Having seen my review of Lemora, a thoughful reader wrote to recommend this, as it similarly has a lot of sexual kinkiness and is very creepy, if a tiny bit of a mess. To the top of my list it went, and here we are.
We open with a quote from Plato saying something to the effect that the good only dream about what the wicked actually do. We also learn that this is based on Carmila by Victorian ghost story writer Sheridan LeFanu. We join a just-married couple as they drive to their honeymoon. This is all happening in Spain. They arrive at this hotel, and as Susan, the bride, gets out, still in her wedding dress. She sees this blonde woman in a nearby car, who has the intense gaze of a young Debbie Harry. The husband, listed in the credits as just "Husband" [let's call him Juan], tells her to go inside while he parks [they don't have valet?]. Then--well here we have an up-front spoiler, so if you really want to know, skip past the spoiler mark at the end and God be with you. But I recommend reading this spoiler to give you a taste of the movie, and I'll warn you when the real spoilers begin. Because this movie does have some genuine surprises in store.
Susan goes to her room, looks around, and hangs her veil in the closet. She pokes around, and when she opens the closet again a man with a stocking over his head comes out and throws her on the bed! He rips her dress open, exposing her breasts and then her bush, then gets on top of her and starts sucking her tits! Woah, this is unexpected. Then her husband comes in, and Susan is sitting on the bed, clutching her dress around her. We can't tell if it's ripped or not, so we go a short while without knowing if the rape really happened. Susan says she doesn't like that place one bit, and they have to leave.
So they press on to his home, with his younger sister and a woman I presume to be his mother? The young sister is Carol, who is 12. Her teacher just died, so she's about to get a new one. We now see that Susan's dress is intact, making the rape all just her fantasy.
She goes upstairs, and is soon joined by her husband. He asks her if she's nervous about making love, she says yes, and he says he is, too. Then he rips open her dress, just like her fantasy rapist! She screams, but then calms down and submits, while he rips her dress open down to her bush, just like in her fantasy.
The next morning, Mom leaves breakfast outside the room. Juan wakes Susan by putting some RED jam on his finger and inserting it into her mouth. Then--and this was a wicked touch--he wipes it off on her bridal veil! She says he was good, and asks if she was. He says yes, but you can tell he's only being nice. She did look pretty dead-fishy while they were at it. Then he drops down and eats her out! Then for a while it seems that they're going for it everywhere and anytime, and are overheard by a local hunter and Carol on separate occasions.
Then Juan goes out hunting--this is one of those movies in which animals ARE harmed, as we see Juan literally blow the head off a live fox with a rifle. Meanwhile, Susan at home peruses all the portraits of the male members of Juan's historic family, and asks where the portraits of the women are--and finds they're in the cellar. She justly interprets this as being emblematic of the place of women in Juan's family. She and Carol go exploring in the basement, where they find the portrait of Mircala Karstein, who killed her husband on her wedding night because he wanted her to do "unspeakable things." The portrait shows her with dagger in her hand, rings turned to the inside of her other hand--and face carved out of the portrait.
SPOILERS > > >
So then Susan is out in the forest when her husband surprises her--by appearing on a rock before her, grabbing her hair, and pulling her up by it until her legs are kicking in the breeze. Then he drops her. Susan doesn't really appreciate this. Hubby steps around in front her, grabs her head and FORCES her to blow him! We see it from a distance and wonder what really happened, but we DO see Susan wiping her lips after. Susan doesn't really appreciate this, either [although I'm like: "How come I never meet guys like this?"]. She runs, and runs, and runs, and finally locks herself in a large upstairs pigeon coop. Her husband comes in and circles the cage menacingly. He kicks the door in, at which point Susan poses along the wall like "Take me, you scoundrel!" Okay, that's a mixed message. He does, and Carol walks in and sees.
Susan is starting to feel bad about the little matter of these impulses to stab her husband into mincemeat. She thinks she's being haunted by Marcala, the husband-killer fom the portrait. In order to demonstrate that she's just a wingnut, her husband takes her to the ruins of an old church, finds Mircala's tomb, and opens it [note to viewers: always a good idea NOT to open any tombs of those you feel may be haunting you]. He pulls out a bone, breaks it and shoves it under Susan's nose, at which point she freaks, runs outside, falls on the ground and starts ripping up dirt and wailing about "Decay!" At this point I think a "Just Because" card and small box of chocolates from Juan could do wonders for their relationship, but instead he again helpfully insists that she's bonkers.
Okay, as you can tell, this movie isn't playing by the accepted rules, and you really can't be quite sure what you're going to see next. So if you plan to watch it you might want to skip past the end of the spoilers, since its rare to have a movie where you really don't know what might happen.
Well now Susan is in a piss-poor mood and she does NOT want any sex, abusive or otherwise. She just wants to sleep and be left alone. While she sleeps, the blonde woman comes to her, it all goes strobey, and she bites Susan's neck. The blonde woman also gives Susan a dagger just like the one in the painting. Then Susan wakes, Juan is there, she says she had an awful dream and she needs to get away from there because she is having uncontrollable urges to kill him, and he again gives his stock answer: she's off her nut. She says oh yeah, then what about THIS? And shows him the dagger. After some hugger-mugger, it is revealed that Carol put it in her bed, although the girl insists that "the lady" gave it to her. Juan takes it and hides it where he's sure Susan will never find it. That night the woman comes to Susan's bedside, gets her out of bed, opens the mantel clock in the next room and hands her the dagger. Boy, THAT was well hidden! She never would have found that, for sure. They return to the bedroom and the blonde guides Susan's hand as she stabs Juan! Then again, and again, and again and again and again until he's just a big bloody caved-in chest cavity, then they work together to cut his cock and balls off, then the blonde holds them above her head and lets the blood drip down! But--it was all a dream! So what's for breakfast?
