Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses (1960)

One of the my favorite vampire films is Roger Vadim’s haunting and surreal Blood and Roses (Et mourir de plaisir, 1960), which recently made my list of “31 films that give me the willies.” Vadim’s impressive horror film is equal to other revered classics made at the same time such as Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960) and Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), which have both had a lot of ink spilled on their behalves and can easily be found available in high-quality DVD presentations at the moment. Unfortunately, Vadim’s Blood and Roses is often forgotten even though it definitely deserves a wider audience.

Like many of Vadim’s films, Blood and Roses has suffered from unusually harsh reviews over the years, which often seem written by critics who have a personal vendetta against Vadim or they just aren’t capable of appreciating the film’s incredible cinematography, gothic atmosphere and thoughtful script. I personally find Blood and Roses to be one of the most influential and important horror films ever made, and possibly Roger Vadim’s best movie.

Blood and Roses was Vadim’s creative attempt to retell the classic Sheridan Le Fanu vampire tale Carmilla (1871-72). The story had previously been adapted by Carl Dreyer for his film Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey (1932), but Vadim was the first director to attempt to make a somewhat more literal adaptation of the story. The film’s impressive cinematography by Claude Renoir and creative directing by Vadim are years ahead of their time, and have undoubtedly inspired many other filmmakers. While I hesitate to name names, I’ve always had the impression that directors like Mario Bava, Roger Corman, Jean Rollin and even Alain Resnais may have all been influenced by Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses.

Vadim infused Blood and Roses with a high-level of eroticism that had rarely, if ever, been present in previous horror films made earlier and his personal retelling of Le Fanu’s Carmilla would go on to spawn a legion of similar films such as Hammer’s wonderful Karnstein Trilogy, Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness (1971), Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971), José Ramón Larraz’s Vampyres (1974), etc. As much as I love all of the films that followed in the footsteps of Blood and Roses, Vadim’s original movie remains one of my favorites and it’s a film that I love to return to again and again due to the incredibly intoxicating atmosphere and the beautiful imagery conjured up by Roger Vadim and Claude Renoir. The film also benefits from a beautiful score composed by Jean Prodromidès.

Blood and Roses opens with a plane rising into the sky and the audience is offered a birds-eye (or bat’s eye) view of the European countryside as seen from a plane window. A female narrator named Mircalla tells us that she is part of the past and the present. She is a spirit, but she has form. As the story progresses you discover how and why Mircalla is flying in a plane and telling us her story.

The film stars Annette Vadim (or Annette Stroyberg) as the beautiful Carmilla Karnstein, who is obsessed with her family’s history of vampirism and suffering from extreme melancholy after discovering that her beloved cousin Leopoldo (Mel Ferrer) is going to marry another woman named Georgia (Elsa Martinelli). Carmilla is inconsolable, and during an engagement party for the two lovers she wanders off into the family cemetery, while firework explode overhead and light up the night sky with a rainbow of colors in one of the films most visually stunning moments. The fireworks also mange to ignite some explosives left over from the war that are hidden in the graveyard. All this activity seems to wake the sleeping dead and when Carmilla ventures into the family tomb she becomes the victim of the vampire Mircalla (or Millarca).

Afterward Carmilla roams the family estate as Mircalla wearing a beautiful white wedding dress that belonged to her dead relative, while surviving on the innocent blood of servant girls. Carmilla appears extremely ghost-like and her passions now seem somewhat torn between her cousin and the woman he loves. Is Carmilla truly a vampire or just a victim of her own selfish desires and depression? Vadim lets his audience decide.

Top: Annette Vadim, Bottom: Elsa Martinelli

Annette Vadim is a stunning woman, but she’s also a talented actress who is often overlooked due to being Vadim’s second wife between his marriages to the much better-known and celebrated beauties Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda. Before starring in Blood and Roses Annette appeared in Vadim’s Dangerous Liaisons (1960) and Jean Cocteau’s surreal masterpiece The Testament of Orpheus (1960). She brings a vulnerability and sadness to her role of Carmilla that is hard to forget. She also shares a fascinating chemistry with her lovely co-star Elsa Martinelli. Unfortunately Annette Vadim only made a few more films after Blood and Roses before retiring from acting in 1965. Elsa Martinelli on the other hand went on to become a mildly popular international star after appearing in films such as Hatari! (1962), The V.I.P.s (1963), etc. and she later had roles in lots of interesting films including The 10th Victim (1965), Candy (1968) and Perversion Story (1969).

