Director: Vicente Aranda
Mondo Macabro

THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE, repressive Catholic Spain's surprisingly feminist take on the lesbian vampire film, gets a stunning restoration courtesy of Mondo Macabro's Blu-ray.

Their honeymoon cut shot, Susan (Mirabel Martín, MOON CHILD) and her husband (Simón Andreu, THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS) arrive at his ancestral estate where she discovers that her timid husband is actually quite rough in bed as he takes her virginity. At first excited, she soon grows tired of his voracious sexual appetite and fearful of his reactions when she tries to refuse him. Noticing that there are no portraits of women in the house, Susan learns from Carol (Rosa Rodriguez, KNIFE OF ICE) – daughter of the housekeeper (Montserrat Julió, VEANGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES) and the gamekeeper (Ángel Lombarte, THE KILLER WITH A THOUSAND EYES) – that they are all in the basement and discovers among them a portrait of a woman with a dagger who wears her rings with the jewels facing inwards from which the face has been cut away. Her husband reveals that this is Mircala Karstein who murdered her husband on their wedding night after he tried to make her do "unspeakable things." There is no date of death because she remained in a catatonic state for two years before they decided to bury her in the ruined abbey on the estate. Her dream world is soon penetrated by a bride (Alexandra Bastedo, THE GHOUL) in a lavender gown who drinks her blood and arms him with a dagger to defend herself against her husband's advances. After a subsequent nightmare in which the bride helps her brutally stab and castrate her husband, Susan fears that she will kill her husband – as much from the dreams as her husband's attempt to diagnose them as a psychological reaction to the loss of her virginity – and begs him to hid the dagger. The husband continues to dismiss her concerns until he meets the bride in the flesh as Carmila, a girl he discovers buried beneath the sand on the beach breathing through a snorkel who seemingly has no memory of where she lives.

Although no more liberal an adaptation of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" than anything Hammer had done with their Karnstein trilogy the year before – not to mention Camilo Mastrocinque with 1965's CRYPT OF HORROR or Roger Vadim with 1960's BLOOD AND ROSES – THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE deploys its borrowings from the novella in unpredictable but interesting ways like the staging of Carmila's "accident" that brings her into the care of the household. If the film seems rather retrograde in its portrayal of lesbians as castrating man-haters – particularly in contrast to the "lesbian vampire" genre as seen in other European countries – one has to take the depiction not only in the context of the story but also of repressive Catholic Franco-era Spain. Usually when one thinks of duality in the battle of the sexes, one considers the ways in which they male and female complement one another; but not in the case of a triangle in which the doctor observes that the husband is the intruder. Susan's character seems to be mirrored in the child Carol who thinks her husband is "hurting" her, and Mircala who rises up to avenge her violation, while the husband is no bogeyman – apart from his appearance as the stocking-masked assailant of Susan's "rape fantasy" – as his attitudes are mirrored in brutality of Carol's father and the doctor who he at first casually provides the logical means of even the husband to dismiss his own intuitions about the events and then labels Mircala as not a vampire or ghost but a "perverse paranoiac." The lead performances are effective, including Martín's child bride – Martín would also appear as the new girl in THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED and the youngest of the three sisters of THE BELL FROM HELL – and Bastedo when she finally gets to let loose during the climax. Andreu is excellent here as the Latin macho who condescendingly treats women like children when he wants to be nice – including young Carol who he seems to be treating as significantly younger (or "that high") – is petulant when thwarted (Susan describes him as "like a puppy waiting to be fed" when he sits beside her bed when she is too tired to make love), and smiles reassuringly even at his most cruel. Andreu's career throughout the seventies in Spain would cast him as macho characters in films like Amando de Ossorio's NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS and the Italian-Spanish gialli DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT and DEATH WALKS IN HIGH HEELS while he would also sensitively essay outcasts including gay characters in the films of Eloy de la Iglesia, including the priest protagonist of HIDDEN PLACES. A New York stage actor who appeared in some of Andy Milligan's stage productions, Selmier's film career consisted entirely of Spanish productions including de la Iglesia's thriller excellent THE GLASS CEILING and Pedro Luis Ramírez's lesser seen SCHOOL OF DEATH. Although director Vicente Aranda moved on to more mainstream success, fans of THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE might want to check out his debut FATA MORGANA and THE EXQUISITE CADAVER which also deal with a man who runs afoul of a lesbian avenger when their shared lover commits suicide.

Released theatrically as Europix International in a shortened version (~84 minutes versus the 102:07 export version) double billed with I DISMEMBER MAMA, this shorter version of THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE was issued on VHS by Gordon Video in a clamshell case while the TV version titled TIL DEATH DO US PART was issued on VHS by AIR Video. The uncut English version finally made it stateside on VHS and DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay in 2000, the latter an anamorphic widescreen transfer that featured only the I DISMEMEBER MAMA double bill trailer as an extra. While DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS got a new transfer when it changed hands from Anchor Bay to Blue Underground, the latter company's DVD of THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE was a direct port of the Anchor Bay disc that just replaced the opening warning and logo screens before the menu. The film remained in standard definition as an extra when Blue Underground upgraded DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS to Blu-ray, although a sharper and more colorful transfer would appear in France on DVD from Artus Films (sadly without English options). Mondo Macabro's high bitrate 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is derived from a brand new 4K restoration that exposes more image on all four sides compared to the DVD transfer. While the Anchor Bay transfer was nice for the time, the yellow tinge is thankfully gone here, the shadows less murky, and the reds no longer bleed when they are not supposed to (for instance, roses and Carol's blood red sweater in her first scene). The image is not spotless but the presentation exposes some flaws inherent in the materials, possibly through aesthetic choices, like the slight overexposure in Mircala's earlier dream appearances, a seemingly post-produced strobing effect (the same shot in the trailer does not strobe), and what looks like optical enlargement of the shot in which Mircala first puts the bite on Susan which looked soft on DVD while the HD image reveals a couple emulsion scratches that might not have been noticeable at normal size (and a bit of flare in the top corner of the image may have been the reason for the enlargement).

