Details
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Starring: Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Peter Cushing, Kate O’Mara, Ferdy Mayne, Douglas Wilmer
Type: Color
Year: 1970
Language: English
Length: 91 min
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Subtitles: English
Rating: NR
Disks: 1
Region: A, B
Label: Shout! Factory

When most horror fans, devoted and casual alike, think of vampires, the most iconic characters come to mind: Nosferatu, Dracula, Edward from Twilight (just kidding, of course).  To delve deeper into the mythology though, would show that there is a whole pantheon of underappreciated (and often underused) vampires throughout horror cinema.  The Vampire Lovers, directed by Roy Ward Baker, utilizes the underappreciated more than effectively. The film is based on the J. Sheridan Le Fanu novella, Carmilla, and was considered controversial for its time with an unflinching depiction of lesbian vampires. Thanks to Shout! Factory, the horror community can once again enjoy this cult classic through new eyes on Blu-Ray.

Matte painting of Karnstein Castle in Hammer’s Vampire Lovers

The Film

Taking place in the 1700’s, the film opens with a prologue, introducing us to Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer), baiting a vampire that killed his sister. In a expository narration, the mythology acknowledges that the vampire must have its cloak to return to its slumber after feasting on victims. After his target leaves to feast, Hartog makes a grab for the cloak it leaft behind and patiently waits for it to return. The film straddles the line of camp often, as it unevenly tries to make parallels between the sexual impulses of the men and the powers of persuasion that the vampires possess. However, as with the rest of vampire lore, religious symbolism saves Hartog from a terrible fate, ending the prologue in an appropriately bloody finish.

Douglas Wilmer and Kirsten Betts in Vampire Lovers

Douglas Wilmer and Kirsten Betts in Vampire Lovers

Continuing into the main story, we are introduced to Marcilla, a beautiful young woman vampire played by the more-than-capable Ingrid Pitt. She is asked to stay at the home of General von Spielsdorf, played by Hammer Horror legend Peter Cushing, after her mother, The Countess, relentlessly persists in the name of familial bereavement. However, the film goes to great lengths to keep any real explanation enigmatic, allowing mysterious, shadowy figures to take the place of actual character motivation. After being unable to control her vampiric urges, Marcilla leaves death in her wake and is forced to relocate to another home, that of Roger Morton (played wonderfully by George Cole) and Emma (a daring performance by Madeline Smith). Marcilla, now under the pseudonym Carmilla, falls for Emma as well, and struggles between her instinctual lust and her insatiable bloodlust. Eventually, as expected, Carmillia is discovered, and it’s up to Roger Morton, The General and Baron Hartog to save the day.

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Ingrid Pitt and Dawn Addams in Hammer’ s Vampire Lovers

Like much horror of the time, the plot is paper thin, but what the film lacks in story, it makes up for by focusing on controversial themes, particularly homosexuality. As mentioned above, the theme of lesbianism and sexuality permeate the screen. Though the film shies away from the more intimate moments, we are treated to a decent dosage of bosoms and bare backs – which attributes to a different type of shock value, especially upon intitial release. However, whether or not the film is genuinely trying to make a statement isn’t at all very clear, as the film still ends with the vampire being defeated by religious ritualism and tools.

Ingrid Pitt in an FX shot from Vampire Lovers

Ingrid Pitt in an FX shot from Vampire Lovers

Video/Audio

The film’s video, presented in 1080p high definition, though not perfect, is a major upgrade on the old Midnight Movies DVD release. There are instances where shots look phenomenally great, specifically the close-ups. For the most part though, scratches and other blemishes, as well as an occasional soft focus issue mar the print. Colors don’t leap out at you quite as they might, but they are beautifully earthy and the image retains a healthy dose of film grain. This is far preferable to the overzealous DNR and Edge Enhancement treatment that some older films receive.

Ingrid Pitt as Mircalla in her grave. Hammer's Vampire Lovers

Ingrid Pitt as Mircalla in her grave. Hammer’s Vampire Lovers

The film’s audio track, presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, is, however, rather good. There are a few pops and crackles at certain parts, but the dialogue is clear and decipherable. The music, while for the most part effective, swells too much sporadically during certain “tension filled” scenes.

Ingrid Pitt seduces Madeline Smith in Vampire Lovers

Ingrid Pitt seduces Madeline Smith in Vampire Lovers

Special Features

Surprisingly enough, there are quite a few supplements to go along with this Blu-ray release. A featurette entitled, Feminine Fantastique – Resurrecting The Vampire Lovers gives background information on the film and novella.  A featurette entitled, Reading of “Carmilla” by Ingrid Pitt, where the actress reads the novella over stills from the film, should be a highlight for die-hard fans. There is a Commentary track, with Roy Ward Baker, Ingrid Pitt and screenwriter Tudor Gates. Also included is an interview with actress Madeline Smith, entitled, Madeline Smith: Vampire Lover. Finally there’s the standard supplementary fare: a radio spot, theatrical trailer and a photo gallery.

Peter Cushing about to stake Mircalla in Vampire Lovers

Peter Cushing about to stake Mircalla in Vampire Lovers

Bottom Line

The Vampire Lovers is, in my opinion, a campy, silly film, but it is easy to see why the film has reached a comfortable cult position. The main appeal can be attributed to the film’s forward exploration the era’s sexual controversies, specifically the taboo of lesbianism. It also has a strong undercurrent of female sexuality bubbling under the surface, although most casual fans may not follow the subtext if focusing too much on the convoluted plot. The video, for the most part is good, the audio fares even better in a technical regard and the supplements are entertaining and informative. All in all, The Vampire Lovers is a great addition to any cult horror fanatics’ collection.

 ~ By Robert Vaughn