Fright 1: Carmilla

For the first of thirteen frights of Fantom we take a closer look at the influential vampire novella Carmilla.

Originally serialised in 1871, Carmilla pre-dates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by some twenty-six years.

The story is narrated by a young woman, Laura, who is preyed upon by a female vampire named Carmilla, later revealed to be Mircalla, Countess Karnstein. Slowly she falls under Carmilla’s spell. Whilst she is both attracted and repulsed by Carmilla, she seems unable to find the energy to resist her.

A spate of sudden wasting deaths afflicts the peasants in the countryside around the castle and Laura herself falls ill. Will they manage to work out the cause of her illness in time or will she just be the latest victim of the vampire Carmilla?

Carmilla was written by Irish author Joseph Sheridan LeFanu two year before his death. M.R. James described Le Fanu as “absolutely in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories” and was favoured by his colleagues and peers for his historical, mystery and gothic horror fiction.

The influence of Carmilla on Bram Stoker’s Dracula is quite notable and there are many similarities in both content and structure. LeFanu can be praised for his ground-breaking treatment of sexuality in the genre. The character of Carmilla is a prototypical example of the lesbian vampire, expressing romantic desires toward the central character, Laura. The novella notably never acknowledges homosexuality as an antagonistic trait, leaving it subtle and relatively unmentioned.

This classic gothic vampire tale is read for Fantom by Tracey Childs. Tracey Childs is best known for her roles in Howards’ Way (Lynne Howard), Born and Bred (Lina Cosgrove) and Doctor Who; and is now also a successful theatre producer.

The novella has spawned a number of adaptations on stage, television, film, radio and even in comics, opera and video game format. Hammer Horror adapted the story as The Vampire Lovers in 1970, with Ingrid Pitt in the lead role. The most recent film adaption was last year in a version adapted and directed by Emily Harris.

Carmilla’s influence on modern vampire genre cannot be ignored. Fantom’s edition is available on CD (currently £12.17 until 31st October) or download (£2.99) in an unabridged format.