One of the few vampire movies directed by a woman, the groovy THE VELVET VAMPIRE gets the Blu-ray treatment as a limited edition release courtesy of Scream Factory.
At the Stoker art gallery in Southern California, a beautiful sophisticated woman named Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall, BEAST OF BLOOD) makes the acquaintance of the young, blonde attractive married couple of Lee (Michael Blodgett, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and Susan Ritter (Sherry Miles, THE TODD KILLINGS). As Lee’s wandering eyes become obsessed with Diane’s sensuality, a weekend invitation to stay at her desert abode is immediately accepted, with Susan feeling a bit iffy on the getaway. A very strange weekend is in store, as Diane happens to be a dune buggy-driving vampire feasting on raw chicken livers, claiming any victims she can sink her teeth into and remaining close to her dead husband, buried in the outskirts a century earlier. The voyeuristic, bisexual Diane watches the young couple through a secret two-way mirror, conveniently sucks the blood of Susan after a rattlesnake bite, and makes moves on both.
THE VELVET VAMPIRE has the distinction of being one of the few horror movies helmed by a woman, with Stephanie Rothman having already worked on footage which ended up in AIP’s BLOOD BATH (released in 1966), sharing writing and directorial credit with Jack Hill. A vampire tale set in a very hippyish early 1970s California, the desert proves to be a creepy, isolated setting, and although the film doesn’t break any ground script or performance wise, it compares somewhat in style with some of Jean Rollin’s French sex vampire films of the period, as well as Harry Kumel’s excellent DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, made around the same time. Rothman’s arty direction is at times quite imaginative, including a dream sequence where Diane bursts out of a window to interrupt the couple from their love making (their bed being in the middle of the desert) as well as where Diane lies obsessively on top of the perfectly preserved corpse of her buried husband. Diane’s vampirism is also a bit ambiguous, as she is fangless and able to roam about during the daytime, though a great scene where she’s confronted by a crowd who take aim with the help of an outdoor crucifix shop, may answer a few questions.
As you can tell, the literary vampire references are in check (LeFanu, Stoker) and there’s plenty of the required New World Pictures quota of nudity, courtesy of lovely cult actress Yarnall and adorable TV thespian Miles, who whines her way through the entire picture and looks (unintentionally) like a doe with its eyes caught in the headlights. Blodgett is perfectly cast as the pretty boy beach bum type who has no trouble switching bed partners, so long as his momentary needs are taken care of. A wigged Robert Tessier (THE GLORY STOMPERS) plays a biker (what else is new?) who attempts to rape Diane in the opening scene and Gene Shane (you’ll recognize him as one of the bikers in WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS) is art dealer Carl Stoker. The music score by Roger Dollarhide and Clancy B. Grass III (THE STUDENT NURSES) is a haunting mix of electric and acoustic guitar strumming. Despite the poster art you’ve seen for this, there’s no shots of the vampire vixen waving around the heads of her victims! The film originally played on a double bill with SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER as one of New World Pictures’ earliest releases.
THE VELVET VAMPIRE was previously released on VHS in the 1980s by Embassy Home Entertainment, with the same transfer utilized for Image Entertainment’s laserdisc (the laserdisc was most likely the source for Cheezy Flicks’ unauthorized, bootleg DVD from 2007, which we won’t even get into). Scream Factory/Shout! Factory released the film on DVD in 2011 as part of the “Vampires, Mummies And Monsters Collection: Roger Corman Cult Classics” (also featuring LADY FRANKENSTEIN, TIME WALKER and GROTESQUE). The DVD looked pretty sweet, so there was no doubt that the Blu-ray would look magnificent, and it does. Presented in 1080p HD in a 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer, colors are deep and striking, detail is excellent, and the film source is in perfect condition, except for a few fleeting cue marks. The mono English audio has some scratchiness and hiss, but it’s nothing too distracting. Optional English subtitles are included.
Carried over from the DVD, actress Celeste Yarnall is on hand for a full audio commentary, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson. She remembers a lot about making the film, and shares quite a bit of information, including a funny story about her love-making scene with Blodgett on a closed set. She also mentions that she first saw the film at a drive-in theater along with her mother and her baby daughter. THE VELVET VAMPIRE’s original trailer and a still gallery are also included. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of THE VELVET VAMPIRE is limited to 1000 copies, and can be ordered directly from their website HERE. (George R. Reis)
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