The Vampire Lovers Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Written by Tudor Gates
1970, Region A, 88 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on April 30th, 2013
Ingrid Pitt as Marcilla / Carmilla
Peter Cushing as General von Spielsdorf
Madeline Smith as Emma
Pippa Steel as Laura
Douglas Wilmer as Baron Hartog
George Cole as Sir Roger Morton
Kate O’Mara as Mme. Perrodot
Marcilla and Laura are very close friends and spend endless hours together until Laura begins suffering night terrors of being pursued by a giant cat. Her health quickly declines and she will only accept help from Marcilla. General Spielsdorf, Laura’s uncle, does not approve of this friendship, but the doctors are unable to provide any cure for her, so he allows the ladies to share each other’s company until the girl recovers. Things continue to worsen and soon Laura succumbs to her mysterious illness, at which point Marcilla quickly flees the house. The General is distraught when upon closer inspection he discovers bite marks on his niece’s breast.
A few months later, Spielsdorf visits his friend Sir Roger Morton, and upon sharing the details of his family tragedy learns that a woman of similar description to Marcilla has taken up with Morton’s daughter Emma. The guest is now using the alias Carmilla, but the scenario is indeed comparable to what transpired with Laura. The General enlists the assistance of Baron Hartog, a friend who lost his sister under similar circumstances years ago and has devoted his remaining years to hunting an elusive vampire. Together, they pursue the evil beast and race to destroy her before she can claim the beautiful Emma.
By 1970, Hammer Film Productions was beginning to produce less successful content, as audiences had moved on to more titillating entertainment. The company partnered with American Independent Pictures and created a hybrid gothic horror film that featured ample nudity. What had previously been alluded to was now on full frontal display with a lesbian vampire as the anti-hero and this film also featured an increase in on-screen bloodshed. The effort was successful and launched a new wave of product from the struggling studio.
Inspired by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s novella Carmilla, The Vampire Lovers is the first of Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy (followed by Lust for a Vampire 1970 and Twins of Evil 1971) as the title character follows in the tradition of the sexy vampire introduced by Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula (1957). Carmilla, however, is not interested in grooming a partner in the afterlife and never gives her victims the option of joining her in eternity, but rather kills mercilessly and is therefore less sympathetic than Dracula.
Ingrid Pitt (Countess Dracula) gives a fantastic performance as the vampire vixen, both sensual and decadent, that commands your attention. Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein) lends credibility to the production and elevates the quality of every scene he is in, the highlight being his reaction to the death of his niece. Madeline Smith (Theater of Blood) is particularly lovely as Emma, the object of Carmilla’s desires. Much of her material is painfully parallel to the scenario played out with Pippa Steel’s Laura at the beginning of the film, yet she is still mesmerizing.
Tudor Gates’ script appears to have undergone much tampering, as there is a lot of repeated exposition and many plot threads that lead nowhere, including a mysterious man in black appearing in the woods watching the action, but he is never identified nor confronted. Regardless, director Roy Ward Baker (A Night To Remember) manages to keep things moving at a decent pace with minimal drag (although he never fully commits to the lurid undertones of the film). It would have been nice to see more attention paid to the dynamic between the conservative elders and the spirited young women.
Hammer Films continued to pursue the sexy angle over the next few years before slipping into a full-on parody of their former glory. The lesbian-themed erotic horrors lacked the elegance of the studio’s earlier efforts and audiences soon turned their attention to different styles of genre material. While The Vampire Lovers was a modest success, it marked the beginning of the end for the gothic vampire tale. It is neither a particularly scary film nor a tepid waste of time, but it remains a frustrating example of the studio making a clumsy grab at staying hip with the younger crowd, and failing in the attempt.
Video and Audio:
Shout! Factory provides The Vampire Lovers with the best treatment that it has seen in many years. The source material is a bit damaged, but considering the age the end result is rather impressive. Presented in the original 1:85.1 aspect ratio, the picture is impressive more often than not. There are some instances of print damage and skin tones seem muddy or at times pink, but this is still a vast improvement over previous editions. Black levels and contrast are a bit soft but not a deal breaker.
The film is presented with a default DTS 2.0 HD master audio mix that gets the job done without providing any rattling to your speakers. Dialogue is clean and free of distortion and music cues are mostly solid, but a bit tinny at times. These shortcomings appear once again to be a result of the source material.
English subtitles are also on hand for anyone in need.
Anyone owning the previous DVD release of the film will be happy to know the excellent commentary track has been ported over. Director Roy Ward Baker, screenwriter Tudor Gates and actress Ingrid Pitt are joined by moderator Jonathan Sothcott for a surprisingly energetic track with few gaps of dead air. The conversation is filled with anecdotes from the production as well as discussion of the declining status of Hammer Studios in 1970. Everyone seems happy to participate. Pitt is occasionally hard to understand and Baker corrects her at one point on the lesbian undertones of the picture.
Feminine Fantastique: Resurrecting The Vampire Lovers (9 minutes) is a thoroughly informative featurette that covers aspects of the production including the adaptation of the source novella.
Madeline Smith: Vampire Lover! (20 minutes) is a really entertaining interview with the actress discussing her role as Emma.
Reading of Carmilla by Ingrid Pitt (12 minutes) is a self explanatory piece featuring stills from the movie playing over the audio recording by the actress.
Rounding out the special features are a series of promotional items including the original trailer, radio spots and a photo gallery.