Color, 1974, 101m. / Directed by Vicente Aranda / Starring Simon Andreu, Maribel Martin, Alexandra Bastedo / Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Thanks to its title alone, this Spanish entry in the lesbian vampire craze of the 1970s became a 42nd Street and drive-in favourite. Like most European horror films it suffered a number of heavy cuts before reaching the States, but its bizarre imagery and visceral nastiness still gripped viewers well into the home video era. Fully restored to its original perverse glory, this film will never be perceived in quite the same way again. Forming a sort of sexy, dreamlike trilogy along with Harry Kumel's Daughters of Darkness and Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses, this nominal adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu's oft-filmed "Carmilla" strays very far from its source but still captures the twisted essence of the Gothic vampire tale.

Here we have an unstable young bride, Susan (Martin), who's prone to hallucinating rape attacks while her chauvinist husband (Andreu) is out of the hotel room. She insists they change hotels, so the not quite happy couple winds up at an ancestral home vaguely connected to the husband. They discover historical markers relating to the home's original family, the Karnsteins, and Susan experiences violent dreams involving a strange woman in white. One day while strolling out on the beach, the husband discovers a naked woman (Bastedo) buried in the sand, with only her snorkel providing her air. He digs her out and takes her home, where she reveals herself to be Mircalla Karnstein -- who, not so coincidentally, is the same woman from Susan's dreams. Repelled by her husband's macho demands, Susan falls under Mircalla's spell and embarks on a spree of bloody mayhem.

In its familiar, censored 80 minute form, The Blood Spattered Bride (La novia ensangrentada) is a fascinating but incomplete horrific fantasy laced with unexpected surrealism and nudity. This restoration significantly reinstates a number of graphic sequences, including a jolting amount of frontal nudity and genital-related violence, but it also greatly improves the pacing of the film. Mircalla's memorable discovery on the beach, arguably the highlight of the film, doesn't occur now until an hour into the film, and the character of Carol (Rosa Rodriguez), has been greatly expanded and now plays a vital role in the story's development. Rumors have abounded about various versions of the film, with prints altered to emphasize either the nudity or the gore, and the infamous heart-cutting finale has been the subject of much speculation over the years. It's difficult to imagine the film any stronger than what's on this disc, and the extended ending could be one of those rumors along the same lines as the piranha sequence from Cannibal Holocaust. In any case, the film itself will not appeal to all tastes, thanks to the slow pacing and disorienting storyline, but game viewers will be rewarded with a unique vampire tale graced with hefty dollops of eroticism. The strange, jittery music score creates unease from the opening scene, and the evocative imagery of director Aranda (who later helmed the torrid Victoria Abril vehicle, Lovers) wouldn't look out of place in one of Jean Rollin's vampire sagas.

Anchor Bay's DVD of The Blood Spattered Bride should satisfy the film's fans and looks vastly superior to the muddy, full frame tapes released by companies like MPI over the years. However, the added clarity also emphasizes the film's age, and like many '70s Spanish films, the shadows have a tendency to become brown and muddy in darker scenes. A great deal of restoration efforts obviously went into this title, however, and seeing it look this good is a welcome event for Eurofanatics indeed. The blood in particular during Susan's horrific nightmare is the most vivid you'll ever see on a television screen. Also included is the wacko US combo trailer with I Dismember Mama, which has been amazing home video collectors since its inclusion on Mad Ron's Prevues from Hell many years ago. (Note that the film's title is also shown on the marquee as The Blood Splattered Bride.)

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