FTP: The Velvet Vampire (1971)

AUGUST 17, 2022


At our monthly(ish, damn you Covid!) horror trivia game, we always have a charity to donate the entry fee to, and while it varies from month to month, several bounties have gone to the Stephanie Rothman Fellowship, which helps women filmmakers with their projects. Which is a worthy enough cause for me to never actually look into who Stephanie Rothman was by checking out one of her films, until now, when I found one in my own collection. Indeed, I am certain I won this copy of The Velvet Vampire at one such trivia event, so it's a fitting way to finally get a taste of what she was up to during her relatively brief career.

Well I must admit the movie didn't do much for me, but it's clear that she was marching to the beat of her own drum, at a time where women were given even fewer opportunities to make films than they are now. I wasn't even surprised to see that Roger Corman produced, as he's always seemingly had little interest in following the path of his peers and letting men call the shots all the time. This was the fourth of Rothman's seven films as a director, not all of which were horror but fit comfortably in the exploitation/drive-in market of the '60s and '70s, and I can't help but wonder what she might have accomplished had her career not been effectively cut short by her own desire to make bigger/better films and the industry's hesitation to allow women to make anything more substantial. Feeling stuck in between, she quit the business, and I can't say I blame her.

But she (along with other genre trailblazers like Debra Hill and Amy Holden Jones) inspires filmmakers today, which is all that ultimately matters. And it's not that Velvet Vampire is bad, it's just a "not for me" type, which wasn't too surprising - I've never quite been taken by the vampire genre as a whole. The plot concerns a married couple who is visiting a new friend named Diane (Celeste Yarnall) who loves raw meat and occasionally does vampire-y things, though is fine to go out during the day (provided she wears a giant hat) and doesn't seem to have any powers beyond seducing both of our heroes (though she unsurprisingly has more success with the male). There's some stuff in here I enjoyed, like when Diane sucks the poison out of the heroine's snakebite, noticeably taking longer and being more graceful with the last suck, and seeing the idiot husband get what's coming, but it never stops feeling padded out to meet a runtime. Every now and then the heroes realize "something's not right here..." and decide to leave only to discover that their car still isn't fixed, and it's like they both have mental resets on why they wanted to leave in the first place, making the film feel a bit too stagnant for me. A subplot about a girlfriend of one of Diane's victims also does little to break things up, clearly just added in to make sure it hits 80 minutes. Also, the climax, while fun on its own, feels weirdly disconnected, as it takes place in the middle of Los Angeles instead of in the desert location we've spent the past hour or so in.

And yes, this vampire movie mostly takes place in the desert, and in the daytime to boot. Whether it was a budgetary constriction or Rothman's design from the start, I don't know, but either way it was the right call, because the DVD is of remarkably poor quality (full frame and seemingly taken from a VHS), so if it was mostly at night like you'd expect, I'd probably have trouble making out the images more often than not. It took me back to the Chilling Classics days, and it made me kind of nostalgic for such releases. Yes, obviously I'd love to have 4K UHD transfers of everything, but we all know that isn't going to happen, and it gets easier and easier to overlook the older formats when the new ones come in, and in turn that means closing yourself off to countless movies, as each new format only carries over a percentage of the films that made it to the format before it, and not a favorable one at that. Long story short, if I was someone just starting to dig deeper into horror history, and saw that beloved Chilling Classics set on the shelf, my eyes would pass right over it in favor of Blu-rays or 4Ks.

I've been told Terminal Island is the real gem of Rothman's output, and it certainly sounds up my alley (the plot synopsis gave me a whiff of No Escape, the 1994 action movie that - ironically given my last paragraph - is finally coming to disc after being available only on a non-anamorphic DVD for the past 20 years), so maybe I'll give that a look. As for Velvet, you don't need a DVD - it's on Shudder and Tubi and such (no surprise given the disc's poor quality, it seems to be in the public domain), so give it a look if it sounds up your alley. It's one of those movies I can see myself enjoying more at a different time in my life (or even just in a different mood, today), and at 80 minutes it's hardly going to consume too much of your day to see for yourself. I just can't get into most vampire movies!

What say you?


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