The world of horror is vast. With so many films across the spectrum of budget, studio involvement, quality, availability, and, above all else, pure scare-the-living-shit-out-of-you-ness, it helps to have trained professionals parse through some of the older and/or lesser-known offerings. That's where Team Fangrrls comes in with Deep Cuts, our series dedicated to bringing the hidden gems of horror out of the vault and into your nightmares. Today we're examining Spanish lesbian vampire horror film The Blood Spattered Bride.
Written and directed by Vincente Aranda and released in 1972, The Blood Spattered Bride is a cut slightly deeper than most. While it's now available through a couple of streaming sites, it has certainly earned its place in the vaults of underseen cinema. The story itself falls into a weird niche between “lesbian vampire,” “art house,” and “sociopolitical commentary,” which makes it a bit hard to recommend or find an audience for. For me, that sounds like a brand-new magical genre of cinema that I've been dying to get into my whole life, so I sought this film out eagerly. Years have passed since I first watched it, but I'm always happy to rewatch this touching tale about a young woman discovering that she's gay and must kill all the men.
The Blood Spattered Bride is one of the many '70s-era exploitation style films that Quentin Tarantino pays homage to in his films, so you might recognize the title, as he used it for one of the chapters in Kill Bill. Most people haven't seen the original Blood Spattered Bride, which makes sense, because it's an obscure, weird, slow-paced, uncomfortable, and occasionally brutal film. Now that the warnings are in place, however, I'm here to tell you why it's one of my favorite movies of all time.
Many films of this period that fall into the “lesbian vampire” canon are happy to give credit to the novella Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. For instance, in the case of 1961's Blood & Roses, Le Fanu is credited as being one of the screenwriters, despite being dead for around a century and a half by that time. Besides that, the stories that credit Le Fanu, this one included, very seldom bear all that much resemblance to the novella, with the uniting theme being that there is a murderous vampire lesbian on the prowl. For context, it would be as if every single vampire story ever told credited Bram Stoker as a co-writer.
The novel Carmilla is a story about a young woman whose family takes in a girl who is eventually revealed to be a vampire after she low-key seduces the young woman whose house she's staying in. The antagonist of The Blood Spattered Bride is Mircalla Karnstein, a woman who killed her husband on their wedding night, but the implication appears to be that she is driven to commit this murder by the ancient spirit known as Carmilla. In this story, Mircalla is just another name for Carmilla, an anagram used fairly regularly in films of this time. To avoid narrative confusion, I'll be referring to her only as Carmilla.
Time passes, and he continues to aggressively pursue her, and insult her, and at one point, when she falls, he keeps pushing her down and refuses to allow her to get up. Susan begins to understandably withdraw from him. He tries to chase her down, and, in one of the most haunting scenes, she locks herself inside a large birdcage to avoid him. He begins to walk in a circle around the cage, his hands brushing the fence as she stares him down. She ties the key around a dove's neck and pushes it to fly away. He becomes enraged and kicks the cage open, at which time she grabs hold of the chain link fence to stabilize herself as he begins taking her clothes off. Carol enters, dropping off a basket, and thus prevents the husband from going any further. Still, the damage is done, and Susan will never trust her husband again.
In one of the weirdest scenes ever to appear in a movie, the husband is strolling along the beach one day and sees a snorkel sticking up from the sand. He walks over and begins to dig with his hands, uncovering a naked Carmilla, wearing only a set of goggles and jeweled rings turned inside so the jewels rest inside her palm. Insisting that she has no clue who she is or where her home is, she is brought to the mansion. Susan is immediately smitten, hovering over her bed and staring at her with a troubled expression. When Carmilla awakens, it scares her, but she insists that Carmilla come to eat dinner with her and her husband.
After dinner, while the husband is lying on the couch, drinking whiskey and rambling, Susan is sketching Carmilla. The two women stare at each other as if the husband isn't in the room, talking quietly. Susan asks Carmilla why she wears her rings backward, and Carmilla says, “I like to feel something inside my hands when I close them.” The husband stops monologuing, suddenly realizing that his wife is completely spellbound and neither woman is listening to him. After they all appear to retire, however, Susan sneaks off into the woods with Carmilla. Later, the groundskeeper says he saw them “biting each other” and “screaming like cats.” Ultimately, Carmilla convinces Susan to murder the men that have trifled with her, and a killing spree commences.
Another implication is that Susan is under the control of Carmilla from the start, which is reductive and only tells part of the story. In fact, that specific impression is stated in the film by two men who obviously have no idea what's going on, so I don't believe even the filmmaker really intended for the idea that Susan is completely innocent to stick. The husband says, “What are you saying, that she's a lesbian?” and the doctor responds, “No! But she's being dominated by one!” He also later says that he wishes to believe that Susan is an innocent victim of Carmilla. That this idea is naive in and of itself and disproven within the course of the film. Susan is easily just as violent, just as misanthropic, and certainly just as queer as Carmilla. Furthermore, stating that Susan is entirely under Carmilla's control doesn't account for the fact that the men of this family appear to be pretty sadistic, and their wives seem to have ample reason besides just lesbianism to want to get away from them. This is not to say that Carmilla isn't violent herself, just that she isn't the only violent person in the film. One of the best things about the story is that it implicates everyone.
Importantly, Susan actually chooses Carmilla. She doesn't ever seem to choose her husband, only worrying about him because she's afraid that she's going to murder him. The commentary on queerness is advanced for its time, and this film doesn't make it seem like it is the queerness of the characters that motivates their evil deeds, rather viewing them as retaliation against men attempting to take them by force regardless of their own personal desires. For this reason, specifically, it's a fascinating story and stands out among other exploitation and lesbian vampire films of the time with its anti-fascist, sometimes even feminist standpoint.
The Blood Spattered Bride deals with sexual violence in a way that doesn't draw strong conclusions and leaves more questions than answers. While Susan does murder a couple of people and can't exactly be considered a hero, she does so after suffering assaults from her husband multiple times. We don't know Carmilla's story, but it is said that she murdered her husband after he tried to violently rape her. Susan's husband is unmistakably sadistic, as we see him point-blank trapping then shooting a fox in the woods with complete callousness, then carrying the corpse up to flaunt it at his wife before carrying her into the next room to have sex with her.
While there may not be many justifiable reasons in this life to go on a murdering spree across the countryside, it's difficult to watch this film and not feel some kind of empathy for Susan. She's caught in circumstances beyond her control, and, despite the fact that she does make some pretty terrible choices along the way, the story is angled in a way that makes it easy to sympathize with her. Besides, in a perfect world, she would have been left to figure out her sexuality for herself, and this would be a lesbian pulp novel and not a horror story.
Overall, The Blood Spattered Bride carved its own place in the history of cinema, not really falling soundly into any specific genre and refusing to villainize the traumatized woman who takes vengeance against the men who have wronged her, and, for that, it remains a sometimes flawed, incredibly intriguing, and often brilliant entry in the early '70s horror canon.