Vampire Profiles: Carmilla

Oh, you’ve got a little schmutz on your lip. Let me get that for you.

Today’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu and with What We Do In The Shadows part of the Madness this year, it’s a serendipitous occasion to look at his creation, one of the first, and best, sexy vampires and the industry standard in Lesbian vampires.

“Carmilla” first appeared in a magazine, The Dark Blue, as an illustrated serial recorded by Le Fanu’s hero, Dr. Hesselius. It was collected into a novella in 1872. You can read the book in your preferred form at Project Gutenberg.

Carmilla befriends Laura, a lonely young woman living in a castle with her retired father in Styria. As a young girl, Laura dreamed she was bitten on the chest by a beautiful woman. When Carmilla appears on her castle doorstep or on the other side of the portcullis or whatever Laura’s schloss has, the young women recognize each other from this dream. And Carmilla bears an uncanny resemblance to an ancestral portrait of Countess Mircalla Karnstein. But, of course, that portrait was painted in 1689 and this resemblance is purely coincidental. How silly to think it is anything more.

The Man does not approve.

Carmilla is as smitten with Laura as she is with anagrams. And instead of dining and dashing, as she had with other, more recent victims, she woos Laura.

She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die–die, sweetly die–into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.”

But as always, it just doesn’t work out between the living and the dead. And in 1872, The Man just can’t handle the love between a living lady and a langorous dead one who sleeps in a coffin filled with blood.

There are a whole slew adaptations of the story. Ingrid Pitt portrays Carmilla in Hammer Studio’s The Vampire Lovers (1970).

Carl Theodor Dreyer based his 1932 film Vampyr on the story–though with no intra-lady feelings.

Roger Vadim’s Blood And Roses (1960) is a stylish adaptation.

 And Carmilla appears in stories as diverse as Vampire Hunter D, Doctor Who and Kim Newman’s novel, Anno Dracula. Incidentally, The Guardian published a piece Newman wrote about Sheridan Le Fanu and Le Fanu’s influence on horror today and it is totally worth reading.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS screening times:

Fri. Sept. 12th, 11:59 PM, RYERSON

Sat. Sept. 13th, 9:30 PM, SCOTIABANK 12

Sun. Sept. 14th, 3:45 PM, SCOTIABANK  3

And while the women of The Duke of Burgundy are not vampires, they are Lesbians in love and it is a gorgeous film.

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY screening times:

Saturday, Sept 6th 10:00 PM TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX 1

Monday, Sept 8th 3:15 PM SCOTIABANK 12

This post was originally published on the Midnight Madness program blog of the Toronto International Film Festival.


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