Much like Le Fanu’s original tale, Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses is slow-moving and it contains very little blood. Most of the action takes place off-screen and is only suggested. The film has often been criticized for this, which I personally find rather absurd. If you’re familiar with the original story as well as other classic gothic literature, you’re well aware that the original stories were often very suggestive and that left many of the events they portrayed open to interpretation. Writers expected their readers to use their imaginations and become a part of the story instead of just passive readers. Oddly enough, Blood and Roses has also been criticized for being too “exploitive,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Vadim smartly hints at the erotic lesbian undercurrent running throughout Le Fanu’s Carmilla, but there is nothing exploitive in the subtle nudity and romanticized eroticism found within his film.

My favorite moment in Blood and Roses is the amazing dream sequence that’s reminiscent of Jean Cocteau’s best work. As I mentioned above, Vadim’s wife Annette had worked with Cocteau earlier on his film The Testament of Orpheus and I’m sure that Vadim and cinematographer Claude Renoir probably found inspiration within Cocteau’s films while making Blood and Roses. This memorable sequence begins when Carmilla (as Mircalla) seduces Georgia while she slumbers, and both women are suddenly plunged into the dark dream world of Georgia’s unconscious that is inhabited by ghosts, shadows and untapped desires. Vadim’s directorial skills are on full display here and have rarely, if ever, been surpassed. The director shows a clear mastery of the fantastique in Blood and Roses that always manages to impress me.

Vadim’s horror masterpiece Blood and Roses is currently only available on video in a lackluster presentation from Paramount. The film’s original running time is supposedly 87 minutes, but the Paramount video is only 74 minutes long and dubbed. I really hope that some DVD company like Criterion, Blue Underground or Mondo Macabro will get their hands on the rights to this film and restore it to its original Technicolor splendor. If there is one neglected horror film that really deserves a nice widescreen, subtitled DVD release, Blood and Roses is it.

Right: Roger Vadim and Annette Vadim

27 thoughts on “Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses (1960)

  1. I’ve been lurking for some time and reading your review of Blood and Roses has only made me long for this even more! The first and only other time I’ve heard of this film was through a short by Nobuhiko Obayashi that’s dedicated to this exact film. Perhaps there are other Vadims that can hold me off until this film gets a proper release?

    I, of course, love this site since it almost exactly reproduces the feel/vibe I get when watching films from the ’60s and ’70s — just in web form.

  2. Thanks for the very perceptive review. I think this is definitely Vadim’s best work I’ve seen. And you are correct, there seems to be a strong Cocteau influence, especially in the dream and stalk sequences. Also many print and TV commercials have borrowed some of the color/monchrome effects and images over the years. I used to have the shorter, fullscreen Paramount prerecord, which I think was in EP mode. I lent it out and never got it back! I wasn’t too concerned because I was sure it would soon come out on video, that was back in the mid 90s, before DVD. I’ll have to go with my memory of it, which is pretty good.

  3. I haven’t seen this film in years. And I’ve only ever seen it dubbed. Like Z, Mad Max, and Soldier of Orange it seemed to have such a popular dubbed version that no one ever bothered to release it in the original language with subtitles. I’d really love to see it again, as the images are all coming back to mind. It’s too bad it’s not on DVD. I’m personally getting very frustrated with the ratio of crap movies on DVD to interesting underseen movies NOT available on DVD.

    Like you I don’t find any of the eroticism exploitative but in 1960 times were crazy. Four years later would come one of the most famous Supreme Court cases ever, Jacobellis v Ohio (where Potter Stewart’s famous “I know it when I see it” decision came from), where Nico Jacobellis was fined and convicted for showing Louis Malle’s The Lovers because the fine folks of Ohio considered it pornography! Ha! Potter Stewart and six other justices didn’t see the pornography in it and overturned the conviction. Now if anyone thinks it’s exploitative today they’re probably just parroting the “Vadim is a sexploitation director” they’ve heard before that started with Barbarella without giving it any original thought for themselves. People parrot crap like that all the time about movies and filmmakers they know little about. Hell, critics parrot that crap all the time. Most foreign directors of the fifties and sixties (as I’ve said so many times before) were taking film in directions that left the Americans behind before they finally caught back up in the seventies. When films like this or Les Liasons Dangerouse (which is excellent) or his later Barbarella were released it shocked middle-America’s dumb-ass God and Country sensibilities and they responded by throwing theater managers like Nico Jacobellis in jail and referring to anything their ugly little minds couldn’t understand as “exploitative” and “pornographic.”

