The Blood-Spattered Bride / Bloody Fiancee / Blood Castle / ĎTil Death Do Us Part / La Novia Ensangrenata (1972/1975) ***
You know, when you really think about it, the turn of the 21st century is arguably the best time in history to be a rabid fan of exploitation movies, at least if English is your first or only language. That may sound hard to believe, given that most modern exploitation is released direct to video after being put together with all the care one would expect from a team of nine-year-old Cambodian sweat-shop employees, but if you look past the Jim Wynorskis of the world, youíll see that something very exciting is going on. Thanks to companies like Anchor Bay, Something Weird, and Redemption Video, we English-speakers are finally getting to see movies like The Beyond, The Reincarnation of Isabel, and The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave as they were meant to beó in their original aspect ratios, and with all the lurid, trashy, disgusting footage that three decadesí worth of bluenoses and busybodies tried to protect you from intact. The Blood-Spattered Bride/La Novia Ensangrenata is another perfect example. When it first appeared in U.S. theaters in 1975, its distributors were so worried about the prospect of an X-rating (which the MPAA used to hand out far more frequently in those days, for a far broader spectrum of reasons) that they cut fully thirteen minutes of footage, rendering the movie almost totally incomprehensible (to say nothing of boring). Now, thanks to the folks at Anchor Bay, Americans can finally see the same La Novia Ensangrenata that the Spaniards saw, and as is so often the case in these matters, the result is little short of revelatory. What we had thought was a wandering, listless, disjointed exercise in boredom and bafflement turns out to be perhaps the most thoughtful and artistically sophisticated film to come out of Europeís early-70ís lesbian vampire boom.
We first meet Susan (Mirabel Martin, from The Finishing School and A Bell from Hell) and her unnamed husband (Simon Andreu, of Trauma and Night of the Sorcerers) just hours after their wedding, as they speed across the Spanish countryside in their little white Triumph. They are on their way to their honeymoon, which is to consist of a few nights in a lavishly expensive resort hotel, after which they will proceed on to move into her husbandís family estate, an immense old castle which he has not laid eyes on in many years. They pull up to the hotelís front door, and her husband tells Susan to sign in for the room while he puts the car in the garage. Susan obeys, but then a very strange thing happens to her up in her hotel room. She begins unpacking her suitcases, hanging her clothes up in a closet with a mirrored door, which, as we can plainly see, was empty before she started. But when she reopens the door to hang up another dress, her husband leaps out of the closet with a womanís stocking pulled down over his face to obscure his features, tackles Susan to the bed, rips off her wedding dress, and rapes her. All is not as it seems, however, for the camera then cuts to a shot of the husband (now back in his tux and with no stocking on his head) wending his way through the hotel corridors, returning from his car-parking errand. He finds Susan sitting on the bed in their room (her dress is undamaged, of course), looking as though she has just had a terrible fright. ďI donít want to stay here,Ē she says, ďI donít like this hotel.Ē
Hubby may not get it, but his first priority is his wifeís happiness, so he ditches the hotel, and heads straight for the castle. At first, everything seems like itís going to be okay. Susan makes a good impression on her husbandís servants (Angel Lombarte, of The Killer with a Thousand Eyes, and Montserrat Julio, from Autopsy and Horror Rises from the Tomb), and their 12-year-old daughter, Carol (Rosa Rodriguez), takes an instant liking to her. But the hints of trouble begin that very evening, when Susan and her husband consummate their marriage. When Susan tells him that sheíd rather he undressed her, her husband shocks her by ripping off her wedding dress in a manner distinctly reminiscent of the vision/hallucination/fantasy that Susan had back at the hotel. Could it be that Susanís subconscious knows something she doesnít? Just as ominous, and ultimately more significant, Susan begins seeing a beautiful, gaunt blonde woman in a lavender wedding dress roaming the castle grounds. What makes this particularly troubling is the fact that Susan saw the very same woman (though dressed normally) sitting in the driverís seat of a car parked in front of the hotel where she was originally to have spent her honeymoon.
Then, a few days later, Susan notices that all of the family portraits decorating the walls of the castle are of men. What happened to all the portraits of her husbandís female ancestors? Carol tells Susan that they were all stashed in the cellar by order of her husbandís grandfather, apparently in symbolic revenge for his own wifeís infidelities. When Carol then takes Susan down to the basement to have a look, they find something very strange indeed. One of the portraits, of a woman identified as Mircalla Karstein, has had its face cut out. The woman in the painting is a blonde in a lavender dress, holding a flamberge-bladed dagger in her right hand, and with her left hand opened to reveal four large rings, which she is wearing in such a way that the stones are on the inside. Just then, her husband comes downstairs and offers to take Susan on a walk through the castle grounds while he tells her all about crazy Aunt Mircalla.
