Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

         Cowriter/director Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire gets points for taking an unusual approach to bloodsucker mythology, but the film is ultimately too enervated and unsatisfying to merit serious attention. Therefore, it’s a somewhat pleasant change of place for hardcore consumers of creature features, and it’s a fairly restrained dose of sex and violence given that it issued from New World Pictures, Roger Corman’s B-movie factory of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. The problem, of course, is that fans of sensationalized drive-in cinema rarely value restraint as a storytelling technique. So even though The Velvet Vampire has killings and topless shots, it’s not nasty enough to qualify as a genuine exploitation picture, and it’s not smart enough to qualify as an arthouse offering. None of this should leave the impression that The Velvet Vampire is awful. The movie has an eerie vibe, and it’s a kick to see a vampire flick in which the main character operates comfortably in daylight. However, the combination of sluggish storytelling and weak acting keeps the movie’s energy level dangerously low.
         Here’s the threadbare storyline. Ancient vampire Diane (Celeste Yarnall) meets an attractive young couple at an art gallery. They’re Lee (Michael Blodgett) and Susan (Sherry Miles). Diane invites the couple to visit her house in the desert, the only other resident of which is Diane’s foundling manservant, Juan (Jerry Daniels). Soon after the couple’s arrival, Diane puts the moves on Lee, who sleeps with his sexy hostess. Yet Diane also makes advances on Susan. Wedged between chastely filmed sexual encounters are trippy dream sequences, set to unnerving rock music with a Neil Young flavor, plus assorted murder scenes during which Diane feeds on victims. Had Rothman and her collaborators dug deeper into the material and explored Diane’s psychology, they could have generated something like The Hunger (1983), an erotic drama about a melancholy female vampire. Instead, The Velvet Vampire is drab and superficial. About the best Rothman can conjure is a vaguely kinky scene during which Diane sucks rattlesnake venom from Susan’s thigh. Regarding the film’s acting, Yarnall cuts an attractive figure without conveying much depth, while Blodgett and Miles are as interesting to watch as department-store mannequins.

The Velvet Vampire: FUNKY

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