    Also people like Vadim wanted to explore sexual mores that couldn’t be done before. Because it was still very difficult to get backing to explore it openly in a straightforward drama he used period pieces and genre films in horror and science fiction to show it. As a result it lent itself to the idea of exploitation that so many genre directors have had to deal with. As Rod Serling discovered, you can deal with current social issues and not have to worry about censors as long as it’s in a horror, fantasy or science fiction setting but the drawback is that you are not taken as seriously by the critical community. Fortunately that community is changing but I fear not fast enough. Anyway, I’ll stop being so grouchy – Excellent write up Kimberly!

  4. I just wanted to know I’ve been enjoying this recent string of posts. While I do enjoy horror, I feel my knowledge is quite limited, and these posts have introduced me to some films and directors I was previously unaware of. Or some, like this, which I have heard of but have either forgotten to never gotten around to seeing.
    I hope you’ll be posting more this month!

  5. Hey Kimberly. Great blog. This is my favorite Vadim film. I do think he gets a raw deal with a lot of critics and fans. His films are definitely something different and might be an acquired taste. This film is beautiful to look at for one thing. It draws you in. I do think Annette doesn’t get the attention she deserves. She’s highly underrated. She’s stunning to look at it, plus she’s quite a talent in this film. Her Carmilla is very mesmerizing. This is a really great film. Glad to see such a nice write-up about it. It’s a shame there’s not a dvd out there for it. It deserves it like so many other films of the past.

    P.S. By the way, I did my own list of my favorite horror films over at my MySpace blog when you get the chance to check it out.

  6. This is one of your best posts ever Kimberly. I love this film and wish it would find its way to DVD. You know I share your admiration for Vadim so it is really nice to read such a good critique of one of his key works.
    This might be my favorite one of his as well…he had a string of truly underrated films in the early and mid sixties that still haven’t gotten their due.
    I really like Annette Vadim as well and it is great to hear such positive words for her as, like Vadim, she is typically overlooked.
    Lovely photos as well…thanks for posting

  7. purloinedcoin – Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I’m glad you enjoy my blog and it’s nice to hear from another fan of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s films. He’s done some wonderful stuff! As for Vadim, I really think he’s a terrific and under-appreciated director. Besides Blood and Roses, I would recommend And God Created Woman (1956), The Night Heaven Fell (1958), Dangerous Liaisons (1959), The Game Is Over (1966), Histoires Extraordinaires (1968), Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman (1973) and of course, Barbarella (1968). I haven’t seen all of his films and there are a few that I really want to see such as Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) and Game of Seduction (1976), but I would recommend the films I listed above, which are easily available on DVD.

    Robert – Thanks for the feedback! I’m sure I have the same video copy as you had and it’s really awful. It’s amazing how influential the film is and it’s really surprising that no DVD has been made available yet. The Encyclopedia of Horror remarks on the Cocteau quality of the film, but in their usual fashion the review is really disparaging and there is no mention of Annette’s previous work with Cocteau which seems very odd to me.

    Jonathan – Many thanks for sharing your great rant here! I think it’s worthy of a post in your own blog and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s amazing to me how much Vadim has been bad-mouthed over the years. I was appalled by some of the crude obits I came across for Roger and Annette while writing this piece that totally dismissed his films (including Blood and Roses) as pure trash without any kind of artistic value. Rant on!

    AR – I’m glad you’ve been enjoying some of my recent horror film reviews. Hopefully you can make use of some of my suggestions for Halloween or future viewing. It’s a shame that Blood and Roses isn’t available on DVD yet, and I can’t really recommend the video since the quality is so poor, but it’s a terrific film.

    Keith – Thanks! Blood and Roses is a really great movie and hopefully it will get a DVD release soon. I look forward to checking out your list of favorite horror films!

    Jeremy – Thanks a lot and I’m glad you enjoyed this post so much. It’s really a shame that so many critics seem to enjoy writing nasty things about Vadim and his films (as well as Annette). His work really deserves more attention and a better appraisal than it has been given. Thanks again!

