Format: Criterion Channel
Director: Stephanie Rothman
You can't go wrong when your Dracula has a dune buggy.
I'm making light, but The Velvet Vampire (1971) was better than you'd figure with some stunning visuals and occasional actual sexiness, while being hampered by the budget and issues usually plaguing anything bearing the New World Pictures marquee from pre-1982.
A lovely woman (Celeste Yarnall) who is absolutely and clearly our titular vampire stops for some death along the way to an art gallery show where she meets two dim-witted hip post-Summer of Love 1970's types. The woman, Susan (Sherry E. DeBoer) rightly perceives Diane as a threat, but her husband, Lee (Michael Blodgett) sees a good looking dame who seems game and goes about telling his wife she has hang-ups and she should trust him.* She absolutely should not.
The pair drive out to the desert where there's evil foreboding stuff and their car breaks down. Fortunately, Diane appears driving a yellow dune buggy in full sunlight.
At dinner (steak tar-tar, of course), Lee and Diane are basically announcing their intention to bang while Susan objects. And then a bunch of vampirey stuff happens.
If you showed up for partial nudity, you're in luck. This is New World Pictures circa 1970 and they deliver on the spectacle you're hoping for. If you showed up for Oscar-worthy performances, you may find yourself wanting. But director Stephanie Rothman (the first woman inducted into the DGA, apparently?) does not screw around when she has an opportunity to do something cool. And so we get some fascinating dream sequences and other bits that do a lot with some trick visuals, a fan and red negligee against the backdrop of the desert.
There's also a few other sequences that don't look like it was a crew fighting a losing battle with white walls and lighting, including a shot of Diane in a grave and two versions of voyeurism that appear in the movie.
I can't say I loved the ending of the movie, but it's... fine. I guess. I would have ended it a full ten minutes earlier, but it's not my movie. I'm just not sure how scary "vampire on a Greyhound" is. But mostly I feel like it's a shame it appears Rothman never quite escaped doing exploitation films before hanging it up. For example, I believe her take on the male hero of this film has to be satire in a way. He's a being completely navigated by his dick who constantly gaslights his younger, vulnerable wife - even telling her it's no big deal when she witnesses him having sex with Diane. The entire stance seems set up to get him murdered in the final reel.
Susan's vulnerability and guilelessness is, frankly, unappealing and you can't blame either she or Lee for falling for the vampire's charms (there's definitely overt vampire lesbianism that never quite sticks the landing). But it also makes Susan hard to follow as a character as the dramatic irony piles up around her. And it all feels very intentional.
I didn't love this movie, but as a curiosity, I'd recommend it. It's not paced as glacially as some European films of the era, and you can feel okay about rooting against the leads. I just wish the movie had left off much earlier and not decided a chase sequence was needed.
*this, friends, is a red flag in your personal life as well as in vampire movies