Fangirl Friday: Carmilla, the lesbian vampire series you totally need

OMG you guys FINALLY I’m watching the web series Carmilla and OMG WHAT THE HELL WHY DID I FREAKING WAIT SO LONG??? *hangs head*

I’m almost through it and OMG this is so much fun I can’t even! No wonder it took fandoms by storm!

Whew. Let me back up a bit and drop some history on y’all.

You might recognize the title Carmilla. It’s the name of a 19th-century vampire novella by Irish gothic/horror author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (his father was Huguenot), considered a founder of the Victorian ghost story. Carmilla predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by nearly 30 years; Le Fanu published it as a series in London literary mag The Dark Blue in 1871-1872.

The plot is thus: a young woman is preyed upon by a female vampire named Carmilla, later revealed to be Mircalla, Countess Karnstein (did you notice the anagram of Carmilla? heh). The story involves a sickly house guest (Carmilla) pawned off on a family with a young woman who is slowly drained of her life by the vampire. It’s told from the POV of the woman who is preyed upon, which lends an air of growing tension and dread in the narrative.

Le Fanu was studying law, but didn’t take the bar and instead went into journalism and fiction. He married one Susanna Bennett in 1844, who dealt with mental illness, and her struggles probably influenced how Le Fanu depicted extreme neuroses and most likely played a role in his development of the psychological ghost story (he was one of the first to write this form).

The marriage suffered because of financial difficulties and Bennett’s mental illness (possibly other health issues, too); she died in 1858 at the age of 34 and Le Fanu blamed himself for what had happened and retreated into a mostly reclusive life afterward.

Illustration by D.H. Friston, The Dark Blue, 1872

At any rate, Le Fanu’s Carmilla not only dealt with vampire themes decades before Stoker (who probably borrowed a bit from the earlier work), but it also presented an eroticized friendship between women (albeit predatory), an early work in literature to do so. His novella probably provides the archetype of female vampires as vixens (“vamps”) in later portrayals in various media, and indeed Carmilla has been anthologized numerous times and adapted many times in film.

Which brings us to THIS adaptation, the award-winning Canadian (O, Canada I love you!) single-frame web series on KindaTV, created by playwright and writer Jordan Hall; producer/director Steph Ouaknine; and producer/innovator Jay Bennett. The series launched in 2014 and continued through 2016. It ended after three seasons, but on Oct. 26 the MOVIE drops with the same actors and also Dominique Provost-Chalkley (of Wynonna Earp fame).

More on that in a minute.

Let’s talk a bit about story. Carmilla is set up as a single-frame series, which means there’s one camera, and here it’s basically masquerading as the camera of a computer because our intrepid main character, Laura Hollis, is a video blogger, which means the series functions as a vlog (video blog, for those who have been hiding under rocks).

Thus, the entire story is told through the frame of this one camera (hence, “single-frame”), often with Laura talking to the camera (and thus the audience) offering her narrative and perspectives, but also, the camera stays on and captures the interaction of the characters which is often funny, snarky, and poignant as Laura and her friends coalesce to deal with the creepy that abounds in dozens of 2-5 minute episodes (which you can find on KindaTV). So a season is basically 3-4 hours long. Easily binge-able, friends. Just sayin’.

Laura Hollis (Elise Bauman) in her Silas U dorm room

Laura is a freshman at Silas University in Styria, Austria, though you’d never know it was Austria because we’re limited to the interior shots where Laura’s computer camera is. The name of the university may be a nod to Le Fanu, whose gothic horror novel Uncle Silas is still in print since its publication in 1864.

Carmilla (Natasha Negovanlis)

So strange things are afoot at Silas, my friends, and we soon realize how strange in S1 when Laura’s roommate Betty disappears after a night of partying. Laura, who wants to be a journalist, decides she’s going to investigate (using her vlog, as well) and find out what happened to Betty and, she realizes, to a few other students — all women — who have gone missing.

Laura is soon assigned another roommate: the goth-y, brood-y, moody, messy, and infuriating vampire Carmilla (Natasha Negovanlis), who isn’t out drinking blood from live people, but rather out of blood bags. But Laura doesn’t realize Carmilla’s essence at first, though there are a number of clues that will eventually lead her to that conclusion.

Like oil and water, these two, and Laura has to deal with how much Carmilla makes her nuts in addition to the creepy things that keep happening at Silas.

