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‘Carmilla’: taking vampirism back to its queer roots

Sara Elliot October 16, 2017 October 16th, 2017

Back in 2014, a small, single-camera web series launched on Youtube. “Carmilla” puts a modern spin on the the 19th-century gothic vampire novella of the same name by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. It’s got a bit of horror, a bit of mystery, and a lot of comedy. Since then, there have been 108 five-minute episodes, three seasons, and more than 69 million views.

Now, “The Carmilla Movie”, a full-length feature film, is coming out on October 26. How did they get here?

According to GLAAD’s annual “where we are on TV” report, out of the 4.8% of characters identified as LGBTQ on primetime programming in 2016, only 17% were lesbian identified. And while bisexual characters are on the rise, many of them still fall into dangerous stereotypes.

The cool thing about “Carmilla” and its creators is that their agenda is to normalize media representations of the LGBTQ community. And they succeeded. Their story was never about the struggle of two women falling in love and the challenges they would face. They were too busy saving the world.

As Elise Bauman, who plays protagonist Laura, said: “I think the story of Carmilla in our universe has always been a love story between these two women, and it was just part of the story. It didn’t need to be introduced, it didn’t need to be explained, as it doesn’t need to be in real life.”

Of course, the 19th century source material was not as queer friendly. The novella, which predates “Dracula” by 26 years, casts a woman in the predatory vampire role, hunting for women. We saw it most recently on “True Blood”, but the queer and the occult have always been connected. Natasha Negovanlis, who plays Carmilla, boils down the connection as “feeling like an outcast”.

While most popular vampire stories also have a predatory element (hello, “Twilight”), it’s usually seen as something romantic. Sheridan Le Fanu’s story was more of a cautionary tale about the evils of lesbianism.

However, the series creators found the way to adapt the novella into a really queer, feminist web series. Season 3 concluded at Silas University—where it all began. Laura (Bauman) and Carmilla (Negovanlis) stopped the apocalypse and Carmilla is no longer a vampire.

“The Carmilla Movie” will take place five years after the end of the series, where the couple will be living a normal life in Toronto. That is, until Laura starts having strange dreams and Carmilla begins to regain some vampire attributes.

The movie will be released to streaming on October 27. Additionally, 30 cities across Canada will hold theatrical screenings on October 26.