Carmilla is a Gothic novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. First published in 1872, it tells the story of a young woman’s susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire named Carmilla. It was first published in the magazine The Dark Blue and then in the author’s collection of short stories In a Glass Darkly in the latter year.
The story is presented as part of the casebook of Doctor Hesselius, whose departures from medical orthodoxy rank him as the first occult doctor in literature. It is narrated by Laura, one of the two main protagonists of the tale. Laura begins her tale by relating her childhood in a “picturesque and solitary” castle in the midst of an extensive forest in Styria, where she lives with her father, a wealthy English widower, retired from the Austrian Service. When she was six years old, Laura had a vision of a beautiful visitor in her bedchamber. She later claims to have been bitten on the chest, although no wounds are found on her.
12 years later, Laura and her father are admiring the sunset in front of the castle when her father tells her of a letter he received earlier from his friend, General Spielsdorf. The General was supposed to bring his niece, Bertha Rheinfeldt, to visit the two, but the niece suddenly died under mysterious circumstances. The General ambiguously concludes that he will discuss the circumstances in detail when they meet later. Laura is saddened by the loss of a potential friend, and longs for a companion. A carriage accident outside Laura’s home unexpectedly brings a girl of Laura’s age into the family’s care. Her name is Carmilla. Both girls instantly recognize the other from the “dream” they both had when they were young…
Carmilla, the title character, is the original prototype for a legion of female and lesbian vampires. Though Le Fanu portrays his vampire’s sexuality with the circumspection that one would expect for his time, it is evident that lesbian attraction is the main dynamic between Carmilla and the narrator of the story. When compared to other literary vampires of the 19th century, Carmilla is a similar product of a culture with strict sexual mores and tangible religious fear. While Carmilla selected exclusively female victims, she only becomes emotionally involved with a few.
- Danish director Carl Dreyer loosely adapted Carmilla for his 1932 film Vampyr but deleted any references to lesbian sexuality.
- French director Roger Vadim’s Et mourir de plaisir (literally And to die of pleasure, and internationally released as Blood and Roses, 1960) is based on Carmilla.
- A more-or-less faithful adaptation starring Christopher Lee was produced in Italy in 1964 under the title La cripta e l’incubo (Crypt of Horror).
- The British Hammer Film Productions also produced a fairly faithful adaptation of “Carmilla” titled The Vampire Lovers (1970) with Ingrid Pitt in the lead role, Madeline Smith as her victim/lover. It is the first installment of the Karnstein Trilogy. A British paperback tie-in was issued by Fontana Books with Carmilla cheekily re-titled The Vampire Lovers!
- The Blood Spattered Bride (La Novia Ensangrentada) is a 1972 Spanish horror film written and directed by Vicente Aranda, is based on the text. The film has reached cult status for its mix of horror, vampirism and seduction with lesbian overtones.
- Carmilla (1980) is a black-and-white television adaptation from Poland, starring singer Izabela Trojanowska in the title role, and Monika Stefanowicz as Laura.
- In 1989, Gabrielle Beaumont also adapted Carmilla into a medium length film with Meg Tilly as the vampiress.
- In the 2005 direct-to-video movie, The Batman vs. Dracula, Carmilla Karnstein is referenced of being Count Dracula’s bride, who had been incinerated by sunlight years ago. Dracula hoped to revive her by sacrificing Vicki Vale’s soul, but the ritual was stopped by the Batman.
- Carmilla is featured as the main antagonist in the 2009 movie Lesbian Vampire Killers, a comedy starring Paul McGann and James Corden, with Silvia Colloca as Carmilla.
- Styria (2013) is an adaptation of the novel set in late 1980s with Julia Pietrucha as Carmilla and Eleanor Tomlinson as Lara.
- Cradle of Filth, a British extreme metal band, produced an album called Dusk… and Her Embrace, largely inspired by Carmilla and Le Fanu’s writings in general, and have also recorded an instrumental track titled “Carmilla’s Masque”.
- Theatres des Vampires, an Italian extreme gothic metal band, has produced a video single called “Carmilla” for its album Moonlight Waltz.
- A chamber opera version of Carmilla appeared in 1970 (Carmilla: A Vampire Tale, music by Ben Johnston, script by Wilford Leach).
- A vampire named Baron Karnstein appears in Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Carmilla herself is mentioned several times as a former (until her death at the hands of vampire hunters) friend of the book’s vampire heroine Geneviève. Some short stories set in the Anno Dracula universe have also included Carmilla.
- In the Japanese light novel series High School DxD the vampires are depicted as having a society divided among two major factions: The Tepes and the Carmilla. The Carmilla faction favors a matriarchal society for the world of vampires while the Tepes prefer a patriarchal government.
- Elfriede Jelinek’s play Illness or Modern Women uses Carmilla as the name of one of its female protagonists, who becomes a vampire.
- Author Anne Rice has cited Carmilla as an inspiration for The Vampire Chronicles; a series of bestselling vampire books she wrote from 1976-2003.
- The novel Carmilla: The Wolves of Styria is a re-imagining of the original story. It is a derivative re-working, listed as being authored by J.S. Le Fanu and David Brian.
- Carmilla: A Dark Fugue is a short book by David Brian. Although the story is primarily centered around the exploits of General Spielsdorf; nonetheless it relates directly to events which unfold within Carmilla: The Wolves of Styria.
- Carmilla: The Return by Kyle Marffin is the sequel of Carmilla.
- In 1991, Aircel Comics published a six-issue black and white miniseries of Carmilla by Steven Jones and John Ross. It was based on the story by Sheridan Le Fanu and billed as “The Erotic Horror Classic of Female Vampirism”. The first issue was printed in February 1991. The first three issues were an adaptation of the original story, while the latter three were a sequel set in the 1930s.
- In the first story arc of Dynamite Entertainment’s revamp of Vampirella, a villainous vampire named Le Fanu inhabits the basement of a Seattle nightclub named Carmilla.
- In six of the Castlevania games; Circle of the Moon, Rondo of Blood, its PSP remake Dracula X Chronicles, Simon’s Quest, Judgment, and Lords of Shadow; there is a female vampire named Carmilla (also spelled Camilla in Circle of the Moon).
- In episode 36 of The Return of Ultraman, the monster of the week in the episode, Draculas, originates from a planet named Carmilla. He also possesses the corpse of a woman as his human disguise.
- The Doctor Who serial State of Decay features a vampire named Camilla who in a brief but explicit moment finds much to ‘admire’ in the Doctor’s female travelling companion Romana who finds she has to turn away from the vampire’s intense gaze.
- In the HBO TV series True Blood, in episodes 5 and 6 of season 2, a hotel in Dallas, Texas has been built for vampires called “Hotel Carmilla”. They have heavy shaded rooms, and provide room service of human “snacks” (with blood type and sexuality) for their vampire clientele.