For those of us who enjoy the classic vampire tales, this one holds a special place in history. Without Carmilla, there is no romance or sensuality in the realm of the undead, and there are no lesbian vampires. Without Carmilla, there is no Dracula, and there is no vampire subgenre as we know it today.
I’ve been a fan of this novella most of my life, having discovered it over 30 years ago. I reread it from time to time and rank it easily on par with Dracula as one of my favorite gothic horror works. The almost direct influence it has on Dracula has been documented time and again, and I won’t bother reciting it here. Suffice it to say, most of what we think of as “standard” hallmarks of the vampire story are found here, and they were relatively new devices in the realm of literature.
This particular version of the tale isn’t a narrated version of the novella. Instead, this is a fully dramatized performance based on Le Fanu’s classic. And as far as I’m concerned, this is about as good as it gets in regards to dramatic translation. It’s nearly perfect, right down to the subtle music. The vocal talents of Phoebe Fox and Rose Leslie take the original sensuality and make it hauntingly believable. Truly excellent performances here.
David Tennant as Dr. Hesselius — the original Abraham van Helsing — is perhaps a bit over the top in places, but no less than we’ve come to expect from him over the years. In a way, things have come full circle for me as I discovered Tennant years before the new Doctor Who series as an extra in Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas. My first encounter with him, he was playing a German soldier. And now here he is vocalizing an Austrian character, the prototype for all occult doctors in gothic fiction. It’s so good to have him back at the microphone, even if the role isn’t that big. We can’t say that the part was written for him, but he’s definitely made it his own while paying homage to the classic influences.