Interview: Celeste Yarnall on THE VELVET VAMPIRE

An interview with the late actress about her seminal horror film

On Sunday, October 7th, the planet lost one if its prettier souls. The lovely, kind, brave and talented Celeste Yarnall passed away after a long, torturous battle with ovarian cancer, a condition she and her beloved husband, Nazim, raged against both in private and public. Pop culture will remember Celeste best as THE VELVET VAMPIRE in Stephanie Rothman’s same-named masterpiece and as one of Elvis’ girls in the 1968 musical LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE as well as for her appearances in STAR TREK, HOGAN’S HEROES and a myriad other programs. I knew her enough to know that she truly was a warm, lovely woman and she fought tooth and claw to beat the disease that eventually got the upper hand, though even at her darkest,Celeste lived a great, open and positive life.

Here then, is an interview I conducted with Celeste back in 2013 for DELIRIUM Magazine #1.

RIP beautiful Celeste.

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On MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY

Words on the undervalued erotic vampire drama

Mexican horror filmmaker Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s 1975 American co-production MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY is a true anomaly. On one hand, it’s an obvious – if somewhat late-from-the-gate – entry into the “lesbian vampire” cycle of exploitation film that reigned throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. It certainly is kin to movies like Jess Franco’s VAMPYROS LESBOS, the Hammer Horror riff on Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and especially the Stephanie Rothman directed, Roger Corman produced Southern California sex-vamp oddity THE VELVET VAMPIRE. And yet there’s so much more going on within its meandering running time. And while it lacks the stylistic flourishes of earlier Moctezuma fever dreams like THE MANSION OF MADNESS and ALUCARDA, it is no less hypnotic and surreal, albeit in a much different, much more manic way. It often feels like a perversion of a 1970’s American prime time drama, complete with wonderfully tacky lounge music, eye-level framing and brightly-lit action.  Hell, even the fonts used for the opening titles feel like they’re ripped right out of FANTASY ISLAND.  But every time MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY settles into some class of  clean, safe, even borderline banal groove, Moctezuma steers it into absolute insanity. There are plenty movies like it and yet…there’s nothing quite like it.

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On NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT

A look at German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s haunting 1979 vampire film

Immortality. We all want it. The chance to defy that black specter of death that equalizes us. But to live forever, drifting through time like a ghost; residue of a memory, unattached to anything, anyplace…anyone. Hiding in shadows until the earth stops spinning. The crushing loneliness of it…would it really be worth it?

That’s the central driving thematic force behind director Werner Herzog’s dark, dreamy, full color remake of the immortal 1922 German expressionist classic Nosferatu. A film that, although deeply indebted (sometimes almost scene for scene) to the iconic, silent original, still manages to evolve beyond its experimental horror roots, taking its essence from F.W. Murnau (like a vampire would, in fact), assimilating that blueprint and then injecting liberal amounts of lyricism and a driving force of deep, bittersweet melancholy. The resulting work is among the inimitable Herzog’s most powerful and important films.

After a string of incredibly successful art house favorites throughout the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Herzog, who alongside trailblazing filmmakers Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders, was a major figure in the German new wave movement, turned his gaze to the film he correctly acknowledged as the single most important German movie of all time. Indeed, the director had set his sights on remaking Murnau’s shuddery unauthorized Dracula adaptation, shooting both German and English language versions and applying his own unique cinematic aesthetic to the oft filmed tale of the bloodsucking undead.

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On THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE

A look at Vincente Aranda’s hallucinatory lesbian vampire film

In the late 1960s, as the old guard died off and a new wave of filmmakers slowly, surely seeped into Hollywood – and Hollyweird – American audiences became hungrier for more daring sorts of entertainment. Political and social upheaval was swelling, the 6 O’clock news dragged dying soldiers from the front lines in Vietnam into people’s living rooms, films like Bonnie and Clyde and Midnight Cowboy brought more explicit content into the mainstream and hardcore porn was championed by beloved prime time staples like Ed McMahon and Sammie Davis Jr. It was fertile ground for cinematic expression and with the vibrant, experimental films from Europe being suddenly embraced by this new American pack of creators, sexually aware, violent  and earthy movies made for adults became industry standard. And with American distributors acting on this sudden liberal surge, European genre filmmakers began really pushing boundaries. Look at the work of Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, the sexier side of Hammer Horror, Alain Robbe-Grillet , Dario Argento, Sergio Martino and others, all taking advantage of their homegrown movies being marketed around the world and all of them introducing more potent taboo-breaking imagery into their lurid narratives.

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