Released in 1971, Stephanie Rothman's THE VELVET VAMPIRE (also known as "The Devil is a Woman" and "Cemetery Girls"), has a unique feel; perhaps because I'm mostly unfamiliar with the exploitation films of the Seventies, but of the few I've seen, THE VELVET VAMPIRE truly seems to have its' own look and feel. What I immediately noticed was the soundtrack, which starts off with an onscreen performance by blues guitarist Johnny Shines (who has a rather large selection of recordings available on iTunes), and throughout the rest of the film, we're treated to what can be described as the best album "The Doors" never recorded, matching up perfectly with the films dreamlike desert setting.
Starting off the film in The Stoker Gallery, owned by Carl Stoker (Gene Shane), an obvious nod to Bram Stoker, we meet the young and pretty couple Lee and Susan Ritter (Michael Blodgett and Sherry Miles), and they meet up with Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice), presumably named after Victorian ghost story writer Sheridan Le Fanu, who is clearly the Alpha to them both. Diane invites them to come visit her desert hideaway for a weekend, to soak up some sun.
As tensions mount over the weekend getaway, we learn that Lee isn't the best at being a faithful husband, a symbol of the swinging Seventies, and that Susan isn't entirely convinced that swinging is for her; in a brief, and unfortunately interrupted moment, we catch a fragment of a conversation between Diane and Susan, with Diane attempting to explain to Susan about men's jealousy over a woman's ability to enjoy pleasure, with Susan seemingly being won over to the idea. When first leaving for the desert, Susan is unsure about the trip, but the tables turn, and now Lee wants to leave...now, and it seems Diane doesn't want to lose anyone, not even the help.
The film becomes a chase of sorts as the only escapee makes their way back to Los Angeles seeking help on Olvera Street, then refuge...with Carl Stoker. To say more would ruin the fun!
Rothman's work here, blending erotic dream sequences with the Carmilla-esque Diane is suprisingly good for an exploitation film; the film falls somewhere between exploitation, softcore Seventies porn, and art house, the thing that brings you back is the horrendous acting of everyone except Celeste Yarnall. While classified as horror, the 'horror' portion is almost an afterthought here, there's no spurting blood, and the victims seem largely untouched.
I thoroughly enjoyed THE VELVET VAMPIRE, and would definitely recommend it, not just for Women in Horror Month, but also because the vibe is pretty cool and it's a fun look back in time. THE VELVET VAMPIRE is now currently streaming on the horror service Shudder.
Nikki Von Frankenstitch