Carmilla: Exclusive Interview with David Macdowell Blue

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Hot on the heels of the British Film Institute’s reissue of Schalcken the Painter comes another adaptation of one of Irish Gothic writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s works. This time it’s Carmilla, which was originally published in 1872. Le Fanu’s massively influential Sapphic vampire tale has already been interpreted by a number of filmmakers, musicians and writers: most notably by Hammer as The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Roger Vadim as Blood and Roses (1960), and it even inspired Cradle of Filth’s album Dusk… and Her Embrace. We’ll leave 2009’s  Lesbian Vampire Killers under the carpet where it belongs though.

David Macdowell Blue’s new stage adaptation of the innocent Laura’s seduction by the blood sucking Carmilla takes place in Nazi occupied Austria just before the outbreak of World War II. The Horror Hothouse‘s Simon Ball caught up with David during casting for the North Hollywood production to ask him a few questions.

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Naturally, what had piqued my curiosity first was the decision to move the action forward in time to 1938. “I’m trying to recreate the emotional response the original audience had to LeFanu’s story. In 1872, the English-speaking world (correctly) saw Austria as a repressive, authoritarian regime. That actually impacts the feel and tenor of the story. In a place where the authorities serve a dictatorship, where the rule of law is not something upon which you can call, then living in isolation (as Laura does) feels different. Likewise it changes the moral nature of Laura’s father. It bestows ambiguity. He worked for Austrian Empire. Doing what? We don’t really know. Rather than trying to explain that kind of background, placing events immediately following the Anschluss gives us that instantly. We understand that about the Nazis, understand it down to the bone. More, it brings events closer to our audience in time, makes the details less alien, more recognizable.”

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Although the play is written and casting is well underway, David is currently seeking funding through gofundme to bring the production to the stage in February 2014. I asked David to tell the Hothouse who would be playing the lead characters.

“Interestingly the lady portraying Laura is named Lara! Lara Bond (nee Lihiya) who was born and raised in Berlin! She’s a veteran of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company as well as the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. In the play Laura is telling her story to a Captain Martin, a British legal officer during the occupation of Austria after the war. She wants to emigrate to her father’s country, England, and must give an account of herself. Martin is played by Amir Khalighi, an Iranian American actor I’ve seen in a bunch of roles here in Los Angeles including King Saul in Whore’s Bath and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.

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“The title character will be played by Vanessa Cate, a very impressive local actress here in Hollywood. Apart from great talent and stage presence (and beauty) she has a startling gravitas for someone only in their twenties. Plus a wonderfully feline quality. I first saw her a couple of years ago in a production of Hamlet where she had some small roles. I could not take my eyes off of her!”

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With such an original interpretation of Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire story I couldn’t resist asking David which of the previous versions was his particular favourite. Would it be Vadim or Hammer? And were there any other influences that he’d like to mention. “Between Vadim and Hammer, I prefer Hammer! [correct answer as far as this editor is concerned] At least in terms of faithfulness. Blood and Roses is a beautiful film, but has precious little to do with Carmilla. On the other hand, The Vampire Lovers remains remarkable faithful, partially in terms of structure but also via casting. Ingrid Pitt and Madeleine Smith made a big difference in that film. The former captured what I see as the vampire’s melancholy, the latter a genuine personality to the victim (who usually turns into little more than a doll, as she was in Crypt of the Vampire and to a lesser extent The Blood Spattered Bride). My personal favourite of all versions of Carmilla I’ve seen is that from Polish television in the 1980s.

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“As far as other influences, I suppose three come to mind. One is the plays of Peter Shaffer, especially Equus and Amadeus which, like my play, are in effect flashbacks as someone tells what happened (this is identical to the original story). Also, I’ve always been very impressed with Picnic at Hanging Rock, a tale of psychological horror and the unknown. LeFanu’s story fairly seethes with unanswered questions, which adds to the very deep mystery. Finally–and this didn’t become obvious until you asked this question–maybe Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith had an influence in some subtle way, not least how to approach a lesbian love story in a period piece. As far as vampire stories go, I suppose my two biggest influences in terms of Carmilla would be the novel The Moth Diaries and the various versions of Jon Alvide Lindquist’s Let The Right One In.”

David, thank you for taking time out to speak to the Horror Hothouse and good luck with the show.

If you want to help put Carmilla on stage you can contribute here.

Keep up to date with the latest news at putcarmillaonstage  blog.

Le Fanu’s Carmilla can be found in the anthology In a Glass Darkly (1872) a collection of five short stories purporting to be the papers of Dr Hesselius.

His best known novel is Uncle Silus (1864): Orphaned Maud Ruthyn goes to stay with her Uncle. If she dies before reaching her majority Silus cops the lot. No supernatural action but some splendid Gothic grotesques in one-legged servant Dickon Hawkes and evil French governess Madame de la Rougierre.  There is a superb BBC adaptation from 1989 The Dark Angel, with Peter O’Toole as Silus and Jane Lapotaire as Madame de la Rougierre.

Interview by Simon Ball

Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.


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