  8. I’ve been planning on eventually hooking my VCR back up and visiting the rental shop to see if they have a few films that Netflix doesn’t. I’ll just add this to the list.
    I forgot Vadim directed Barbarella, so now I just want to see this more.

  9. This is another movie that’s eluded me over the years, but certainly not for lack of interest. I’ve not loved all of Vadim’s work, although I have some, but I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by it. He’s certainly not a director to be dismissed, as you say. Hopefully some time soon someone will release a quality DVD of it, as I’d very much like to check it out.

  10. Another theme the film deals with is the rupture between the “old world” and the “new world”, the world in which the films is set. The jet set of 1960. And Vadim captures this very well while implying that something is underneath it all. This was a favorite theme of Cocteau in his poems, novels and films. ORPHEE seems to have been a big influence on this film. Vadim understands women, which is why male critics often don’t “get” him, maybe they were jealous. I remember Pauline Kael gave this a very interesting review back in the 1960s which made me want to see it.

    Also, this was shot in Technirama, I think. Can you imagine how much we may be missing? I can see where Bava may have been influenced by this film also. It seems to be the template for all future female vampire films, especially, as you say, the Hammer ones, and Jess Franco. In fact the mood of this film reminds me of FEMALE VAMPIRE.

  11. By some psychic coincidence, I spent part of yesterday watching another film based on “Carmilla”, Vicente Aranda’s Blood Spattered Bride. Also, when I was at NYU, an acquaintance had a 35mm copy of Blood and Roses he was trying to sell. If I had had a place to store it, I would have taken him up on his offer.

  12. Peter – an actual 35mm reel? How cool! When I was a kid we had 16mm reels of cartoons from the thirties in my parent’s attic (which I still think is pretty cool) but a 35 mm of a feature length film. Wow, I’d love to have that.

  13. AR – Good luck with hunting down a copy of Blood and Roses. The video is pretty cheap if you’re willing to pay for it, but as mentioned above, the quality is pretty awful.

    Steve – Thanks! Hopefully it will get a DVD release soon.

    Neil – I think you’d find the movie really interesting since you enjoy Corman and Bava’s films. I hope you get to see it sometime!

    Robert – Very true. I think the film owes a lot to Cocteau’s work in general and I’m sure a lot of his own ideas were a big influence on it. I’m surprised to hear that Kael liked the movie since she seems to often dismiss more experimental films (at least in a lot of reviews I’ve come across).

    Peter – Well, due to the season and how many vampire films have been made based on Carmilla, it’s not too surprising that we’ve both found ourselves writing about them. Aranda’s Blood Spattered Bride is really good and I’d like to see more of his work myself.

  14. You’ve written an absolutely wonderful piece on BLOOD AND ROSES—TOO wonderful, in fact. Half way through reading it, I was all set to order myself up a copy, only to conclude with the final paragraph stating that it’s not available on DVD. How cruel of you Ms. Cinebeats!

    Keep up the great writing!

  15. What you guys have to do is wait until I decide to shell out $40 for a VHS copy of this on eBay; then, if history is any guide, it will promptly be released in a special edition low-price DVD. That’s happened to me with Countess Dracula, The Vampire Lovers and Les yeux sans visage, as well as too many punk rock videos to count. It’s uncanny.

  16. Wow. Love your review of Blood and Roses. This one of my favorite movies, and one of the most accomplished vampire films ever made. I find this film elegant and sensual, with one of the best music scores of all time. I can’t believe this film is not more widely celebrated. Really surprised it still isn’t available on dvd. I first saw it in college on the big screen. It was part of an international film directors series. It was chosen to represent Vadim, and truly is his best film. The fact that film is artsy and stylish, leads me to believe it could still command an audience.

  17. Thanks for the comments! I’m really glad you enjoyed my look at Blood and Roses.

    I think if Blood and Roses was released on DVD it would probably spark more interest in Vadim’s films, which are generally overlooked. It’s a really beautiful movie with some amazing stuff in it. It’s a shame that it isn’t more accessible.

  18. I too have always loved Blood and Roses, and because of this I must point out that Carmilla’s vampire ancestor is called Millarca NOT Mircalla , are you confused with another vampire flick perhaps? (If in doubt please watch the film once again , the name is even carved on her crypt). The Paramount video admittedly is pretty woeful, bad quality (LP), severe cropping and sans the original English edition credits that play over a pink and blue suffused screen. I doubt a restored version will ever happen.

