Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Vampire Lovers

It's October and I've got some Hammer films to watch! As with last year's 13 Frightening Fictions, I am going to be checking out some of the films based on this year's set. So, I'll be spoiling what's in the first slot right now!

The Vampire Lovers (1970) is a Hammer Horror film based on the classic vampire novella, Carmilla.

The Baron Hartog, desiring revenge for his murdered sister, heads to Karnstein castle to confront the ghoul. He is momentarily shocked when he finds that the fiend is a woman. However, he manages to kill her and proceeds to slay her entire brood. Years later, a new baroness arrives at General Spielsdorf's party with her daughter. Despite most of the men in the room being interested in the daughter, she only has eyes for the general's niece, Laura.

This film puts some flashbacks from the end of the novella in proper order, and it actually makes the story much more interesting. Up front we get the vampire lore for this story and Marcilla's (Carmilla's) hunting pattern. Despite the opening narration being mostly pointless, it helps set the mood and introduces the more spectral vampires. But enough about characterization and lore, there is also a healthy helping of tits. Big fake ones. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The film takes the unstated sexuality of the original and throws it out in favor of softcore girl on girl. That being said, it dodn't go as overboard as I expected; unfortunately, the nudity turns out not to be the film's biggest problem. But before I get to that:

Our Villainess
Carmilla aka Marcilla aka Mircalla, Countess of Karnstein, is a great vampiric lover of women. After being aloof and mysterious for the first act of the film, Carmilla (as I'll call her for the rest of the review) turns out to be a vampiress who cares for her victims even as she knows that she will kill them. Her relationships with both Emma and Mademoiselle Perrodot are fascinating. Ingrid Pitt's range is awesome, enabling Carmilla to be a lover, a predator, and a vulnerable young woman when needed throughout the film. It is especially true in the famous funeral scene, which is expertly translated from the novella.

Deceived Observers
Emma is the main girl Carmilla falls for. She is doe eyed, innocent and would be annoying if we got more that the little of her that we do. It is curious as to why Carmilla falls for her, but the important thing is that she does.

Mademoiselle Perrodot is Emma's caretaker. She takes over control of the household after Emma leaves and remains in charge of it for most of the film. Unfortunately, this allows Carmilla to take over the house through her. One of the best parts of the film that her interactions with Carmilla, before and after falling for her, are shot exactly the same allowing the audience to get a sense of Carmilla's hold. Their parting near the end is another highlight. She's played by the lovely Kate O'Mara who played the Rani in classic Doctor Who and was in the dreadful Hammer feature: The Horror of Frankenstein.

Laura is the first girl that Carmilla goes after. Carmilla doesn't seem to care as much for her, but some of the tenderness shines though. She mostly exists to set up Carmilla's hunting pattern.

The General is Laura's father and played by awesome Hammer actor, and part time Grand Moff, Peter Cushing. As usual, Cushing makes this character much more memorable than he might otherwise be. He gives the grieving general both a ferocity and compassion.

Baron Hartog is another character who could easily have been a waste, but manages to be more interesting than the sum of his exposition. Douglas Wilmer is another accomplished actor who has been in Laurence Olivier's Richard III, Octopussy and the BBC's presentation of Sherlock Holmes tale: The Speckled Band. He brings charisma enough to match even Cushing as vampire hunter Hartog.

Carl is Laura's old flame who is here for some traditional romance! Can't have those lesbians sucking up all the screen time. He does very little except except during his short action scene at the end.

Ignore him, he shouldn't even be in this movie.
Sequel-Baiting Foe
Sequel-baiting? In the 70s? There is a male vampire in a pilgrim hat who is constantly watching Carmilla throughout the film. Several of the fade outs transition into a shadow of him. The best part? He does NOTHING. He's just there for what I can only imagine is the sequel, which would have been fine had he not been pasted onto the end of every scene. He's a blight of this movie and the foe of everything that is good about it. No, he's not in the novella.

Uneven Atmosphere
We open on a decent matte painting of Karnstein castle and there are generally good locations used throughout. The castle sets look great, and I think there's even some location shooting for the General's estate. The vampire bite effects are good, but the effects of Carmilla in giant cat mode are awful. Seriously, poor Laura not only gets bumped from main character status, but she also gets attacked by a vicious carpet monster!

In the End
The film suffers from the 'foe' I mentioned earlier. Rather than focus on Carmilla, the recovering Emma or even the grieving general, the film ends with Captain Pilgrim Hat glaring maliciously at us. Ugh.

This film is so close to being great that it's incredibly frustrating. It's faithful to the source material, but many of the additions are horrendous. Unfortunately, It's not even the gratuitous nudity. You really have to watch this to understand why I'm so frustrated with Dark Pilgrim Hat. I really wanted to give this move a higher score, but I still think it breaks out of what could have easily been just another crappy exploitation film.
6.5/10 (8/10 if you ignore the bad effects, gratuitous nudity and stupid Pilgrimpire)

This film begins Hammer's Karnstein trilogy, which continues with Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil.

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