Carmilla is a Canadian single-frame Youtube-based webseries based on one of the earliest works of vampire fiction– a 1897 Gothic novel of the same name by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by almost three decades!
The webseries has been co-created by Jordan Hall, Steph Ouaknine and Jay Bennett and produced by KindaTV. Made on a shoestring budget, the show is shot in the style of a vlog (video blog) recorded by the character Laura Hollis, and hence features just one camera angle in a long-take in almost all episodes.
While the 1897 novella had showed the relationship between the two female protagonists as purely speculative and indirectly implied, the webseries explicitly chooses to show the two in a relationship. This makes the webseries the first of its kind to incorporate the genre of lesbian vampire literature/film in positive and comedic light, rather than its usual tabooed and ‘exploitative’ form.
Carmilla is one of the few current shows known for its diverse cast featuring people of colour and of different sexual identities and religious backgrounds; it also deals with these topics subtly and sensitively, which gives this show a universal appeal.
Since the series has been retconned to modern times, the show features the original characters as college students, with a very diverse and a fairly new cast at the show’s centre. It features openly pansexual actress Natasha Negovanlis as the titular character Carmilla Karnstein, Elise Bauman (who recently came out as bisexual) as Laura Hollis, the queer and non-binary Kaitlyn Alexander who came to terms with her gender identity playing the non-binary Susan LaFontaine, Annie M. Briggs as Lola Perry, and Sharon Belle as Danny Lawrence.
In all, the show has at least three ladies who like ladies and two of them are leads. That kind of queer women representation was possibly last seen in The L Word (which to be honest, fetishized their characters and relationships a lot towards its later seasons) in mainstream American broadcast TV, and Orange is the New Black in the webseries diaspora. Carmilla is a clear departure from these two, mainly because of its light-hearted and comedic treatment, and also because of its massively different and unique Youtube format.
Even though the show’s cast is almost entirely made of newcomers, they have all given top-notch performances. Natasha Negovanlis won multiple awards for best actress in Canada and abroad, and the rest of the cast and crew have won various other accolades as well.
This webseries has done what many other shows and films have rarely managed to do: it has successfully passed the Bechdel Test on more than one occasion. In an interview to AfterEllen, story editor and co-creator Ellen Simpson said about their character adaptation from the original novella, “We decided pretty early on that we didn’t want the story follow the original’s intent of being a cautionary tale of female sexuality. Laura’s shift from a victim to a young woman with her own agency came from this as well. We wanted to present a girl who had a great deal of self-confidence, but who maybe didn’t understand the world as well as she thought she does.”
Carmilla Karnstein, Laura Hollis, and the duo of Perry and LaF (short for LaFontaine) are fleshed out characters in their own right, and have sparked forth a fandom (who call themselves the Creampuffs) that not only appreciates the show for its couples and their chemistry, but also for its individuals.
The show is set in the fictional Silas University, a place of higher learning for the occult and various other subjects, located in the state of Styria in southeast Austria. Here, Laura is a dorky and idealist journalism and literature major, who finds herself embroiled in a huge mystery when her roommate disappears overnight. Carmilla Karnstein is her new roommate, dark, brooding, with supernatural strength, and is not-so-secretly a centuries-old vampire, born Mircalla Karnstein way back in 1680. Laura embarks on a journey to investigate the strange disappearances in the Silas campus, and is at constant loggerheads with the cynical Carmilla. Eventually, after saving each other several times from the villainous Dean (who also happens to be Carmilla’s adoptive vampire mother) the two fall in love and from there on, continue their supernatural quest in, around and out of Silas.
Carmilla is the perfect show in many ways. It has episodes that do not stretch beyond a few minutes, with a script that is short, but keeps you on the edge of your seat despite the low production value. Jordan Hall, who co-wrote the show discussed scripting the Carmilla storyline, saying, “As a writer, I’m a big fan of strong arcs and aggressive act turns – go big or go home, y’know? We essentially broke the episodes in one long Google Doc, then moved the whole mess into a huge spreadsheet to make sure all the various streams of narrative were tracking. In a lot of ways, that spreadsheet was our writers’ room.”
Carmilla gained a huge fan following overnight, and garnered a number of awards in the international and Canadian webseries circuits, leading to a culminating Carmilla: The Movie, a feature-length film that was released recently on October 26, 2017, and was produced solely through crowdfunding by fans. The series has 121 episodes spread over four seasons and various specials, all of which are accessible on Youtube.
The cast of the show acknowledges and interacts more with its fanbase than any of its other counterparts, and the proof of this lies in Carmilla: The Movie, and KindaTV’s growing popularity and success of their other shows. Carmilla is a refreshing concept in the face of television’s lack of portrayal of lesbian and queer women, where their representation is fractional and twisted, but forming a majority in the overall onscreen character deaths every year. Today, Carmilla has more than 55 million views to its name (with over half of them coming outside of North America), and over 4 million followers from over 193 countries on its various social media accounts. However niche and indie it may sound, Carmilla is a serious and honest attempt in mainstream media, especially for the LGBTQ community, and one that needs all the love and recognition that it can get. So, from one Creampuff to hopefully another, go and watch Carmilla today!