the 1970s rolled around, Hammer were having problems. Their
co-production deal with Seven Arts, that saw such big budgeted classics
as Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969) and The Devil Rides Out (1968) had ended after the disasterous flop of "space western" Moon Two Zero
(1969). Meanwhile, the increasing liberalisation across Europe had seen
increased blood and nudity becoming standard in horror cinema, and
Hammer's implied sexuality was no longer cutting the ice. They needed a
new American partner, and their one time rivals American Internation
Productions stepped up with the money, while J Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla novel provided a perfect mix of vampires and lesbian romance. In
a castle somewhere in Stiria, Baron von Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) stalks
the graveyard of the Karnstein castle waiting for a vampire to arise -
he is seeking revenge for the death of his sister at their hands.
Decades later at a ball, held by General von Spielsdorf (Peter
Cushing), a mysterious Countess and her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt)
arrive. The Countess is called away, and asks to leave her daughter
with von Spielsdoft, and she befriend's his daughter - but soon she
starts to grow ill and eventually dies, with a distinctive bite mark on
her breast. The General heads off to track down a Baron von Hartog
after Marcilla disappears. Later, Roger Morton, who has recently moved
into the area with his daughter Emma meets the same Countess after a
coach accident in which her daughter Carmilla is hurt and offer to look
after the girl for a while until the Countess can return from her
important trip. Carmilla starts to befriend young Emma....
storyline remains surprisingly faithful to Le Fanu's short novel,
although in order to extend the storyline to a feature length 90
minutes we get to see more detail of the fate of General von
Spielsdorf's daughter which is recounted only in flashback in the
original novel - although providing an interesting opening, it does
mean that we get a slight sense of deja vu as the events unfold a second
time with Emma Morton. More sucessful though is the film's opening,
showing the actions of the Baron that are only related very briefly in
Le Fanu's work and being one of the first vampire films to show a
vampire rising etherally from its grave. Only one point is rather
poorly covered, the notion that Morton and family are in fact English,
and recently moved to Austria - in a couple of scenes we see Emma
trying to learn German, and towards the end the General refers to Roger
Morton as being English, but it seems that a lot more could have been
made of this, or perhaps the angle completely written out to avoid
these rather odd scenes. While many of the later Hammer female vampire films were torn between romance and horror themes, The Vampire Lovers
balances them very well, achieving some genuinely scary scenes (notably
the opening sequence) and a quite plausible romance between Carmilla
and Emma, that although including several nude scenes, actually manages
to avoid falling into the simple lesbian/exploitation trap of many
Euro-horror films, with a good mix of suggestion and nudity making the
scenes quite potent and erotic. An interesting point of contrast
between this, and
Hammer's Dracula sequels being produced at the same time (Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Scars of Dracula
(1970)) is the almost complete absence of a "hero" - the various older
men are away for most of the film, while Carl is the closest thing to
the typical dashing young hero, but he only gets a few scenes.
Ultimately this does seem to benefit the film, certainly compared to
some of the followups (such as Twins of Evil (1971) and Vampire Circus
(1972)) that had awkwardly interposed male heros. The pacing is very
strong throughout (although some times it seems a little too fast), and the film builds to a very effective
and tense climax.
Although director Roy Ward Baker had worked with Hammer before, most notably on their impressive Quatermass and the Pit
(1967), his work here certainly does not conform to the usual Hammer
gothic horror look - the use of black and white footage, combined with
multi-layered images during the vampire attacks is most impressive and
unlike anything Hammer did before or since. The original soundtrack is
from the frequent late Hammer composer Harry Robertson and is a typcal
orchestral score that works well with the film, while the set design is
up to Hammer's usual high standard (although the obvious modern tennis
courts in some long shots should have seen at least one person fired!).
born stunner Ingrid Pitt takes the top billing here and manages to
really convince in the role that calls for an almost bipolar character
at times - unlike her next role in Countess Dracula,
she was able to keep her original voice here, and the Germanic tinge
adds to the European Gothic feel of the film. Hammer regular Peter
Cushing was a late casting decision
after AIP were hesitant to back a film with the relatively unknown
Ingrid Pitt in the lead role. He only gets a few scenes as 'The
General', but is as good as ever, and manages to avoid his character
becoming a mere Van Helsing clone. His partners in crime are the
veteran British film and television actor George Cole who plays Roger
Morton, and the distinctive Douglas Wilmer who plays the Baron. The
rest of the cast is solid, with some familiar Hammer faces, most
noticable is the buxom Madeline Smith who plays Emma (who would also
appear in Hammer's later production Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), as well as the opening sequence of James Bond adenture Live and Let Die (1973), where Bond finds a use for his miniature magnet on her dress zipper...).
The Vampire Lovers
was a good start to the 1970s for Hammer, a well written film that
provided all the vampires and lesbianism that the audiences wanted to
see, along with some good acting and more daring direction. Sadly they
could not follow it up, and the 'sequels' to this film, Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil
(1972) contained relatively slapdash plots, and only the most fleeting,
gratuitous nudity, completely lacking the eroticism present here. Vampire Lovers
comes recommended to all Hammer fans, and is a great place to start
exploring the veritable minefield that is their post-1970 output. Fans
of the original story should enjoy this surprisingly faithful
One for all Hammer fans, and well suited to newcomers.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The disc is strong visually, with good colours and minimal print damage and grain.
English original mono sounds fine. Italian mono and 5.1 remix, both sound fine.
FORCED SUBTITLE TRACK:
With the English audio selected, the Italian subtitles are
automatically turned on and cannot be removed on a standard DVD player.
The disc includes the following features from the MGM US disc:
Commentary with Roy Ward Baker, Ingrid Pitt and writer Tudor Gates.
Lots of interesting information, although the age of the participants
means that it is often quite slow compared to some other commentaries.
Original American trailer - rather overblown and spolier filled.
Excerpt from the original Carmilla story, read by Ingrid Pitt - accompanied by still photos from the film. (12 minutes)
Plus, the following exclusive special features:
Brief on-screen text biographies of Ingrid Pitt, Peter Cushing and Roy Ward Baker.
Soundtrack from the film - 8 tracks from the soundtrack, presented as video files over a still shot from the film.
Still photo and poster galleries, presented as video files without music, with chapter marks. (5 minutes and 3 minutes)
American radio spots - 25 and 50 seconds.
Italianr elease. DVD Title: Vampiri Amanti
Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
available on US DVD from MGM (as a double bill with Countess Dracula, with the widescreen print, audio
commentary, Carmilla excerpt and trailer, but this disc is now OOP.
Available on DVD in the UK as an open-matte, fullscreen transfer without any
film is believed to be uncut and uses the same transfer as the MGM
edition. The AIP edit shown in America was cut of most of the nudity,
the opening beheading was tinted in red to make it less visible, while
in Britain the film was cut of a one second full nude scene - all of
these scenes are restored here. This edition does appear to have a very
brief substitution shot in the opening scene where a reaction shot has
replaced the decapitated head hitting the floor, although this is not
A strong late Hammer film, with a good blend of sex and horror, and some strong acting and direction. Recommended.
good looking and sounding DVD, although let down by the forced subtitle
track and it is a pity that the soundtrack clips were not presented as
an audio CD instead. Since the American DVD is currently unavailable,
this is the
best way to see the film, and includes some additional bonus features
over that disc (although not enough to really warrant a double-dip). If
you can remove, or ignore the forced subtitles, then this is a