Before there was Edward and Bella, there was Carmilla and Laura.
Yes, people have always had an obsession with vampires being beautifully seductive creatures that woo teenage girls. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella “Carmilla” was written in 1872. It’s one of the earliest works of vampire fiction and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s classic “Dracula.”
I read “Carmilla” in September and could barely put it down once I began.
Not only is Carmilla an assertive, seductive woman, but she’s also a lesbian. In 1872, being any of those things was simply unacceptable, even in fiction.
The story is narrated by Laura, a lonely girl who lives in isolation from society. Laura’s expecting the niece of her father’s friend to visit; unfortunately, Laura’s father informs her the niece mysteriously died.
Then, a girl around the same age as Laura crashes in her carriage outside Laura’s home, and Laura’s father agrees to take care of her for a few months.
Laura recognizes the girl, Carmilla, from a childhood dream. The two immediately become close, and a romance blossoms between them. Suddenly, Laura begins having nightmares and falls ill.
People start getting suspicious of Carmilla, and I’ll leave it at that. No spoilers here.
Once I finished “Carmilla,” I needed more, especially with Halloween coming up. I was surprised to see that not only is there a new adaptation of “Carmilla” set to be released in April, but the novella has been adapted several times.
And every single adaptation has poor ratings — I’m talking one to two stars.
So I took it upon myself to watch whatever “Carmilla” adaptations I could find. Sit back, relax and grab some garlic and a wooden stake because these movies suck.
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This is the most recent adaptation, so I assumed it’d actually be good. I was wrong.
This film doesn’t even mention Carmilla being a vampire, which is the entire point of the story. She also doesn’t turn up until about 40 minutes into the movie, whereas she appears almost immediately in the novella. Her delayed arrival makes for a short, undeveloped romance with Laura.
Besides that, there were far too many close-up shots of bugs and worms with uncalled-for ASMR-esque squelching sounds.
Not to mention, “Carmilla” (2019) focuses on Miss Fontaine, a minor character in the novella, more than Carmilla herself. I’ve never found a character to be more insufferable than Miss Fontaine in this film. Whoever’s idea it was to make her a main character for this adaptation is now my worst enemy.
“Carmilla” (2019) gets a 6/10. It could’ve been so much more (and a lot less Miss Fontaine).
“The Carmilla Movie” (2017)
This adaptation was genuinely painful to sit through.
Apparently, it’s based on a web series that retells “Carmilla” in the modern day. I haven’t seen the web series, but after watching this movie, there’s no way I’d ever subject myself to it.
This film is what I imagine a Buzzfeed adaptation of “Carmilla” would be like. It tries way too hard to be trendy and relatable, which I despise. The script made me cringe numerous times; I actually had to stop the movie within the first ten minutes and return to it later.
The concept of a modern day “Carmilla” is interesting in theory, and I believe it could be done. But this? This was the poorest execution possible — it’s almost impressive how awful this movie was.
“The Carmilla Movie” gets a 1/10 — and that’s me being generous. I’d recommend avoiding this one like the plague.
“The Unwanted” (2014)
This adaptation claims to be a Southern gothic retelling of “Carmilla,” but nothing about it is that.
Repeat after me, setting a thriller in the South doesn’t make it goth.
The time period in which “The Unwanted” occurs is unclear, but it's certainly not the 1800s. The story is executed strangely, and if they hadn’t used Carmilla’s name I wouldn’t even count this as an adaptation.
Like “Carmilla” (2019), this film doesn’t touch on Carmilla being a vampire at all. If anything, she’s just a lesbian with some kind of blood or cutting fetish, which is slightly disturbing.
This movie incorporates sensitive topics such as self harm in what can only be described as an icky manner. There’s a scene where Carmilla kisses Laura’s scars, and I seriously considered turning the film off.
The entire cast gave bland performances, and to be honest, I’ll probably forget about this movie in a few weeks.
I give it a 3.5/10.
“The Curse of Styria” (2014)
I don’t know why there were two “Carmilla” adaptations in 2014, but this one was slightly better than “The Unwanted.” This time, the story is set in the 1980s, and it actually does a decent job at capturing the gothic feel of the novella.
Lara (aka Laura) is supposed to be goth, but she’s so stereotypically edgy that it made me cringe. The dynamic between Carmilla and Lara was there, but it seemed more like they were just really good friends.
That’s the thing with most of these adaptations: they never get Laura and Carmilla’s relationship right.
In the novella, the romance is apparent and somewhat menacing to Laura. But nearly every adaptation gets this wrong. They never show how taken Laura is with Carmilla, and they usually add a single kiss between the two just so you know they’re more than friends.
The characters were boring, and the only one I found myself remotely interested in was Carmilla. If the actors gave better performances, and with some adjustments to the script, the film could definitely be better.
“The Curse of Styria” gets a 5/10.
“Carmilla” (1989) is set on a plantation in the pre-Civil War South — an interesting choice. But the film rubbed me the wrong way. One character falls into the mammy stereotype, and she also practices voodoo, making the portrayal even more offensive.
The only redeeming quality about this adaptation is Meg Tilly as Carmilla. She was one of the best Carmillas I’ve seen, so I’ll give “Carmilla” (1989) points for that. However, the chemistry between Marie (aka Laura) and Carmilla fell extremely flat; they never even kissed.
The film doesn’t recognize Carmilla as a lesbian at all, which is an important part of her character.
I don’t understand what it is with these films. They act as if Carmilla can be an overt vampire or lesbian, but never both.
I give this adaptation a 4/10 (only for you, Meg Tilly).
“The Vampire Lovers” (1970)
I thought I might actually enjoy this film, but I was mistaken. Ingrid Pitt is a decent Carmilla, and the film is actually candid about her sexuality, which I appreciated. But that’s just about it in terms of the positives.
This adaptation was underwhelming. It relies on gore and pretty women instead of staying true to the source material. There were more shirtless women in this film than utterances of the word vampire.
“The Vampire Lovers” is dull, and while it's supposed to be a horror movie, I found myself constantly checking my phone while watching it. It isn’t scary at all; it’s actually quite corny, and not in a good way.
I’m not going to lie, I already forgot most of what happened in this movie.
“The Vampire Lovers” gets a 4.5/10.
There are a few adaptations missing from my list because I couldn’t find them. One was “Carmilla” (1999), which I’m kind of glad I couldn’t find. From what I understand after reading reviews on it, it’s basically softcore porn.
There’s also “Carmilla” (1980), which is in Polish. I’m sad I couldn’t find this film with English subtitles anywhere, because it actually looked good.
After subjecting myself to all these awful adaptations, I deserve to see a good one. As someone who has now watched nearly every known “Carmilla” adaptation, I think I have the right to say what director Ivan Zuccon’s upcoming adaptation should entail.
First, he needs to be candid about Carmilla’s sexuality. She’s a lesbian, and we don’t need another watered-down, lifeless romance between her and Laura.
Next, Carmilla must be a vampire. There should be no glossing over this or trying to turn it into something else like “The Unwanted” did. If you’re adapting “Carmilla,” you’ve gotta stick with what makes it “Carmilla.”
Also, whoever Zuccon casts needs to have screen presence. Dull performances were a common occurrence in the previous “Carmilla” adaptations, and I can’t bear to see more.
Finally, Zuccon needs to capture the goth, dreary aesthetic of “Carmilla” the way Sheridan Le Fanu wrote it — and it needs to be at least unsettling. Ivan Zuccon, if you’re reading this, please reach out to me. I can help.
The world doesn’t need another lousy “Carmilla” adaptation. It’s been 150 years. It's time we get the story right.