  19. Gustav – A typo above doesn’t mean I’m “confused” about what film I’m writing about. I referenced a few books when I was writing this to confirm the name and came across multiple different spellings.

    Online I’ve seen it written as “Mircalla” which is a different spelling from your own. I’ll double check on the “tomb” again sometime, but I think it’s a minor point frankly.

    As for a restoration, why on earth not? Many rare films that were thought lost or have never even been released before in the US have found there way onto DVD and many of Vadim’s films are available now.

  20. I heartily concur with your assessment! A great review,
    honoring a true “classic” of surreal (yet “gothic”) horror.

    BLOOD AND ROSES is one three “grail” films for me to find
    and view again (the other two being Hammer’s downbeat sci-fi THESE ARE THE DAMNED and a throughly exploitive feature, FLOODS OF FEAR, starring broad-chested Howard Keel and Cyril Cusack as a truly loathesome killer.

    I searched for years for a release of Prodromides’haunting
    music; it’s stayed with me ever since that rainy night in 60s Kansas City when I first saw the film. I was just entering
    a wonderful Age of Film; BLOOD AND ROSES was one of the
    vanguard. You write of “chilling”: that scene when the
    tomb lid slowly grates OPEN can’t be beat.

    Renoir’s work was spectacular. That was the first film
    I’d ever seen which shifted from color to black and white to black and white/color together. (THE WIZARD OF OZ had not yet been broadcast on TV in color.)

    Thanks for dredging up the memories; and if anyone knows
    whether Criterion might give this a consideration, or FSM/Screen Archives might try to locate the soundtrack…

  21. Still, Annette Vadim’s character’s name in And Die of Pleasure (Blood and Roses)is Carmilla; Millarca is her ancestor, not Mircalla. In fact, in Sheridan le Fanu’s original the vampire is called Carmilla (when she visits the lady telling the story), changed from an earlier incarnation Millarca (when she visits Laura) derived from her real name which was Mircalla (the Countess Karnstein). Other than this moot point I think the space you have given this film is wonderful, and I do agree with your article. Of course it should have a DVD release (without the dreadful voice over added by Paramount- and hopefully in French). Sadly though, as the film, like many other Continental pictures of the era destined for export by a major studio outside of Europe, it was shot in English (principal cast only) and later dubbed into Italian and French. I suppose I should not discount the possibility of a DVD release, but I am sceptical.

  22. Very insightful essay. Thank you for taking such care with each review, it does not go unnoticed.

    I’m looking forward to the release of Vadim’s Pretty Maids in a Row; however, I am beginning to wonder if it will ever materialize. I remember seeing it a long time ago and recall it being a bit disturbing… rather, a lot disturbing. You have Rock Hudson portraying a psycho of the worst kind and Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry was the producer – what’s not to love?

    It amazes me that they’ll put every lame episode of shows like Knots Landing on DVD, but half of Vadim’s collection is still missing!

  23. I saw Blood and Roses in 1961 when it was first released. It made an emotional impact on me that stayed with me for years. I waited to see it again hoping it would show up on TW but it never did. I finally did get the Paramount videio in the 1990’s.

    The haunting atmosphere and musical score, the sadness and melancholy of Carmilla, the emotionally moving cinematography, and the stunning black/white to color dream sequence overlaid by an undercurrent of erotic horror make this film an unforgettable experience – especially if it was seen when it was first released. No other film like it had been made up to that time.

    I used to tell friends of mine that it was one the those movies (like Hitchcock’s Vertigo) that take your emotions to a deeper place. I’m so glad others have also shared the same experience as I did.

  24. I went to see this movie with my mother when I was five years old. It was my first experience seeing a movie and it made quite an impression. I had nightmares for quite awhile afterwards. But I have never forgotten this movie and would love to see it again.

  25. annette vadim looks like the 18-year old american singer taylor swift…saw blood and roses as a teenager. wonderful film with a unique, one of a kind atmosphere.

  26. I, a boomer, actually saw this film in the 60’s. It made enough of an impression on me that I’ve remembered the name all these years. I didn’t realize it was by Roger Vadim. Thanks for your insightful review.

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