The Vampire Lovers
|The Vampire Lovers|
|Directed by||Roy Ward Baker|
|Produced by||Michael Style
|Written by||Harry Fine
|Screenplay by||Tudor Gates|
|Based on||Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu|
|Music by||Harry Robertson|
|Edited by||James Needs|
American International Pictures
Hammer Film Productions
Fantale Films (uncredited)
|Distributed by||American International Pictures (USA, theatrical)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (2003, DVD)
|4 October 1970|
The Vampire Lovers is a 1970 British gothic horror film directed by Roy Ward Baker and starring Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt, Madeline Smith, Kate O'Mara and Jon Finch. It was produced by Hammer Film Productions. It is based on the J. Sheridan Le Fanu novella Carmilla and is part of the so-called Karnstein Trilogy of films, the other films being Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1972). The three films were somewhat daring for the time in explicitly depicting lesbian vampire themes.
In early 19th century Styria, a beautiful blonde (Kirsten Lindholm) in a diaphanous gown materializes from a misty graveyard. Encountering the Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer), a vampire hunter out to avenge the death of his sister, the girl is identified as a vampire and decapitated. Many years later, a dark-haired lady leaves her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) in the care of General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) and his family in Styria. Marcilla quickly befriends the General's niece, Laura (Pippa Steel). Laura subsequently suffers nightmares that she is being attacked, and dies of a gradual sickness; whereupon Marcilla departs.
Faking a carriage break-down, Marcilla's mother leaves her (now using the alias 'Carmilla') at the residence of a Mr. Morton, where Carmilla befriends and seduces Morton's daughter Emma (Madeline Smith). Thereafter Emma suffers nightmares of penetration over the heart, and her breast shows tiny wounds. Emma's governess, Mademoiselle Perrodot (Kate O'Mara), becomes Carmilla's accomplice. The butler and a doctor suspect them; but Carmilla kills each one. A mysterious man in black watches events from a distance, smiling (his presence is never explained). Having killed the butler, Carmilla takes Emma prisoner and departs. When Mademoiselle Perrodot begs Carmilla to take her too, Carmilla kills her. Emma is rescued by a young man named Carl (Jon Finch), and Carmilla flees to her ancestral castle, now a ruin. All this coincides with the arrival of the General, who brings a now-aged Baron Hartog. They find Carmilla's grave, which reveals that her true name is Mircalla Karnstien, where the General forces a stake into Carmilla's heart, and cuts off her head. Thereupon Carmilla's portrait on the wall shows a fanged skeleton instead of a beautiful young woman.
- Ingrid Pitt as Marcilla/Carmilla/Mircalla Karnstein
- Peter Cushing as General Spielsdorf
- George Cole as Roger Morton
- Dawn Addams as the Countess
- Pippa Steel as Laura
- Madeline Smith as Emma Morton
- Kate O'Mara as Mademoiselle Perrodot (the governess)
- Douglas Wilmer as Baron Joachim von Hartog
- Jon Finch as Carl Ebhardt
- Ferdy Mayne as doctor
- Kirsten Lindholm as first vampire
- John Forbes-Robertson as man in black
- Shelagh Wilcocks as housekeeper
- Janet Key as Gretchin
- Harvey Hall as Renton
- Charles Farrell as landlord
The film was a co-production between Hammer and American International, who were interested in a vampire movie with more explicit sexual content to take advantage of a more relaxed censorship environment. It was decided to adapt Carmilla.
Before production, the script of The Vampire Lovers was sent to the chief censor John Trevelyan, who warned the studio about depictions of lesbianism, pointing out that a previous lesbian film, The Killing of Sister George, had had five minutes excised by his office. In response, Hammer replied that the lesbianism was not of their doing but was present in the original story by Le Fanu. Trevelyan backed down.
Production of The Vampire Lovers began at Elstree Studios on 19 January 1970 and used locations in the grounds of Moor Park Mansion, Hertfordshire (standing in for Styria, Central Europe). Produced on a relatively low budget of £165,227, it was the final Hammer film to be financed with American money—most of the later films were backed by Rank or EMI.
While filming the scene in which Carmilla attacks Madame Perrodot, Ingrid Pitt's fangs kept falling out and dropping into Kate O'Mara's cleavage, prompting gales of uncontrollable laughter from both actresses. Finally, Pitt grabbed some chewing gum from the mouth of one of the crew members and used it to secure her vampire teeth.
The Vampire Lovers has received mixed reception from critics. Variety's review of the film was mixed, claiming the story was not great and it had "fairly flat dialog," but the script had "all the needed ingredients." Dave Kehr wrote a favourable review for Chicago Reader, writing that the film "resulted from the last significant surge of creative energy at Britain's Hammer Films, which thereafter descended into abject self-parody." Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film a passing grade of two-and-a-half stars, calling it a "rather erotic Hammer chiller". A.H. Weiler of The New York Times called it "a departure from the hackneyed bloody norm... professionally directed, opulently staged and sexy to boot."
Allmovie wrote, "This Hammer Films production isn't their finest moment but its easy to understand why it has become an enduring cult favorite with horror fans: The Vampire Lovers pushes the "bloodshed & bosoms" formula of the Hammer hits to its limit". On review-aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 56%, based on nine reviews, and is certified "rotten".
The Vampire Lovers was released on 26 August 2003 on DVD by MGM Home Video (Fox Video) as a two-sided Midnite Movies Double Feature DVD consisting of both The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula (1971). Scream Factory released the film on Blu-ray on 30 April 2013.
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