We often include a Hammer Horror film or cult film in our October countdown: this one almost qualifies for the first category and definitely suits the second. The Corman factory decided to cash in on the success of Hammer’s contemporaneous vampire films with softcore erotic elements. Stephanie Rothman, the rare woman among the era’s exploitation filmmakers, co-wrote and directed this frequently interesting but tonally incoherent flick about a young couple invited to stay with a mysterious woman, Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall), who is…. gosh, see if you can guess:
(a) a vampire
(c) all of the above
(d) it’s (c), right? Is it (c)? I bet it’s (c)!
Title: The Velvet Vampire aka The Cemetery Girls
Cast and Crew
Director: Stephanie Rothman
Writers: Maurice Jules, Charles S. Swartz, Stephanie Rothman
Celeste Yarnall as Diane LeFanu
Michael Blodgett as Lee Ritter
Sherry E. DeBoer (Sherry Miles) as Susan Ritter
Gene Shane as Carl Stoker
Jerry Daniels as Juan
Sandy Ward as Amos
Paul Prokop as Cliff
Chris Woodley as Cliff’s Girl
Robert Tessier as Biker
Johnny Shines as Blues performer
A young couple meet a mysterious, seductive woman, Diane LeFanu, at the Stoker, a trendy art gallery. She invites them to stay at her place in the desert, where events take unsettling turns.
The film creates an eerie ambiance. We have a clever opening that will be recalled years later, intentionally or not, in Buffy‘s pilot episode. Rothman employs guerilla tactics for the finale, filming on unsecured locations, placing her actors among an unsuspecting public. While that conclusion may contain some weak and awkward elements (also, why does Dianne suddenly react to sunlight?), it packs a theatrical punch.
Sherry E. DeBoer was clearly cast for her looks and willingness to do softcore scenes rather than her acting ability. She’s not terrible, but she was not up to carrying what becomes the central character.
Originality: 3/6 The film creates its own distinctive lore, recognizable but not merely imitative of what has come before.
Production: 4/6 Like other exploitation flicks and nearly everything produced by Corman, this one works with a limited budget, but the director knew how to stretch what she had. Rothman adds interesting elements, including surreal dream sequences. The result is a bizarre blend: arthouse meets grindhouse.
Acting: 3/6 Celeste Yarnall raises the tone quite a bit, but much of the movie focuses on other, less skilled performers.
Emotional Response: 5/6 Despite its flaws, this film exerts a strange fascination, in no small part because of Rothman’s unusual approach to the story and Celeste Yarnall’s unique depiction of a vampire.
Overall: 4/6 The film is an odd blend with some effective direction and uneven acting. It is worth seeing if:
(a) You’re a pre-Anne-Rice-era vampire completist
(b) You’re a fan of early 70s exploitation films
(c) You absolutely have to see any movie where a vampire asks someone if he knows how to drive a dune buggy.
In total, The Velvet Vampire receives 27/42
Bonus Seventies Movie Check-list!
• Overwrought or cheesy score: Yes, but it’s sometimes effective.
• Hero with 70s hair and porn ‘stache: He’s clean-shaven, but he’s otherwise pretty close to the mark.
• Feisty Heroine: Yes
• Liberated sexuality: Yes
• “Jiggle”: Yes
• Short shorts: Yes. Sherry E. DeBoer spends much of the movie in her bikini bottoms
• Tight pants: Yes
• Dude with baaad outfit: No
• Precocious kids: No
• Viet Nam Vet: No or, at least, not so identified.
• Zany hippiesque outsider: He’s not particularly “zany.”
• Fat sheriff: No
• Car chases: No
• Cool motorcycle: Yes
• Custom Van: No, but check out that dune buggy!
• Inexplicably exploding vehicle: No
• Paranormal/occult gooblygook: Yes
• Official corruption: Not really, though it seems clear some people know more about Diane than they let on.
• Drug references/Trippiness: Yes.2
• Gratuitous Social Issues: Sort of. The film touches on bisexuality and polysexuality
• Someone getting called “turkey”: No
• Ambiguous Ending: Yes.