Revisited this much celebrated oddity today, and simultaneously finally found an appreciation of its overall Spanish horror feel (very much akin to A Bell From Hell in that respect) and on the flipside, reinforced my longstanding bafflement and distaste at its entirely illogical core argument.
For those who haven’t seen the film (hard as that may be to believe, in this age of easy access to and widespread appreciation of cult film and outsider culture), it features The Champions’ stuffy Latina gone Brit Alexandra Bastedo (who has so little to do, you won’t even notice her pronounced stuffed nose UK accent) as a Carmilla analogue who may not actually exist.
Yeah, it’s one of those stupid ass films with an unreliable narrative that are so popular with the drug crowd. Get off the psychedelics, hippie…it ain’t that hard to tell what is and isn’t reality.
Worse, it’s all about sexual politics…and confused ones, to say the least.
Our heroine (A Bell from Hell’s Maribel Martin) is a virgin who really digs her man Simon Andreu’s insatiable desire for her and penchant for rough sex – too rough in some ways, but she digs it, so hey.
Suddenly she discovers that all the family portraits of the ladies of his line are hidden in the basement, and takes it upon herself to liberate them – fair enough, a bit sassy and modern, even. So far, so good.
But when she uncovers, with the help of a tween (who we’re to understand is on the same emotional level as our heroine – a psychiatrist friend expresses concern about Martin’s juvenile tendencies and views towards sex fairly early on in the proceedings) the Carmilla skeleton in the closet (who murdered her hubby on their wedding night when he asked her to do “unspeakable things”), suddenly Martin goes frigid, pushing her man away, denying him sex or acting the martyr when he does force his way into some (there’s a ridiculous scene in a pigeon house that leaves the viewer questioning both parties’ sanity).
And just when all of this nonsense comes to a head, Andreu discovers Carmilla herself, literally unearthing her on a beach and bringing destruction into their already fractured marriage.
Amazingly, horror fans and film aficionados have long celebrated this at best uncomfortable, but more pointedly rather wrongheaded film as some great progressive statement championing feminism and attacking “the patriarchy” and it’s misogynistic malfeasance towards the fairer sex…where in reality, unless you’re down with Valerie Solanas, this is quite the opposite.
Our heroine’s sudden shift in affections and turnabout from willing participant in her husband’s sex games (which while rough, she clearly consents to and in fact very obviously enjoys) to belligerent, frigid prude comes entirely out of left field, with zero explanation and even less rationale or justification.
It’s as if overnight, your lover shuts down on you without explanation, keeping you at arm’s length and even insulting your befuddlement (at one point she compares him to a dog panting for a dinner she’s no longer going to provide him, just like that! No reason, just changed my mind and heart…oh, well, deal with it.)
Of course, from here, it’s a quick sprint from the marital bed into Carmilla’s waiting arms, and suddenly we’re in sapphic territory, with our heroine (and the tween!) turning emasculating murderesses to all male figures just…you know, because. Radical feminism and all that, yeah!
In the end, our rather compromised “hero” analogue puts paid to this nonsense…by following their illogical course into an (ahem) tit for tat assault on their gender (ugly and uncalled for, but by the film’s illogic, it is one for one here) which a quick headline informs us he was arrested for. The end.
In the end, all that can be said here is that the film does bear that eerie, depressive Fall aesthetic endemic to so many Spanish horrors of its vintage, from Necrophagus and Bell from Hell to Hannah, Queen of Vampires and the modern day-set works of Paul Naschy or Amando de Ossorio, further pulling the weird stunt casting of Bastedo in a role quite unlike that which contemporary viewers would have associated with her.
But as some “intelligent” statement on gender politics and sexual preference?
Sorry, this one missed that boat by a Missouri mile, and then some.