Adapted from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla, The Vampire Lovers represents a major entry in the Hammer Films catalog, becoming the first part of what would become known as the Karnstein Trilogy. Rife with female nudity and lesbian undertones, The Vampire Lovers was perhaps more titillating than scary at the time of its release in 1970, but seems rather tame by today’s standards.
In a prologue of sorts, Baron Von Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) is getting revenge for the death of his sister. He explains that vampires sometimes court their victims taking pleasure in their seduction and slow destruction and at other times they feast on them immediately. As he watches, a shrouded figure appears from a grave. The figure floats off leaving behind the burial shroud. Von Hartog explains that vampires must return to their graves to rest but cannot rest without their shroud. He then uses that shroud to lure the vampire to him.
The main story centers on a young vampiress Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt), who ingratiates herself into the home of General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) after her mother, The Countess (Dawn Addams), asks if she can stay with them while she visits a close friend who is dying. In truth, The Countess has been contacted by a man whose presence in the film is never fully explained, but who appears to be the leader of the vampires, the one who controls everything that goes on (although he does it from afar).
Not long after Marcilla arrives, the General’s niece, Laura (Pippa Steel) falls ill, and dies. Marcilla quickly vanishes from the General’s home. Now using the name Carmilla, she shows up at another house, that of Roger Morton (George Cole), who just happens to have a attractive daughter Emma (Madeline Smith). Though Carmilla has romantic feelings toward Emma, her need to suck her blood eventually supersedes all. Before the Morton household can figure out what’s going on, Carmilla has wrought all sorts of carnage.
Though The Vampire Lovers is ultimately a pretty ridiculous film, it’s still easy to see why it’s gained a cult following over the years. With its undeniable campiness and smoldering sexuality, some will find it impossible to resist. Director Roy Ward Baker hides any overt lesbianism behind various objects, but there is plenty of bare breasts on display for those that like to see that in their vampire flicks.
Arriving on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory imprint, this 1080p transfer is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The print does have some minimal fading and scratches throughout. The image itself is rather soft looking, with midrange and long shots exhibiting some definite fuzziness. Close-ups though, do offer some very good detail. Even though the colors aren’t as vivid as one might have hoped for, this transfer is easily a big step above the previous release, a Midnite Movies DVD two-fer.
The Vampire Lovers features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that does have just a slight hiss. Even so, the track still sounds relatively good, with strong dialogue and solid fidelity throughout. Generally speaking, this track won’t blow you away, but it does its job well.
English subtitles are included.
The following special features are available:
- Commentary with Director Roy Ward Baker, Star Ingrid Pitt and Screenwriter Tudor Gates: Hosted by author Jonathan Sothcott, this is a very informative commentary. Baker and Gates talk a lot about why and how the film was made, the British film industry at the dawn of the seventies, and a few behind-the-scenes tidbits. Pitt doesn’t offer as much useful information, but she does share some interesting recollections about the shoot.
- Feminine Fantastique – Resurrecting The Vampire Lovers (HD, 9:52) Some background on adapting Le Fanu’s novella for the screen, and some changes that were made.
- Reading of “Carmilla” by Ingrid Pitt (SD, 12:05) The actress reads from the part of Carmilla over stills from the film.
- Madeline Smith: Vampire Lover! (HD, 20:35) A very laid back, fun (almost tongue-in-cheek) interview with the actress.
- Photo Gallery (HD, 8:18)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:18)
- Radio Spot (00:51)