In the morning Susan shows Juan where the dagger is, and he's starting to get freaked. She is upset because she loves him and doesn't want to repeatedly stab him until his chest cavity is a mush, but at the same time, she kind of does. I think we've all had those types of relationships. He takes the dagger out to the beach and buries it, then--is that a HAND sticking out of the sand a few feet away? It is, and there's a tube not too far off. Juan digs and there's a face mask, someone underneath it, whose eyes open and look at him. He continues to unbury her, and finds two naked breasts! He goes to get something to dig her out with, when she suddenly jumps into his car. So he takes her home, ho-hum. I didn't realize that finding a naked woman buried in the sand was such a regular occurrence, but you know, I think with spreading globalization, certain regional peculiarities are inevitably lost. Anyway, yes it's completely absurd, but somehow, in its bizarre way, it is disturbing and actually works.
Once home, she takes quite a shine to Susan. Oh, and by the way, she is of course the blonde woman Susan has been seeing in her dreams. And her name is Carmila, which you might realize at once is an anagram of Mircala, the one in the basement who killed her husband for being a kinkster. They spend a pleasant evening in the living room, Carmila and Susan enjoying deep mental communion as Juan drones on to them, oblivious that no one is listening. When it's time for bed, Susan informs Juan "I don't love you, I hate you. I've hated you since the first moment you touched my body." Perhaps it's not best to wait til after marriage after all. Seems like a lot of rigamarole could have been avoided in this case. Susan goes to see Carmila in the night, and sees that she wears the rings on her hands just like in the portrait. These are pointy jewels that effectively become claws if she wanted. By now we have to admit that, out-there are much of this is, it pretty much works and the characters are quite intriguing.
Carmila takes Susan out for a midnight stroll, and when she comes back Susan has rings worn inside her hand just like her new BFF. Meanwhile Juan goes down to the basement where he finds a little treasure box from the time of Mircala. It has the cut-out face of the portrait--surprise, looks just like Carmila--a poison ["It's a very potent poison. I just tried it on a rabbit," Juan casually says], a few 2-for-1 drink tickets from the local sports bar, a worn C-3P0 figure, and a book of matches. The local hunter guy [remember him?] said he saw Carmila and Susan out in the ruins of the old church, and they were "howling like cats in heat." I wonder what they were doing. So Juan hires this doctor/detective who follows then out to their old trysting place the next night, and we see as Carmila tells Susan that yeah, I'm gonna kill you, but it'll be "exquisite cruelty." She also makes mention of the fact that Susan's husband "spat inside you to enslave you." Yeah, really low-down, but killing someone through exquisite cruelty is just fine.
Now we see that Carol is in class with a bunch of students who look much younger than her, and their unit just happens to be on the properties of blood. Then we see that her new teacher is--CARMILA! That lady's just popping up everywhere. Carol gives Carmila a key which she later passes on to Susan. They discover the detective following them, and Carmila urges Susan to kill him and "destroy his masculinity." Frankly I think someone has some issues with men. They go out for a walk in the woods, where Carmila gets caught in an animal trap! The hunter guy shows, and Susan comes up from behind and offs him pretty good. She frees Carmila and they go off.
Now we join Juan as he comes to the ruins of the church. He opens the coffin we saw Carmila sleeping in earlier, and now both she and Susan are in it. He closes it, takes his gun, and shoots the coffin up. We see blood leaking out of the holes. Then Carol shows up and says that he'll never really be able to kill them, and shows that now SHE has rings like Carmila. She displays all the bites on her neck, then gets on her knees and waits. Juan gets behind her and blows her head off! Then he opens the coffin, grabs Susan's breast--and it looks like he's making to cut it off--but he actually cuts out their hearts [not shown] and, well heads off for the singles bar, I guess. He's single and free, a playa once again!
< < < SPOILERS END
It was quite good! If you, like me, like all sorts of kinky sex in your horror films, this one has it in spades, and it's all really edgy and dangerous. The movie does a good job of displaying Susan's ambiguity, how she loves her husband and likes the rough sex, yet at the same time is affronted by it. Juan's sexual dominance is also on the edge between hot and disturbing. Then Carmila comes along as sort of the spirit of women's assertiveness, but not so much, because she really just hates men and wants to destroy them. While asserting HER dominance over Susan and Carol. So basically everything about it is ambiguous, and that's just how I like it. Although, being Spanish and from the 70s, ultimately the point of view of the movie seems to come down slightly edged toward the side that says Juan is the husband and as such has the right to sexual dominion over his wife. Which I think is driven home by the implication that he cuts off their breasts at the end.
So luckily I am able to walk over to my bookshelf and find that I own a collection of Sheridan LeFanu stories, which contains Carmila. The story centers on a 14-year-old girl, and Carmila is a girl her own age who comes to stay with her, is a vampire, and has wanted to possess her since she was six. The speech about Carmila possessing her and killing her exquisitely is lifted virtually verbatim from the story. I haven't actually finished the story yet, but clearly it's quite different, as the characters in the movie have been made into adults and it's all about their twisted sex lives, but it seems to be a version and extrapolation of what's in the book.
Anyway, if you like a little twisted sex with your disturbing horror, here's the movie for you!
You sure should, it's good and genuinely surprising.