A century or two ago, one of his ancestors married Mircalla Karstein, but the marriage was such a brief one that the girl didnít even have time to officially adopt her husbandís name. According to the family legend, Mircalla killed her husband on their wedding night, when he tried to do something ďunspeakableĒ to her. (At this point, we in the audience are flashing back to a scene not long ago in which Susan refused to go down on her husband.) When the rest of the family discovered the crime, Mircalla was said to be lying beside her husbandís mutilated body in a death-like stateó though she was emphatically not dead. After she had spent many months in this coma or catatonia or whatever it was, the family decided to have her buried anyway, and Mircalla was interred in a tomb in the basement of the cathedral that stood beside the castle in those days. While he tells the story, her husband leads her through the woods on his property to the ruins of that very cathedral, and shows her Mircallaís tomb, which is now empty of all but a few waterlogged bones.
And thatís when Susan starts having the dreams. The first time, she dreams that the blonde from the forest (whom she now identifies with Mircalla Karstein) comes to her and gives her the dagger depicted in the paintingó presumably the dagger with which she murdered her husband. When she jerks awake, the dagger is lying on the bed beside her. This naturally gets Susan terribly worked up, and her husband understandably worries that she may be coming unhinged. At Susanís insistence, he agrees to hide the dagger someplace where she will never find it, but a fat lot of good it does him. The next night, Susan again dreams of Mircalla, who leads her to the grandfather clock in the hallway, which Susan opens to reveal the dagger, and then takes Susan back to the bedroom, where the two women stab Susanís sleeping husband to death and emasculate him. Again Susan is unconvinced that her dream is merely that, and to prove it, she shows her husband that she knows where the dagger is. Thereís just one little problem, though. The dagger may be in the clock, but thatís not where hubby hid it! He buried it in the forest. Obviously something funny is going on, and it is at this point that Susanís husband gets worried enough to call in a doctor (Dean Selmier, from the 1971 version of Murders in the Rue Morgue). The doctor doesnít think the situation merits calling in a psychiatrist yet, but thereís a lot of worrisome talk about sub- and unconscious hate and the psychology of recently deflowered virgins.
But the real trouble starts when Susanís husband goes to the beach one day to rebury Mircallaís dagger. After filling in the hole a few feet below the high-tide line, he notices the tip of a snorkel and a human hand protruding from the sand about thirty yards away from him. Digging around the snorkel reveals a blonde woman (Alexandra Bastedo, from The Ghoul and I Hate My Body), naked but for her diving mask and a set of large rings which she wears inverted, whom Susanís husband has never seen before in his life. We know who she is, though, and so, when she meets her in the next scene, does Susan. She may call herself Carmilla, but this subterranean beach bunny is none other than Mircalla Karstein. This canít possibly be good for anyone.
And sure enough, it isnít. Because Carmilla claims not to be able to remember anything but her own name, Susan and her husband have little choice but to take her in at their place until they can come up with something to do with her, and their new houseguest proves to be a very bad influence on Susan. It gradually comes out that Carmilla is a militant lesbian, a homicidal lunatic, and quite possibly a literal vampire. At the very least, she considers herself a vampire, spending most of her days sleeping in an ebony coffin hidden not far from Mircallaís tomb and living mostly by night. (Although it must also be pointed out that Carmilla does get herself a day jobó she teaches biology at Carolís middle school!) She also strongly encourages Susanís latent resentment of her husband, and frequently brings her out to the ruined church for sex and blood-drinking. Then, when the doctor catches the two women in one of their nocturnal trysts, Carmilla decides the time has come to get rid of all these meddling men so that she can have Susan all to herself. ďBlood-spattered brideĒ is an excellent way to summarize what happens from here until the ending, which features one of the grisliest vampire deaths ever committed to film (though not nearly as grisly as the ending director Vicente Aranda wanted to shoot before the Spanish censorship authorities stopped him).
Those who come to The Blood-Spattered Bride expecting to be assaulted with sleaze will be disappointed. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fast-moving film, and what motivated all the cuts in the original American version wasnít so much the excess or outrageousness of the deleted footage, but rather the distributorís fear that American audiences (and more to the point, state film censorship boards) were so uncomfortable with the very idea of lesbianism that to release the movie in anything like its original form would be the kiss of death at the box office. So if you were hoping for lots of hot girl-on-girl action, youíd probably be better off watching Vampyres. On the other hand, if youíre not put off by a lesbian vampire flick that requires the use of your brain, The Blood-Spattered Bride is your movie. The psychological depth of the film is remarkable, and its take on vampirism is a refreshing departure from tradition. And best of all, Aranda has taken a page from the playbook of his better-known compatriots in Italy, and produced a movie in which no one is safe once the bloodletting begins. I canít even begin to describe how much more satisfying I find the experience of watching a horror movie when itís obvious that no quarter will be given, that none of the characters is off-limits to whatever the filmís agent of evil is. Itís something the Europeans have always understood, and that most American filmmakers have always been too chickenshit to attempt.