SHE WANTS TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD
With the success of the Twilight books and movies and the hit HBO series True Blood, vampires are all the rage these days. Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema cover girl, the still beautiful Celeste Yarnall, will be a special guest star at this year’s Vampire Con from August 14-16th in Hollywood where they will screen her cult horror movie The Velvet Vampire (1971). According to Celeste, the only known master print is part of Quentin Tarantino’s private collection and he is graciously lending it to be screened.
Below is an excerpt from my Fantasy Femmes chapter on Celeste regarding The Velvet Vampire:
Celeste’s most notorious role came next—that of vampire Diana Le Fanu in The Velvet Vampire (1971) whose great tag line proclaimed, “She’s waiting to love you … to death!” After meeting married couple Susan and Lee Ritter (Sherry Miles and Michael Blodgett) at an art gallery, Diana lures them into staying the weekend at her Mojave Desert home. Soon both husband and wife find themselves sexually drawn to their mysterious host who suffers from a rare blood disease. Unlike vampires of lore, Diana was able to journey out into the sunlight as long as she is covered up. In the course of twenty-four hours, Diana feasts on a mechanic, his girlfriend, and a servant. After making love with Diana, Lee wants to depart but Susan is fascinated with the charming Diana and wants to stay. Their delay in leaving costs Lee his life while Diana meets her gruesome end at the hands of a cult hippie gang. “I dyed my hair black for this role,” says Celeste. “Though the part was a bit corny, I got into playing a vampire. The film had an interesting script by Charles S. Swartz, which explained Diana’s condition very well. This was one of the first films released by Roger Corman’s new production company [New World] and was more original than some of Roger’s other films, which were rip-offs of other movies. I became good friends with Roger and have a lot of respect for his talent.”
Celeste accepted the role of Diana despite the nude scenes (“I had my daughter Cami to support.”) after turning down previous parts that required nudity including a role in Winning with Paul Newman. “Though I was only semi-nude, it still bothered me,” remarks Celeste. “Charles Swartz also produced the film and his wife Stephanie Rothman directed it. They both were very nice and one of the ways that they persuaded me into doing the nude scene with Michael Blodgett was by making it an absolutely closed set. After it was lit, everyone left except the cinematographer, Stephanie, and her husband. The cinematographer’s name was Daniel Lacambre and he was brilliant. He lit and shot the film beautifully.”
“I worked well with Sherry Miles but this was a very dark period for Michael Blodgett,” continues Celeste. “He was drinking heavily throughout the shoot. I was not at all pleased with him as my leading man. In the scene where I have to stab him and he dies, he’s laying on top of me. Michael had his hand behind me and he didn’t realize that as he was acting he was closing his hand around my spine. He really hurt me—my whole back was bruised. But he had no clue what he was doing. He had been drinking the night before. Consequently, it was difficult for me to work with him and retain my air of professionalism. I tried to just put up with it. The producers finally got his girlfriend to come on location so he sobered up a bit when she arrived. It was murder until she got there. Michael ultimately cleaned up his act became a successful writer.”
Despite the film’s less than stellar reviews, The Velvet Vampire was a hit and has reached cult status due to the fact that it was directed by the talented and under appreciated Rothman. Also Celeste created a fascinating and mysterious vampire figure who had the ability to intoxicate her guests. Roger Corman was so impressed with Celeste that she was set to star in his next New World feature Sweet Sugar but she backed out of it at the last minute. “I was offered a small part in Michael Winner’s The Mechanic,” says Celeste. “I chose this instead because Michael had promised me a better part in his next movie called Scorpio. However that role was taken away from me and given to Gayle Hunnicutt. I never knew why I lost this role—Gayle didn’t have a bigger name than I had—but I think studio politics were involved. Passing on Corman’s film turned out to be a bad career move.”