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Nightmare Classics - Carmilla

episode 1.2

USA 1989
produced by
Bridget Terry, Shelley Duvall (executive) for Think Entertainment/Showtime
directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
starring Ione Skye, Meg Tilly, Roy Dotrice, Roddy McDowall, Armelia McQueen, John Doolittle, Lisa Marie Russell
screenplay by Jonathan Furst, based on the story by Sheridan Le Fanu, music by Rich Conrad

TV-series
Nightmare Classics, Carmilla

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Somewhere in the US-American South, the late 1800's: Since her mother has disappeared, teenaged Ann (Ione Skye) has been kept pretty much cut off from the outside world, holed up in the family mansion by her father Leo (Roy Dotrice). Then an unfortunate coach accident not far from the mansion turns into a blessing when the sole survivor, Carmilla (Meg Tilly) turns out to be a girl Ann's age, and since her parents have died in the accident, Leo decides to let her stay with Ann for a while. He soon finds himself drawn to Carmilla, too.

Ann adores Carmilla because she has travelled a lot, tells her of the big world, and promises to take her with her some day. However, with Carmilla's arrival, something the superstitious townsfolks believe to be the plague has hit the countryside, and even near Ann's family mansion a "plague victim" is found. Leo's black maid Ms Hodgett (Armelia McQueen) is the first to suspect Carmilla, but then she finds her death, torn to pieces by vampire bats. Also, Ann wakes up with bitemarks on her neck the next morning.

Enter Amos (Roddy MacDowall), an eccentric detective who comes up with the theory that Carmilla is a vampire - and reluctantly, Leo is brought to believe him ... and of course, Amos is right, but how to convince Ann.

Amos and Leo do their best to keep the two girls apart the next night, but Carmilla kills Amos, then runs off with Ann to hide in the nearby family crypt. There though the two girls are cornered by Leo and a mob of villagers, and when they enter the crypt, they find it full of vampires - but no Carmilla. At first, Ann wants to just run away, but when she and dad find her mother, kept in an undead state begging them to stake her (which they do eventually), she starts to realize what Carmilla is really up to.

The next night, Carmilla, who has actually taken a liking to Ann and wants to have her as a companion rather than a bloodbank, comes to fetch Ann - but a fight ensues and Carmilla is eventually staked by accident. The rising sun makes her disintegrate.

 

There are several nice things to say about this adaptation of Carmilla: Transplanting the story to the US-American South actually works better than expected, and beautiful local landscapes and backdrops are captured to the film's advantage. Furthermore, the cast is first rate, both in acting and in just "looking the role".

And yet, this episode of nightmare castle falls several feet short of meeting its expectations: While the backdrops are captured in an impressive way, little effort is made to create a suitably creepy atmosphere, the source material is stripped of almost all its erotic undercurrents and told in a disappointing as-is manner, the dialogue is very much on the stiff side, and despite their best efforts, the actors, good as they are, are not always able to overcome this handicap, and the finale in the crypt as well as Carmilla's actual demise are lacking in thrill and tension. And on top of that, a real set of rules that vampires are supposed to follow in this film are never established: For example, early on, we see Carmilla walking in the sunlight quite frequently, but later in the game, her body is disintegrated by the sun. Plus, the things she fears or doesn't fear change from scene to scene.

After having said all that though I guess if you like the Carmilla-story as such and have 50 minutes to waste, you might just as well watch this one, just don't expect any new insights or something ...

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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On the same day
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directed by
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written by
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out now on DVD