Here’s to the ladies who lunge
Lounging in secret lairs
And planning to plunge
Into the very weak
The lady hemovore has always been an irresistible siren for the unwary acolyte in fiction, or the horror movie lover in real life. And for February 4th, the first Grindhouse Tuesday of 2020, we’re offering two singular explorations of literal blood lust, each directed by an acclaimed female director. What better way to prepare for Valentine’s Day than seeing a pair of films devoted to giving a pretty woman your heart…and veins…and flesh…
Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall) is an affluent and charming connoisseur of art and music, who takes a fancy to an attractive married couple, Lee (Michael Blodgett) and Susan (Sherry Miles), and invites them to her desert compound for a leisurely weekend. Diane has not initially shared with them, however, that she is also a vampire of dozens, if not hundreds, of generations old, who sometimes still mourns a husband gone a century before, and feeds upon the occasional stranger that comes upon her property. And when Lee and Susan finally figure out their gracious hostess has long fallen from grace, they may end up becoming another notch on the ritual knife of The Velvet Vampire, from 1971.
Writer/director Stephanie Rothman was the first woman to receive a DGA fellowship during her studies at USC, which led to a long working relationship with producer Roger Corman. Rothman performed various duties on several of his AIP projects, leading to her first feature, It’s a Bikini World. When Corman formed New World Pictures, Rothman directed its second original feature, The Student Nurses, a surprise hit which spawned a long running series of films about women in service jobs, including nurses, flight attendants, and teachers. Rothman conceived Velvet Vampire out of a desire to have an active female character in a horror story rather than a traditional passive victim, with some inspiration from the classic horror tale Carmilla (including giving the main character the same surname as the story’s author, Sheridan LeFanu). After the film’s release, Rothman and her husband Charles Swartz were hired away to oversee projects at Dimension Pictures, launched by former New World producer Lawrence Woolner. There Rothman directed Group Marriage, Terminal Island, and The Working Girls, all stories involving women breaking with convention.
Star Celeste Yarnall previously had substantial cameos in Live a Little Love a Little with Elvis Presley and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice before being cast as the alluring, conflicted Diane. After the ‘70s, Yarnall only occasionally took acting roles while focusing on real estate, nutrition, pet breeding, and holistic medicine, until succumbing to ovarian cancer at age 74 on October 7, 2018. Michael Blodgett played a bevy of charming cads in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Carey Treatment, and The Ultimate Thrill, all of which have been showcased at the Bev, and then switched to screenwriting in the ‘80s, co-scripting Rent-A-Cop, Hero and the Terror, and Turner & Hooch. Sherry Miles had previously played the misled girlfriend of Kristoffer Tabori in the high school dramedy Making It, and went on to roles in Barry Shear’s The Todd Killings, Matt Cimber’s Calliope, and Robert Clouse’s The Pack (which plays later this month on Monday, February 17th) before leaving acting to launch the animal welfare lobbying organization Political Animals.
Leaving the California desert for Paris, American doctor Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) brings his new wife June (Tricia Vessey) on what should be a honeymoon but is in fact a search for a former colleague, Léo Semenau (Alex Descas), and his wife Coré (Beatrice Dalle). Shane and Coré share the same mania for a violent cocktail of sex and blood, with Shane trying to keep it at bay with pills while Coré’s husband keeps cleaning up after her carnage. Lives will be claimed before, during, and after these two crimson addicts inevitably meet, because the nature of their hunger means that even if one can dominate the other, their survival is ultimately Trouble Every Day, from 2001.
Director and co-writer Claire Denis had previously dealt with violent subject matter in her 1994 thriller I Can’t Sleep, but when she made Trouble Every Day as the followup to her highly-acclaimed 1999 drama Beau travail, it reportedly shocked viewers at the Cannes Film Festival to the point of fainting or walking out. She remarked to the BBC in 2002, “There are only two scenes of violence in the film. But there is a sense of danger and menace that runs all the way through. I’ve seen many films that try to surprise the audience with violence. I find it very artificial. There’s not much violence in my film but what there is springs from something very deep. I would say it’s about love in a way. And what happens when you tangle with something that is stronger than you are.” In an interview for The Quietus in 2011, Denis observed “For me Trouble Every Day is a love story, not a gore film…I think the contrast between the soft music and the harshness of what we see reflects the mood that I wanted for the film. It is meant to be scary, but it is also passionate. It’s a mutilated kind of romance, which sends the viewer back to a line from Beau travail: ‘If it weren’t for fornication and blood, we wouldn’t be here.’”
Three of the primary cast have regularly acted for Denis throughout her career. Vincent Gallo first appeared in her 1994 short U.S. Go Home and had a small role in Nénette and Boni in 1996. Beatrice Dalle, immortalized to many viewers for her Cesar-winning title role in Betty Blue, first acted for Denis in I Can’t Sleep, and after this film, joined her again for The Intruder in 2004. Alex Descas has worked with Denis the most – 10 times – beginning with her sophomore feature No Fear No Die in 1990, all the way to Let the Sunshine In in 2017. The British band Tindersticks, who provide the score, are also frequent collaborators, scoring seven of Denis’ films, beginning with Nénette and Boni, and continuing to last year’s High Life with Robert Pattinson.
Off to the Bev,
Come to our screening,
But don’t go deaf
‘Cause you’ve been screaming
As victims go splat.
We’ll drink blood to that.