The Vampire Lovers (1970) 

Peter Cushing, Douglas Wilmer and Ingrid Pitt star in this very impressive Hammer/AIP co-production. Alan Young Italian R2 DVD.

The Film

As 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....

The 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!).

Polish 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 adaptation. Recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Ingrid Pitt - the Polish born beauty who also starred in Hammer's Countess Dracula (1970).
Peter Cushing - the classic British horror actor, who appeared in Hammer's first horror Curse of Frankenstein.
Douglas Wilmer - as well as small roles in several epics, best known as Nayland Smith in the Fu Manchu films.
Directed by anyone interesting? Roy Ward Baker - director of a variety of Hammer and Amicus films in the late 1960s/early 1970s, including Quatermass and the Pit (1967), Asylum (1972) and Moon Zero Two (1969).
Any gore? Some blood, and a quite vivid beheading.
Any sex? Several female topless and nude scenes.
Who is it for?
One for all Hammer fans, and well suited to newcomers.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The disc is strong visually, with good colours and minimal print damage and grain.
Audio English original mono sounds fine.
Italian mono and 5.1 remix, both sound fine.
Subtitles FORCED SUBTITLE TRACK: With the English audio selected, the Italian subtitles are automatically turned on and cannot be removed on a standard DVD player.
Extras The disc includes the following features from the MGM US disc:
  • Audio 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.
AvailabilityItalianr elease. DVD Title: Vampiri Amanti
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Was 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 features.
Cuts? The 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, and 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 noticable.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 4th September 2007. Part of Horror September 2.

Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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