The Velvet Vampire

(Stephanie Rothman, USA, 1971)

BY JOSÉ TEODORO | February 12, 2024

It was Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) that inspired Stephanie Rothman to make movies. She studied filmmaking at the University of Southern California, became the first woman to be awarded a Directors Guild of America fellowship, and went on to work as a valued assistant for exploitation titan Roger Corman (also, as it happens, a big Bergman fan). Under Corman’s auspices, Rothman received on-the-job training in virtually every aspect of ultra-low-budget filmmaking, leading to her first solo directing gigs: the not particularly Bergman-esque The Girl in Daddy’s Bikini (1967), later re-titled It’s a Bikini World, and The Student Nurses (1970), whose feminist undercurrents and clever playfulness earned its deserved cult status.

But it was in the gloriously bra-free year of our lord 1971 that Rothman co-wrote and directed The Velvet Vampire for Corman’s New World Pictures. Brimming with blunt eroticism and production elements that hover in that liminal space between clumsiness and surrealism, it’s a film close to my heart. It opens with back-to-back reversals: its first sequence depicts an attempted rape that turns into a nonchalant self-defense killing, followed by a scene in which an unnervingly aggressive flirtation is revealed to be a couple engaging in some casual role-play. At a reception for a sculpture exhibit—where real-life blues singer-guitarist Johnny Shines performs the very apropos “Evil-Hearted Woman Blues”—the stylish and seductive Diane (Celeste Yarnall) meets the aforementioned couple, Suzy (Sherry Miles) and Lee (Michael Blodgett), and invites them to spend the weekend at her house deep in the desert. Suzy’s a blonde, sun-bronzed, whiny baby. Lee’s an overconfident dullard with a hot bod. Between the two of them, they barely have enough personality to constitute a single human, but they’re young, sexually open-minded, and full of blood.

I don’t think it’s a major spoiler to reveal which of these three characters is the vampire. It’s unclear whether any of her garments are actually made of velvet, but Diane sports an alluring array of form-fitting, frequently crimson-colored outfits and broad-brimmed hats to protect her sensitive skin from the sun. She takes her guests to tour an abandoned mine where several miners were mysteriously slaughtered—someone’s idea of local sightseeing—and when Suzy gets bitten on the thigh by a snake, Diane eagerly volunteers to suck out the poison. Suzy and Lee worry about what they’ve gotten themselves into once they catch Diane lying about her age by a century or so, but by then they’re hopelessly enthralled. Between scenes of hot sex and some bizarre acts of violence—one dude walks straight into a pitchfork—there are recurring dream sequences that find Suzy and Lee luxuriating naked in a bed surrounded by daylit desert, only to have their dumb idyll interrupted by the irresistible Diane, who lures Lee away in slow motion. My impression is that Rothman would have liked to make a different kind of cinema, but there’s something endearing and wondrous in The Velvet Vampire’s forced inventiveness. This is a kind of poverty-row poetry that you can’t manufacture. 🩸


is a freelance critic and playwright.

X: @chiminomatic

How to see The Velvet Vampire

The film is also available on DVD. Shout Factory’s 2016 Blu-ray is out of print but can still be had for a lofty price.
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