THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971)
Starring: Celeste Yarnall, Michael Blodgett, Sherry Miles & Jerry Daniels
Directed by Stephanie Rothman
Written by Stephanie Rothman, Charles S. Swartz & Maurice Jules
New World Pictures Distribution
As a follow-up to my DEATHMASTER review (https://rue-morgue.com/retrospective-peace-love-the-undead-the-hippie-vampires-of-deathmaster-1972), and ticking another movie off my “intended to watch for a while” list, here’s a look at THE VELVET VAMPIRE (aka CEMETERY GIRLS) from 1971, an indie horror flick that has gained a small cult following over the years.
Stolid average dude Lee Ritter (Michael Blodgett) and his pretty but ditzy wife Susan (Sherry Miles) are invited to the remote desert hacienda of mysterious and beautiful artist Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall) after meeting her at the “Night Vision” exhibition in the Stoker Gallery. While there, car trouble forces their stay to become an extended one and (watched over by hulking servant Juan, played by Jerry Daniels) Diane begins to individually seduce the young couple, while hiding her own, undead secret…
“(THE VELVET VAMPIRE) feels like it’s always close to becoming a creepy/sexy vampire film without ever actually getting there”
Stephanie Rothman’s follow-up to drive-in success THE STUDENT NURSES (1970), THE VELVET VAMPIRE is a strange, uneven film. Somewhat atypical in plot for a low budget, regional horror film of the time, it has some strong moments but is undone by its weaker elements and feels like it’s always close to becoming a creepy/sexy vampire film (like, say, that same year’s DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS) without ever actually getting there. There are some nice contrasts (the blazing, sun-soaked desert played against a dark, abandoned mine shaft or the abandoned ghost town of Viragossa compared to the crowded bus station), plot turns (the ultimate disposition of Juan), and imagery (Diane arriving by dune buggy or sleeping on her husband’s coffin in an open grave, a René Magritte inspired dream sequence). But the film’s fumbling attempts at eroticism (Diane watches Lee and Susan make love through a two-way mirror, a clumsy “erotic” conversation about the dune buggy) are no patch on DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS.
All the actors are a bit stiff at times and THE VELVET VAMPIRE is filmed in a blunt, un-atmospheric way that betrays its low-budget. The opening (in which Diane is stalked by a rapist, whom she handily dispatches) and closing (Susan’s escape by Greyhound bus and pursuit through a crowded station – nice psychedelic guitar busker!) are the best scenes, although the latter seems poorly planned, wrapping the film with an instantaneous, crucifix wielding flash-mob. As a product of its time, though, THE VELVET VAMPIRE is a pleasant, late-night programmer and 70s vampire afficionados should check it out at least once.
“70s vampire afficionadoes should check out THE VELVET VAMPIRE at least once”