Vampires go with everything. You cannot think of a genre where vampires would be ill-suited. There have been vampire war movies, science-fiction films, rom-coms, outright comedies, and there’s even a Dracula ballet production. Even with that in mind, however, if you had me assemble a list of the top five things I’d never expected to see in a vampire film, “dune buggies” might not be #1, but it’d be there somewhere. After watching The Velvet Vampire, however, I’d be embarrassed for my narrow-minded thinking.
The Velvet Vampire is a production from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, so right off the bat you know where we’re headed. That the copy I saw was distributed by Cheesy Pictures helped drive this truth home like a stake through the heart. Nevertheless, it’s movies like The Velvet Vampire that I subject myself to watching 31 horror films every October. There’s some gems out there, even if they’re rough as a bloodstone found in an abandoned mine, which make me glad I undergo this yearly ordeal.
The film concerns Diane LeFanu (true vampire fans’ ears just perked up there), a vampire who dwells in a remote if lavish home in the desert outside of Los Angeles. While in L.A. getting a bite to eat, she meets Lee and Susan, a married couple attending a showing at the Stoker Gallery (perked ears there again). Lee is clearly smitten by Diane, much to Susan’s annoyance, and gladly accepts an offer for the two of them to stay at her home for the weekend. On the way to her house, the couple’s car breaks down, forcing them to remain with the (unknown to them) vampire and her servant, Juan, while awaiting repairs. Diane doesn’t waste time putting the moves first on Lee, than on Susan, causing tensions to rise and the audience to wonder who, if anyone, will live through the weekend.
The Velvet Vampire is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is bloody fun. Diane is played by Celeste Yarnall, who nerds of a certain age and interest will remember as Yeoman Martha Landon from the original Star Trek series. Lee and Susan are played by Michael Blodgett, who was reportedly drunk throughout the entire shoot, and Sherry Miles (aka Sherry E. DeBoer), who had her dialogue coach on set with her through the entire production, but you certainly wouldn’t guess that. Poor Sherry is tasked with playing a badly-written role—Susan has more mood swings than a playground and changes her mind faster than a pit crew changes tires—and she doesn’t have the acting chops to pull it off. But, as I mentioned above, the film does feature a dune buggy and lots of driving around the desert in it. You can’t get more 1971 than a dune buggy, so I’m along for the ride, even if it ends up at the grave of the vampire’s husband out at the old burying ground.
The ending of the film is worth the ride. It is one of the most WTF moments in film I’ve ever witnessed. Without going into details, I found myself asking deep questions as a former denizen of Los Angeles. Namely, “If some random stranger ran up to me and gave me a crucifix, would I be down for one weird ass flash mob?” Because that’s the only way to explain the film’s climax.
Despite the wackiness and poor acting along the way, I’m giving The Velvet Vampire three skulls out of five (3/5) and can see myself revisiting this one again the next time I need a bad film fix that’s enjoyable rather than tortuous. If you’re of a like mindset, check this one out.
Dark Shadows Sidebar
The episode opens with a repeat of the previous episode’s ending. Willie tries to dissuade Jason McGuire from opening Barnabas’ coffin in search of the jewels he believes are inside. When Willie finally washes his hands of the matter, Jason is rewarded with the iron grip of Barnabas Collins around his throat. Cut to opening credits.
We return to find a dead Jason McGuire slumped behind Barnabas’ coffin. The vampire takes Willie to task for potentially endangering him by bringing McGuire down to the basement while he slumbered. Willie protests that he had to and knew Barnabas would soon awaken so was in no danger. The vampire promises to deal with Willie later, but first they must remove McGuire’s body to somewhere no one will ever find it. Willie shrinks at the idea of touching his friend’s corpse, a fact that Collins’ chides him for. When Willie asks if Barnabas ever had a friend who died, Collins is reminded of someone for whom he cared greatly and who died very young. Willie is struck by how Barnabas sound almost…”Human?” the vampire finishes the thought for him. Barnabas commands his lackey to help with the body and the two lug the corpse of Jason McGuire up the stairs, leaving his cap behind. Once gone, the ghost of Sarah Collins appears, picks up the hat, and places it atop the coffin, the faint sounds of “London Bridge is Falling Down” played hauntingly on the flute as she does so.
At Windcliff Sanitarium, Dr. Woodard, the Evans family doctor, is consulting with Dr. Hoffman about Maggie Evans. Maggie, formerly a prisoner of Barnabas Collins as part of his scheme to transform her into Josette, is believed to be dead by most of Collinsport—a gambit concocted by Maggie’s father Sam Evans and Dr. Woodard to protect her from the as-yet unknown parties who kidnapped her. Dr. Woodard wants to show Maggie a sketch of Sarah, hoping that it will jar her out of the metal fugue she’s been suffering from since her escape from the Old House. Dr. Hoffman is opposed to the idea, fearing it might cause Maggie to suffer a setback, but Dr. Woodard is adamant. When Maggie is brought into the office, she’s shown the sketch and, after an initial moment of not recognizing Sarah, suddenly gasps out her name.
Dr. Woodard presses Maggie for more information, but doing so sends her into hysterics. She begins singing “London Bridge” and repeating the rhyme that Sarah taught her to help her escape the Old House basement cell (resulting in Maggie being dragged back to her room chanting “Lock her up! Lock her up!” a phrase which has much different connotations in 2022 than it did in 1967). Dr. Hoffman is angry at Dr. Woodard, but he insists that this is the first step in Maggie regaining her memory and solving the mystery of who kidnapped her.
Meanwhile, Barnabas and Willie have carried McGuire’s corpse to the Collins family tomb with the intention of hiding it in the secret room, a place that hasn’t been discovered in 200 years. Willie buries McGuire in the floor and the two remove themselves from the hidden chamber. Outside, in the tomb proper, Barnabas has second thoughts of burying McGuire in the family crypt, a place set aside for the Collins’ eternal rest. He recalls his family, including his father and mother, along with his sister Sarah, who perished at the age of nine. Willie guesses that Sarah was the friend he spoke of earlier and Barnabas affirms this. He recounts that he mended her doll the day before she died and she perished holding the doll in her hands. The two then depart the tomb, only for Sarah to appear. She takes a seat atop her coffin, cradling her precious doll in her arms.