Monday, September 7, 2015

Movie Monday: The Vampire Lovers


The Vampire Lovers - Directed by Roy Ward Baker, Starring Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O'Mara, and Peter Cushing. Released October 1970 by Hammer Films.

Ever since I launched the Film & Water Podcast, I've been wanting to get back to writing the occasional movie review here for this long-dormant writing blog. Then when my pals Chris and Cindy Franklin reviewed Hammer's The Vampire Lovers for a Halloween-themed episode of their show, the Super Mates Podcast, it inspired me to watch the movie for the first time. After watching it via Amazon Prime, I decided to jot down a few thoughts on it myself!

The film has a killer (no pun intended) opening, where a vampire hunter named Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) beheads a beautiful, sultry vampire who has killed his sister. We then flash forward to the home of General Von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), which includes a niece and a sort of adopted daughter named Marcilla, played by the stunning Ingrid Pitt:

It's clear right off the, er, bat, that Marcilla is, if not a vampire, certainly a bit different than the rest of the family. She seems to regard every woman in her orbit with lust, and puts the moves on the General's niece, only waiting until after the seduction is over to put the bite on her. In an unusual bit, it would seem that Marcilla does not turn into a bat, but rather a cat. The General's niece has intense nightmares about being smothered by a giant cat ("Its fur was in my mouth!"), but everyone dismisses her until it's too late.

Marcilla (now calling herself Carmilla, doing the whole Count Alucard bit) then takes up with another family, and puts the moves on the young daughter, a saucer-eyed waif named Emma (Madeline Smith). Their relationship is so hilariously inappropriate, with Carmilla barely bothering her sexual interest in Emma, that you wonder what the rest of the household was doing. There's a scene where Pitt chases Smith around while both of them are half nude, ending with a clinch on the bed, which told me why this particular Hammer Production never showed up as part of the weekend "Creature Features" that I watched as a kid:

After a few more killings (Carmilla does put the bite on some men, but she seems to want to get it over with as soon as possible), the jig is up for Carmilla, and she is chased to her family crypt by the General and Baron Hartog, now much older and weary from having so much experience hunting vampires:

Generally, The Vampire Lovers is delightfully straightforward: Carmilla is a lesbian vampire, and basically humps and bites her way through everyone she meets until the people around her wake up to the situation. There's a not a lot of tension or suspense here, you're basically just waiting for the obvious to be discovered. It's funny, in some ways Carmilla being a vampire is more readily accepted as a reality than her being a lesbian: everyone seems just seems to think Carmilla is a close family friend, despite the fact she's caught several times laying in bed with her quasi-adopted sisters and other family relations.

The one element the film has that is unexplained is the occasional shot of this vampire-y dude, sitting on a horse and laughing at...something:

This character never interacts with the characters or the plot, is he Carmilla's Dad, doing the Proud Papa bit from afar? Who knows! Maybe he's just a perv who really enjoys watching Carmilla get naked and frolic around (who doesn't?). I imagine Hammer was able to get away with all this soft core stuff because of the English accents, period frippery, and the fact that this was adapted from an old book (Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu), which gave the whole thing a patina of class. In many ways, the most erotic scene is a shot of Ingrid Pitt naked but in silhouette, she had such an outstanding figure that went lit artistically, it's quite classy and really sexy. The bare breasts are nice and all, but not really needed (the 14 year old me is wondering who the hell is writing this).

The big minus for me was Peter Cushing as the General. It's a very dull part and while he breathes as much life into it as he can, there's just not much interesting stuff for him to do. Apparently he was a late addition to the cast, which might explain why he wasn't cast in the Van Helsing-y role of Baron Hartog, which seems like a natural.

As you might imagine, the poster for The Vampire Lovers features way more exciting stuff than what happens here, it's mostly Ingrid Pitt standing around drooling over nubile women while everyone else phumphers around. Still, there are worse ways to spend ninety one minutes!

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