The Vampire Lovers (1970) - Ingrid Pitt The Hammer Goddess September 13, 2018 10:34
Almost every Hammer fan I've ran into ranks The Vampire Lovers somewhere on their top ten list of all-time favorite Hammer films. So in such a case I'm always a little weary going into a film that has such a solid consensus behind it as usually they don't end up living up to the hype for me, but I must say that The Vampire Lovers is definitely one of the best Hammer films I've seen so far.
The Vampire Lovers begins Hammer Film's Karnstein trilogy. The Karnsteins were a family of vampires that preyed on the inhabitants of the province of Styria, Austria. One evening a Baron, whose sister was killed by one of the vampires, ventures out to put an end to the family's reign of terror. He waited for one of them to awake, lured it into the castle and beheaded it. Then preceded to exhume the remaining graves and destroy the bodies while they slept, unfortunately for everyone else he missed one.
Many years later the remaining Karnstein vampire returns introducing herself as the daughter of an exotic Countess, and closely watched over by a mysterious man in black. Due to an emergency the Countess leaves her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) under the supervision of General Speilsdorf (Peter Cushing). All seems well until the General's niece begins to grow terribly weak and eventually dies, bite marks are discovered on her neck and Marcilla mysteriously disappears. Not too much time passes and she reappears in another area of the providence, again accompanied by the Countess, but this time going by the name Carmilla. She's welcomed into the home of an Englishman with a beautiful daughter named Emma (Madeline Smith), who also mysteriously begins to grow weak soon after Carmilla's arrival.
Carmilla's true identity is revealed as Mircalla Karnstein, the last of the Karnstein family. Like every vampire she has an never-ending thirst for human blood. She also has an unusual passion for a certain type of victim, young beautiful females with whom she seduces and slowly drains them, as she has her way with them. After the General's niece dies the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place and the inhabitants of the province begin to realize that Emma (who is now experiencing similar symptoms) may be in dire trouble, and it is imperative they identity the vampire responsible and destroy her before more girls die.
The Vampire Lovers is based on a novella entitled Carmilla, originally published in the magazine The Dark Blue between December 1871 and March 1872 and predating Bram Stoker's Dracula by twenty-five years. The story for the film was considerably "tarted up" as one writer said, with a blend of lesbianism and gore that was in the 1970's regarded as quite explicit and unthinkable prior to its release. Casting of the lead role was difficult and it was at one point recommended that Shirley Eaton (the gold painted girl of Goldfinger fame) be cast, but some thought her to be too old at the age of thirty-two so eventually a younger Polish actress by the name of Ingrid Pitt was cast in the role that made her a Hammer icon.
The film is my first real taste of a true Hammer horror period piece, there's no corny kung fu or Chinese Dracula here (reference to Hammer's extremely campy The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula), only authentic vampire horror at its best. This film does a great job of mixing outstanding sets, locations and costumes with a story that's more entertaining and interesting than any of the Hammer films I've seen thus far. Never once was I bored as Ingrid Pitt, manages to flawlessly play a seductive vampire who toys with her prey or simply goes for a jugular. After viewing this it's quite clear why she is thought of by many as one of Hammer's top female icons.
But the film is most known for its lesbian tendanices, which for the time were quite explicit. Compared to the sleaze Hollywood churns out today it would be considered quite tame now. And aside from a few scenes of nudity there really is no overly sexually explicit scenes, and the lesbian tones of the film are for the most part revealed through Carmilla's speech and body language towards her female victims, any on screen acts are never shown in any real detail but only inferred.
Overall, I enjoyed The Vampire Lovers, it's the first Hammer film I've viewed that has a high consistency to its acting, story and production, whereas so many of Hammer's films seem to fail horribly in at least one of those categories. I wouldn't go as far to say it's perfect, since I've only barely taken a nibble from the filmography of Hammer horror, buts it's definitely a worthy addition to the vampire film lore and Hammer's horror franchise, and one worth checking out.