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track sounds relatively clean given the age of the film, and the lossless presentation calls better attention to the more outré scoring of Antonio Pérez Olea (THE ANCINE WOODS). The Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track sounds a bit more artificial with the voices mixed at a constant level regardless of the music and effects, but switches to French for one scene which may or may not have been included in the Spanish theatrical version of the film. There is an error in the subtitles late in the film in which the doctor says he witnessed a ritual between "Susan and your wife" in the subtitles when he actually says on both tracks "that woman and your wife." Although seamless branching allows for the film to be viewed with English or Spanish opening and closing credits – as well as the opening Plato quotation and the closing newspaper headline – the English or Spanish tracks and English subtitles can be toggled with the remote control's audio and subtitle buttons. The Spanish credits refer to Susan as Esther and Carol as Nina, although the Spanish dubs refer to them by the same names as the English track.

The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan of Diabolique Magazine and the podcast Daughters of Darkness who describe the constraints on filmmaking in Franco-era Spain, the Catholic and patriarchal society from which the film's story stems (legalized divorce had been overturned and women would not have bank accounts without their father or husband co-signing), as well as a discussion of the Le Fanu text. Andreu appears in a wonderful two-part interview, the first section (32:13) focusing on THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE and the second (28:36) an overview of his career. He has vivid recollections of the shoot, recalling the Pazo de Oca location, disagreeing with Aranda over the explicitness (due to Martin's age and the fact that the censors would cut it anyway), his fluency in English being necessary since the film was acted in English to facilitate dubbing, and also because Aranda did not speak English and did not realize that Selmier was not saying the scripted dialogue. In the second interview, he provides brief comments on working with Amando de Ossorio, Leon Klimovsky, de la Igleasia – whose JUEGO DE AMOR PROHIBIDO needs a Mondo upgrade – and speaks glowingly of working with Jack Taylor (FEMALE VAMPIRE). Most interesting is his discussion of Jose Maria Zabalza's RETORNO DE LOS VAMPIROS which was shot in a furniture store over a twenty-four hour period with three cameras loaded and filming long take scenes.

Cinematographer Fernando Arribas (TEN LITTLE INDIANS) appears in an interview (32:26) in which he reveals that he worked as an operator on FATA MORGANA and was actually the cinematographer of THE EXQUISITE CADAVER despite the credit of Juan Amorós who broke his leg early in the shooting. He corroborates much of Andreu's recollections of Aranda's behavior with the actors (including his jealousy of Andreu's friendships with the cast) and reveals that Bastedo hated working on the film because she had planned to reunite with actor Julian Mateos (COLD EYES OF FEAR) with whom she appeared the previous year in the Spain-lensed TIBETANA but he did not show (Mateos would later marry co-star Martin). Film historian Jonathan Rigby (28:20) – who recently authored the book EURO GOTHIC as a companion piece of his earlier film books AMERICAN GOTHIC and ENGLISH GOTHIC – who discusses the other adaptations of "Carmilla" and how they often used the source as a springboard like THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE in which Aranda addressed the battle of the sexes. He also suggest that the film was inspired as much by the sudden popularity of Spanish horror – and that Aranda initially approached Patty Sheppard (WEREWOLF SHADOW) for the lead – as by colleagues Gonzalo Suarez's MORBO and Jorge Grau's BLOODY CEREMONY. He also ruminates on the feminist aspects as well as Aranda's sense of humor in the scene in which Susan's veil gets caught on a phallic decorative cannon as well as the husband's discovery of Carmila under the sand being copied from Russ Meyer's CHERRY, HARRY, AND RAQUEL.

A selection of alternate scenes includes the alternate, extended ending (2:58) which changes the fate of one character and runs the end credits over freeze frame. The alternate bathroom scene (0:47) is amusing in that it was ordered reshot by the Spanish censors because they thought the scene as it appears in the English version would look cut even though the edit is meant to elide the scene not censor it (the reshot scene appears to be flipped), while the alternate bedroom scene (2:01) is the rape fantasy as it appears in the Spanish version, solarizing just before the nudity (although a shot of Martín's breasts as her dress is ripped appears in the Spanish trailer). The softer Spanish sequences (1:50) are an assortment of covered takes. The disc also includes the Spanish theatrical trailer (3:30), an English version of the same (3:24) in inferior quality with an Something Weird Video watermark, the American "Frenzy of Blood" double bill with I DISMEMBER MAMA (3:54), and a "Frenzy of Blood" radio spots (4:12). A sold-out limited edition came in a blood red case with reversible cover art (the standard edition is single-sided), a double-sided postcard reproduction of the Italian fotobustas, and a 12-page liner notes booklet by Vanity Celis. (Eric Cotenas)