Vampire Lovers, The (1970)

The Vampire Lovers (1970), directed by Roy Ward Baker.

In most ways this is a standard Hammer Films vampire production of the period. It takes a lightly morbid topic and treats it seriously, without irony or mugging. The plot trundles along in a non-vital way, eventually reaching the final scene where the undead are staked.

As the decade passed more explicit violence was allowed, although honestly there is not that much this time. The film is nothing like as lurid as its poster art. What we do get is more nudity and sex, in this case lesbian vampire sex. The movie delivers quite lovely boobage: we see Ingrid Pitt in her bath, she rises and eventually chases mostly naked Madeline Smith around the room and they roll on the bed. I bet that made a big percentage of the 1970 audience happy that day.

Of course, vampire stories feature a sort of sublimated sex, so it is natural to bring it out in the open. This confuses the symbolism and perhaps spoils the mythology, but we're long past caring.

The victim's account of her scary-erotic dreams actually rises above the standard for the series. In an extra, Madeline Smith says she was a total innocent on sexual matters and when the director told her she had to do a orgasm scene, she had no idea of what he meant. "Just pretend you're having a really bad nightmare".

Carmilla's anguish and genuine longing are also very good, showing attributes rare in vampires.

I don't know why they have candles in the bedrooms: the off-scene electric lighting is shockingly brilliant, destroying the illusion of place and time and mood.

The score is overblown in the early scenes but settles down for some nice background. I'm guessing the composer was a Herrmann fan.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. Three extras and a commentary track with the director, writer, Ingrid Pitt and others. I can't tell if they are all together at once.

They say: Peter Cushing had only a small role, but was characteristically meticulous in his preparation. He arrived with watercolor illustrations of the General and lists of object such a man might have in his pockets.

This is the first entry in the Hammer Karnstein Trilogy, inspired by J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla. The others are Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971) (starring twin Playboy centerfolds).