It’s February everyone, so FGSG decided that we would cover one vampire movie a day up until Valentine’s Day. You know, that day when flowers cost $100 and Hallmark makes you feel bad if you’re single. But whether you love V-Day or loathe it, vampires just seemed the right way to go. And if you’re going to write about vampires during the month of love, why not jump in with both feet? So we open our Love Bites series with the Hammer/AIP 1970 classic “The Vampire Lovers”.
Ah, Hammer, the world of the heaving bosoms, fog-shrouded forests and superstitious villagers. This story is loosely based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s story “Carmilla”. It’s interesting to watch what is basically the same plot as the Christopher Lee Dracula films, but now with a female vampire, called both Marcilla and Carmilla (played by the beautiful and talented Ingrid Pitt). Pitt is absolutely gorgeous and compelling – it’s easy to see why anyone would be drawn to her, naked or not. Like Lee, she hypnotizes her prey, fears religious items, and prefers the taste of the blood of young, nubile ladies. And since it’s now 1970, there’s more than heaving bosoms in play here – there’s bosoms all over the place. This is a racy and erotic film, especially for Hammer, but hey, everyone has to try and keep up with the times.
While the plot sticks close to the Hammer tradition, it’s the deviations in the traditions that make this film interesting. Carmilla stalks and murders many women, but she also falls in love with some of them and expresses a deep emotional regret that everyone around her must die. It’s certainly nothing Christopher Lee ever seemed to worry about. This addition to the vampire character added a new layer to the plot, and allows the viewer some sympathy with Carmilla. Not that there has never been a romantic male vampire who acts out of love (Coppola’s “Dracula” is the perfect example), but that was years after this film. Carmilla is still a predator, but she also craves companionship and love.
Our vampire also uses the gender bias of the time to get closer to her victims – no one suspects the woman, and Carmilla is freely allowed access to all of her victim/lovers. In fact, for most of the film, there’s no men in the story at all, or at least not in any significant role. All of the action is driven entirely by women, until the end, when the men race to save the day and destroy the monster. Way to wait until the last minute, boys. While I would have preferred that such a female-driven story also have a female heroine, it didn’t fit the Hammer mold, and I guess they just weren’t willing to take that last step.
“The Vampire Lovers” is worth a watch – it’s Hammer and that alone makes it worth your time, and it’s also a different take on the Hammer traditional style. And while the lesbian vampire movies are often just an excuse for lots of nudity, this one seems to have a little more to it than just that. Along with lots of nudity.