Susan (Maribel Martín) and has just married her new husband (Simón Andreu) and after the wedding has been taken to a hotel for the honeymoon. However, she is on edge because of what traditionally happens on wedding nights, and as she has never made love to her husband before she imagines that once she is left alone on their room, a masked man bursts out of the wardrobe and pins her to the bed, tearing her clothes off and pawing at her. Her husband finds her later on, still wearing her wedding dress and obviously worried, but he reassures her... or he thinks he does.
The possibilities of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's short story Carmilla were not lost on the horror filmmakers of the nineteen-seventies who thanks to new freedoms on what you could depict on the big screen opted to spice up the now worn out vampire genre by adding lesbianism to the mix. There were hints of that previous to this decade, as even Dracula's Daughter from 1936 had an aspect of it, but now the films could operate on a dual purpose of providing shocks and titillation akin to the kind of thing you would see in soft porn. Hammer made probably the most famous versions of these starting with The Vampire Lovers, but other countries' moviemakers really ran with it.
Here was a Spanish variation on that story that had so inspired Hammer in the first place, halfway between Jean Rollin's French outings in this style and the British mistrust of overt sexuality. You can tell writer and director Vicente Aranda was conflicted about what his true feelings were about the battle of the sexes as the point of view shifts practically from scene to scene, with one stage showing how vile men can be, and the next illustrating the damaging effects of blindly followed sisterhood. What is clear is that Susan is as much a victim caught between these two poles as her husband and the mysterious Carmilla (Alexandra Bastedo) are dangerous influences.
At first, as we see when Susan has her nightmare-fantasy about being raped, it is the men who are at fault as her spouse, who is never offered the dignity of a name, treats her too roughly and effectively uses her as his sexual plaything now he has "claimed" her as his wife and apparently believes this means he can use her how he wishes when he takes her to his country house. This even takes in play-fighting that puts us off him almost immediately, yet Aranda is not going to play by conventions, as we see when the next night Susan has a dream about Carmilla visiting her in the bedroom and sinking her teeth into the bride's neck, this act apparently setting up a bond between them which the husband then finds it hard to break.
Follow this with a dream where Carmilla takes a ceremonial dagger and urges Susan to stab her husband to death with it and you can probably tell by this development that all is not well in this marriage, but is the vampire all in her head? That's what the eerie atmosphere is nudging you towards, until a frankly bizarre sequence where the husband goes out to bury the dagger on the beach and notices a hand sticking out from the surface. A spot of digging ensues, whereupon he uncovers Carmilla, naked except for a diving mask, and takes her home; he has already told Susan the history of the murderess Mircalla (one for the anagram fans), so can they be related? With Susan vulnerable and violent by turns, and her partner overbearing and thoughtful in similar switches of character, it's hard to see whose side we're meant to be on, so by the end Aranda looks to have thrown his hands up as if noting both are as bad as each other, leaving us with a succession of striking images but none the wiser about our conclusions. Music by Antonio Pérez Olea.