sun 12/07/2020

DVD: The Vampire Lovers | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The Vampire Lovers

DVD: The Vampire Lovers

Hammer's camp classic about a bloodsucking lesbian wasn't just one for the boys

It's a woman's world: Ingrid Pitt and Pippa Steel in 'The Vampire Lovers'.Hammer Films

The powers at Hammer Films were right if they thought they were getting a horror flick to titillate straight men when they made The Vampire Lovers. Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith agreed to do partially nude scenes and wore décolletage gowns throughout. However, the movie’s reputation as conventionally exploitative isn’t justified. 

The British censor withdrew objections to the screenplay when he learned that the lesbian content originated in Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, which imparted a veneer of literary cred to the project. The adaptation by Tudor Gates, Harry Fine, and Michael Styne – whose 1971 Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil would complete their "Karnstein Trilogy" – is reasonably faithful to the 1871-72 novella but undistinguished. It centres on the undead Marcilla (Pitt) who, in early 19th-century Styria, wangles invitations to palatial houses in order to seduce and vampirize the owners’ beautiful daughters (with a sideline in working lasses and meddling servants). Roy Ward Baker’s direction is campy but the Gothic atmosphere rich considering the meagre budget.

After a dreary flirtation with the doomed Laura (Pippa Steel), Marcilla falls for Emma Morton, the daughter of a landed Englishman (George Cole). Smith’s portrayal of the cloyingly sweet Emma is grating but her wide-eyed response to Marcilla’s advances curiously effective – what is this thing called love? In and out of clothes, the two enjoy a sensually filmed second-act idyll, absent of male control, that now appears more a Sapphic reverie for women viewers than a gift to the dirty raincoat brigade. 

The vagina dentata implication of Marcilla’s open mouth demands that male vampire hunters Cole, Peter Cushing, Douglas Wilmer, and token pretty boy Jon Finch destroy her, but the sullenly sexy Pitt remains the film’s voracious icon. This DVD follows 2014's Blu-Ray release and has the same disc extras, including a documentary on Hammer in the 1970s, an item on the restoration, and commentaries. 

In and out of clothes, Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith enjoy a sensual second-act idyll


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters