He is engaged to Georgia Monteverdi (Elsa Martinelli) they are planning a big lead up to their wedding. It is determined that the display will take place up by the old castle on the grounds which leads to the story of the Vampire Millarca ( I hope I have that name right?) Leopoldo's cousin Carmilla tells us the story of Ludwig and Millarca, they were in love and when she was dying, too young and on the eve of their wedding; She told him their love would be eternal. In 1765 after a rash of mysterious deaths the peasants revolted fearing that there was a vampire in the Karnstein family and invaded the family plot at the old castle and staked all the bodies. Ludwig stole away with Millarca's body hiding it deep in the castle so it would not be staked. His love though was not as eternal as hers and three more times Ludwig would get engaged and each time on the eve of his wedding his bride to be died. When Carmilla finishes the story she show all the painting of Millarca, who could be her twin.
When the fireworks display causes some World War II munitions to explode in the castle the tomb of the vampire spirit is revealed and it calls to Carmilla to be her vessel. So here we are all set up for a repeat of the story we just heard. Leopoldo nad Georgia are to be married in just a few days and the vampire Millarca now in the body of Carmilla is set to get the descendant of Ludwig as her own. Playing into this is Carmilla's personal story that she has always loved Leopoldo since they were children. Writer/Director Roger Vadim plays the line of trying to make the audience think that the vampire aspects of the film may be concoctions of Carmilla's mind. That she just takes on the persona of the vampire in order to subconsciously sabotage the wedding. Still there are some vampire tropes we can look to to try to confirm if is is actually mental illness or a real spirit.
The chemistry and sexual tension between the two lead actresses in remarkable in this film. After a walk Georgia lays down in the sun under a tree and closes her eyes, Carmilla hovers over her intently staring and just as she seem she will move in for a kiss they are interrupted. Wow! At this point I need to note that both of these women are stunning. Elsa Martinelli and Annette Vadim shine as true beauties of cinema, each jaw dropping lovely. Elsa's perfect Italian face and incredible dark eyes are intoxicating. I found myself anticipating the next time the two would be onscreen together again as the scene ended.
The film moves on to show us changes in Carmilla, from animals being afraid of her to her ability to correct a historian on the Karnstein histories, to knowing a 100 year old dance are meant to confirm to the audience that she may be Millarca. We see her as the voice over tells us she must return to her tomb each night, walking through the forest to the castle. Then there is the whole needing blood to survive. Carmilla question young maid Lisa about where she lives and it is not long before we have a very tense hunt scene as Lisa tries to flee the possessed Camilla.
Camilla grows closer to Leopoldo also and he is a bit of a cad in that he does not immediately spurn her advances. This is a guy who is going to be married in a couple days and he is getting close to his cousin like no man should. He goes as far as offering to allow her along to his honeymoon in the Caribbean? WTF! Then after she has some kind of hallucinatory episode he actually ends up with her in bed her dress torn away from her breast, and kisses her passionately.
Lisa's body is found creating rumors among the locals that the vampire is back. Leopoldo is pulled away to talk to the police just as the summer rains come. A shift in the film signified by storms, love this technique. Camilla and Georgia have taken shelter in the greenhouse after being caught in the rain. The women talk and Georgia lets Camilla know that she knows Camilla is in love with Leopoldo, as she does she hands her a rose pricking her hand. When she sucks her finger she gets a spot of blood on her lip. Camilla sees this and moves in gently kissing her to get the blood. The voice over says "One drop is not enough I must have more, much more." as she moves towards neck. This scene is beautifully shot and just a pleasure to watch. As Camilla moves in a servant arrives and leads them to the house with an umbrella, we close the scene on the flower Camilla was holding, its color fades.
As the storm continues outside Leopoldo works it out so the wedding will be moved to Venice. He suspects Camilla and when he has Georgia's father announce the need to leave the castle Camilla actually breaks her glass against the table in her distress at the news. She realizes that her jig is up and is spurred to move more quickly. She visits the room of the sleeping Georgia and like a beast of prey circles the bed, as she closes in Georgia says in her dream "Millarca." then we enter a surreal dream sequence of limited color where voice over confirms that Camilla is dead and the spirit of Millarca possesses her body. The very creative scene ends with Millarca and Georgia spinning in a dance together, Georgia is bitten and screams. Returning us to the real world where there are actually bite marks on Georgia's neck .
Millarca heads to the castle to her tomb but does not know there is a crew preparing to deal with (explode) the remaining munitions there. When the explosion takes place Millarca is thrown off a cliff and lands on a fence post staked through the heart. The final scene is Georgia and Leopoldo on a plane to Venice. The voice over from Millarca lets us know the dream sequence allowed her to enter the body of Georgia and that she is finally to be reunited to her Karnstein, closing with the rose she is holding fading its color away.
This is a great retelling of the story from the novella Carmilla and is such a well executed film, the story is tight and the cinematography is excellent. This one was a joy to watch.
Rating (7.9) 5.0 and up are recommended in the Zombiegrrlz system I would say Buy It!