Title: The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Ingridd Pitt, Peter Cushing, Madeline Smith, George Cole, Kate O Mara
As I have mentioned before on my previous Hammer film reviews, Hammer had a way of making their vampire movies. And I love it. Full moon, plus spooky castle at the top of the hill, plus fog, plus unsuspecting wanderers, plus vampires = A Hammer film. But I find myself enjoying the films that deviate from Hammers formula for vampire movies a whole lot more. The director of this film, Roy Ward Baker was the one director on Hammer's Studios roster that strived to always make something different with his films. On this one we have lesbian vampire chicks falling in love with their prey! And this film has nudity!
The story is about a vampire vixen known as Carmilla Karnstein. She belongs to a family of vampires that used to plague the local townsfolk. She has a modus operandi where she looks for an excuse to end up in someones home, then she proceeds to feed on them. It seems that Carmilla has a preference for female blood since thats practically all she does, feed on young girls. Her next victim is the innocent Emma whom she has just met and instantly befriended. But Carmilla faces a problem this time. This time she has fallen in love with her prey! Suddenly, Mircalla has an internal battle. What will be stronger? Her need to feed or her need for love? Carmilla wants Emma to love her "Her whole life!" as she so erotically puts it in one scene. This film is based on the novella Carmilla, a Gothic vampire novel written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872, and it tells the story of a young woman's susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire named Carmilla. The novella Carmilla actually predates Bram Stokers Dracula by 25 years! This is just one of its incarnations. This little novella has actually been adapted to film on various ocassions. Hammer Studios made three films that dealt with the Carmilla mythology. Vampire Lovers (1970) was the first, and it was followed by Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1972). This film isnt a faithful adaptation of this novella, but it uses the Karnstein family as a means for the vampiric threat. Its one of those films thats not really interested in being faithful to the source material. They simply used the name of a famous book to give it some credibility.
This film starts off with a great opening sequence wich is loaded with Hammers mandatory atmosphere. Starting out with a scene like that lets you know that this director hasnt forgotten what we love about these old Hammer films. Mainly all the gothic atmosphere! And theres lots of it on this one! It's one of the things that makes a Hammer film a Hammer film. Theres scenes that take place in grave yards, theres a lot of shots with the full moon in the back, the wind blowing, you know, the whole Hammer thing, which is great cause I hate it when they try and leave that behind and set things in modern times. I like the magic and the atmosphere of the old castles, the graveyards, the fog. And though this film is a bit different then your regular Hammer flick, we still get the atmosphere we've come to expect from these films. It doesnt veer off too much from the path.
It's easy to say that what makes this film special is the nudity. That would not make it a good film perse, just a film with lots of nudity. But putting the nudity aside, this is one excellent vampire film! The story is really what blew me away, watching Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith running around naked in their room was just a really juicy extra. I thought the idea of having a vampire vixen falling in love with one of her victims was a very original one. Not only that but she also seduces the men, and the rest of the ladies in the house! Carmilla is one viscious vampire vixen! Ingrid Pitt's scenes are really good in terms of acting as well. I dont know what it is about her voice, but Ingrid Pitt has that kind of voice where, no matter what she says, it ends up sounding sexy! I have no doubt in my mind that during the 70s she was considered the embodiment of all things beautiful and erotic in a female. Thats what I love about films. I love how they can preserve a moment for ever. Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith's beauty is frozen for all eternity on this film for future generations to enjoy!
At heart Vampire Lovers is really a love story with a vampire twist and in my book, it really works. I would have no problem in saying that it is one of the best Hammer films Ive seen. All thanx to Roy Ward Baker, who directed some of the best Hammer films, among them Quatermass and the Pit and Scars of Dracula wich is one of my favorite of the Hammer Dracula films. On Vampire Lovers he not only kept what we know and love from Hammer films, but he added the sexy angle to it, and he even put some gore in here to keep things interesting! Theres more then one beheading on this film.
It even has Peter Cushing in it, with a small role as "The General". As usual he did a great job, even though this role was a small one. He basically appears at the beginning of the film, and then at the end. Ingrid Pitt excells in this one not only in beauty but in the acting department as well. She actually manages to make us care for the villain, she is sweet, savage, erotic, and tender all roled up into one. Madeline Smith exerts a strange sort of innocence in her eyes, that makes her sexy as hell.
One thing I didnt get though is one character that shows up in the film. Every time Carmilla attacks or eats someone, theres this mysterious character on a horse who never says a word. He just stares and laughs revealing his teeth. You end up thinking that this guy might be Mircallas master or something, but sadly that plotline is never explained. Also, they play around a lot with the rules of being a vampire. In certain scenes Mircalla actually walks in the daylight and lets not forget the fact that vampires are supposed to hate water, yet on this film Mircalla is shown taking a hot bath! Not exactly something that a vampire would be doing in my opinion. These are really minor setbacks in what is otherwise an excellent vampire film.
If you are on a hunt down to see the best Hammer has to offer, you cant go wrong with Vampire Lovers. Its one of their best films, with an involving storyline, Hammers delicious atmosphere, a decent amount of gore and of course, the two beautiful bomb shells known as Madeline Smith and Ingrid Pitt. Whats not to like? Go get this one right now! You'll thank me later.Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5