by Dave Wain
Sheridan Le Fanu, the famed Irish author of Gothic tales and mystery stories first published Carmilla in 1871. This tale of a lustful female vampire predated Bram Stoker’s Dracula by just over a quarter of a century, and Stoker’s tale certainly displays a multitude of similarities to hint at a degree of influence being had from Le Fanu’s story. In the celluloid universe Dracula has of course been adapted a myriad of times, Carmilla less so – Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR and Roger Vadim’s ET MOURIR DE PLAISIR being two notable film versions, but it was with Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS that Carmilla would perhaps receive its most faithful retelling.
Making her Hammer debut is Ingrid Pitt who plays the seductive Marcilla Karnstein. Finding herself in the care of General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) and his family in Styria, Austria, Marcilla becomes close to the General’s niece, Laura (Pippa Steel). This bond is short-lived however when Laura experiences a slow death plagued with prolonged sickness. Marcilla, leaving the scene of this tragedy adopts the alias ‘Carmilla’ and settles into a new abode, this time at the home of Mr. Morton (George Cole) whose daughter Emma (Madeline Smith) she grows close to and ultimately seduces. Such nefarious behaviour arouses suspicion in the household, but with the addition of an accomplice in Madame Perrodot (Kate O’Mara), Carmilla becomes a seemingly unstoppable threat.
The beginning of the 1970s accelerated what was already becoming a new dawn in the world of European horror. With the emergence of such iconic directors as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Jess Franco as well as the Naschy / Klimovsky collaborations, Hammer were in danger of being classed as a relic of days gone by. Therefore the introduction of the Karnstein Trilogy of films which would continue with LUST FOR A VAMPIRE the following year and then TWINS OF EVIL the year after proved that Hammer were able to move with the times – albeit at the risk of alienating a portion of their fanbase due to these pictures overt sexuality.
It would be very easy to cast aside THE VAMPIRE LOVERS as simply a desperate attempt by Hammer to remain relevant, but in actual fact it’s a classy picture which with its literature based narrative it easily lifts the film into the upper echelons of Hammer’s cannon; its eroticism defining the film as a watershed moment in the studios history. Despite the appearance of both Cushing and George Cole, it’s Ingrid Pitt who makes THE VAMPIRE LOVERS such a worthy movie – and she crucially offers a performance with depth and nuance that far exceeds the simple ‘buxom beauty’ moniker that she’s often predictably labelled with.
If you’re in possession of Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS from last year then Final Cut’s edition may seem of little interest to you. Admittedly a double dip would be excessive, and that Roy Ward Baker / Ingrid Pitt / Tudor Gates commentary on Scream’s disc is hard to beat, but Final Cut have certainly put together a tempting package. There’s a new commentary here with respected genre authors Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby which offers a more scholarly analysis of the feature as opposed to the reminiscing nature of Scream’s edition. We also get a new 25 minute documentary entitled ‘New Blood: Hammer Enters the 70s’ which features a slew of well-informed talking heads and a peek inside an archive at De Montfort University in Leicester, England where Hammer have donated a wealth of material chronicling their history.


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