Laura’s student posse includes wonder science geek Susan/Laf (Kaitlyn Alexander), uptight den mother-type Lola (Annie Briggs; everybody refers to her by her last name, Perry), English TA and “amazon” Danny (Sharon Belle), and goofy frat guy Kirsch (Matt O’Connor).

Eventually, Laura discovers that Carmilla is a vampire and she immediately suspects that her irritating roommate has something to do with the disappearances of Betty and the other students. The question is, though, did she or didn’t she? And there are other crazy, creepy things going on at Silas. Where does Carmilla fit in this?

And dammit, why, if Laura finds Carmilla so frustrating and irritating, does she kind of worry about her, too? HMMMMM!

From left: Perry (Annie Briggs), Susan (Kaitlyn Alexander); Laura (Elise Bauman)

Season 1 thus introduces us to this group of students, weird hijinks, and also slowly unfurls the growing attraction between Laura and Carmilla (ship name Hollstein; Hollis and Karnstein).

I’m not going to go into S2/S3 here, because you can access extensive synopses online if you’re so inclined. Plus, I don’t want to ruin it for you. More hilarity, snark, hijinks, but also some major sadz and introspection.

Danny (Sharon Belle)

So for those of you who are used to watching an episode of something that’s 45-60 minutes long, well, get over that. If you have the capability, stream this right off KindaTV onto your big screen or watch it on whatever device you want.

You don’t need to pay to subscribe to KindaTV, which is the former Vervegirl, because Canada’s KindaTV channel operates on YouTube, and bills itself as an entertainment channel “dedicated to bringing you the kinda representation you just don’t see on TV. We combine kick ass scripted web series like ‘Carmilla’ and ‘Inhuman Condition’ with wacky, whimsical, and sometimes weird weekly videos featuring Natasha Negovanlis, the host of our channel and the actress who plays Carmilla herself.”

(handy tip; if you search YouTube, you should be able to find each season all spliced together into 3-4 hour continuous vids if that’s your thing).

Here’s Episode 1 of Season 1 (2.37 minutes):

It’s damn clever, setting it up like that, so you can have quick Carmilla hits during the day streamed right off your device as you follow the investigation of the Silas crew. The writing is tight and the characters are fabulous. What a cast! Carmilla has me all nostalgic for the Goonies and the Scooby-Doo gang and the Mystery Machine only there are OUT LESBIANS and I don’t have to subtext the hell out of anything — let’s hear it for strong rep!

I’ve pretty much binged the hell out of this series and there are so many things I love about it besides the nostalgic vibe. Great dialogue, great acting, hilarity, romance, angst, nutty plot twists, paranormal creepiness, and a narrative that keeps you moving along to the point that you’re literally sneaking episodes during the day at work (not that I would know…). And I love the sweet/sexy chemistry between Laura and Carmilla, and the opposites attract romance that defines this ship.

So yes, it is a lesbian vampire story, but it’s so much more than that. The focus isn’t really on Carmilla’s vampire essence. It’s on saving Silas, saving friends, and saving the world, and how this group of misfits brings out the best in each other. And it’s about the development of the relationship between Carmilla and Laura, and how each brings different things to it, but play off each other, too.

I love this brilliant feminist and overt lesbian interpretation of Le Fanu, and the idea to not only set it where the creators did, but also to employ the single-frame shooting of it, which brings an intimacy to the story in which you, the viewer, are almost part of the story, as if it were a play, and you’re sitting right next to the stage in one of those intimate small playhouse situations.

Laura, especially, looks directly into the camera and talks to her audience about what’s happening — a great way to provide the backstory and filler as transitions to interaction with other characters. You come to care about these characters, and feel like you’re part of the posse trying to solve the mysteries because you’re essentially part of the narrative. After all, Laura is vlogging, and you are watching her vlogs and also watching what goes on in the room because her computer camera stays on.

And now I’m all stoked for the movie, which takes place 5 years after the series ends. If you’re interested, you can find the trailer at KindaTV. It’s available for streaming October 26 and those lucky folks in Canada will be able to see it in some theaters across 30 cities AND it’ll include extra footage (an option that you can buy with one of the streaming packages).

Both Carmilla (Natasha) and Laura (Elise) were at ClexaCon in March, and rumor has it they’ll be back for 2018. Maybe there’ll even be a screening of the movie…

So to recap:
Find Carmilla episodes on KindaTV
Get ready for the movie.
And if you’d like to read Le Fanu’s novella of the same title, well, it’s public domain, so HERE YOU GO. Whatever e-format you want.

Happy Friday. Live long and prosper.

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