Directors Who Should Do Carmilla

Two decades have passed since Showtime’s adaptation of Carmilla with Meg Tilly as the title character.  As this article goes is written a new version of the classic is looking for a distributor.  Titled Styria it stars Stephen Rhea.  To be sure, Le Fanu’s wonderful and seminal novella so far ended up on the screen a fraction of times as Bram Stoker’s more famous novel.  But let us speculate on who might make really fine adaptations of the strange story of Carmilla the vampire…

Guillermo de Toro comes to mind.  Who better to capture the dreamlike nature of this story, in which our narrator lives cut off from the rest of the world in a half-abandoned castle complete with moat (where swans swim no less)?  Perhaps more than any other vampire tale, this depends on atmosphere.  Suggestions that the world isn’t what it seems on the surface.  Those shadows?  They might not be empty.  Even more disturbing, they might move–on their own.  A world where a dead mother whispers to her daughter in dreams, and a mysterious visitor transforms into a cat at night.

Who better than the man who gave us Pan’s Labyrinth and Mimic?  Here’s a man whose films successfully blur reality and fantasy, often in ways that make us stare at the screen over and over.  True, he evidently prefers the more monstrous type of vampire (see The Strain, the horror trilogy he wrote with Chuck Hogan) but he also is a master of eerie beauty and genuine (as opposed to cheap) thrills.  He’s certainly up to the job.

So too would be Adrian Lyne.  Not a prolific director, but one with a canon of work very much right for a work like Carmilla.  For one thing, he successfully creates an air of eroticism while avoiding crassness or anything hinting of pornography.  In films like Lolita and Fatal Attraction, he not only did so he did it using natural light and the acting of his cast.  No small feat!  More, he finds a way to make the supernatural in some fundamental, startling way “real.”  In the film Jacob’s Ladder for example he strove to create some method of making classical demons–horns, tails, etc.–seem to blend into a grittily naturalistic New York City.  His solution, according to the screenwriter, could be summed up in the world “thalidomide.”  It made for a deeply disturbing set of images, glimpsed by the audience and making the film crawl.  Likewise he doesn’t shy away from edgy subjects, while at the same time engaging his casts in extremely fine performances.  He does not however go for cliches or simplistic characterization.   In a book all-too-often suffering from turning the central character into a kind of empty-headed doll, this seems a wonderful qualification.

Then there’s Tim Burton.  At this point I’m sure some folks are doing a take.  Especially those who’ll point out neither one of the leads in the story is male and therefore cannot be played by Johnny Depp!  Which kinda misses the point.  Burton as a director creates as vivid and as individualistic a vision as any director today, perhaps ever.  Can anyone doubt his version of Carmilla would be a visual gothic feast?  The castle and its gardens, as well as its huge rooms with vast windows through which moonlight shines.  A ruined village in the forest, where the secret tomb of Mircalla Karnstein lies.  Consider such films as Sleepy Hollow and Dark Shadows and how they looked.  Consider also Burton’s proven ability to find and work with young actresses to great effect–Mia Wasikowski (pictured), Chloe Grace Moretz, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci to name a few?  In fact, one can easily imagine him using his staple of actors he uses again and again–Depp, Sir Christopher Lee, Helena Bonham Carter, Martin Landau, etc.–in all the supporting roles while casting two relative unknowns as Laura and her friend/victimizer Carmilla.

So–who do you want to see direct a new version of Carmilla?

By david

David MacDowell Blue blogs at Night Tinted Glasses.  He graduated from the National Shakespeare Conservatory and is the author of The Annotated Carmilla. and Your Vampire Story (And How to Write It) as well as a theatrical adaptation of Carmilla.


  1. If you like the dark and dreamlike feeling of Guillermo de Toro, you may also like Dave McKean, the director of the brilliant MirrorMask.

  2. Any one but Tim burton. Dark shadows was horrid vampire movie. Felt more like mocking them. I prefer darker vampire movies like daylight or queen of the damned.

  3. This is going to sound strange but I nominate Miranda July (The Future) and Mike Cahill (Another Earth). Both have shown in their non-horror features that they can convey the unreal impinging on the prosaic everyday world. I think either would be able to create a naturalistic but eerie atmosphere and a restrained approach to the supernatural. July should play the title character in her movie and Cahill collaborator Brit Marling in his. Another pick for director is Bill Paxton, based solely on the strength of Frailty, one of the best horror movies since the sixties.

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  6. Of the choices,Del Toro gets my vote. I always saw Burton as more of a production designer and not a storyteller due to the weak narratives like “Sleepy Hollow” or “Batman.” Hey; can the two work together?

  7. Please for the love of god not Tim Burton. He’ll approach Carmilla as another remake and another opportunity to infest another well-loved classic with his “brand” which includes style over substance, Helena Bonham Carter and/or Johnny Depp, a soccer mom’s sensibility of “edgy”, and a touch of daddy issues.

  8. Guillermo del Toro all the way, not Tim Burton. Guillermo did directed Pan’s Labyrith he better directing Carmilla or Alfronso Cuaron.

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