Apr 19, 2010
"Everybody must die!"
Mmm, there's nothing quite like a Hammer film from the studio's prime- particularly their vampire movies. Particularly particularly their lesbian vampire movies: all flowy, diaphanous gowns, ruffled collars, misty graveyards, heaving bosoms, and fangs fangs fangs. In 1970, director Roy Ward Baker brought the world The Vampire Lovers, the first film in what would become known as The Karnstein Trilogy. As horror films moved into the age of grindhouse cinema, Hammer tried to keep up by upping the more salacious aspects of their films. Though it may seem rather tame by current standards (these kids today, I swear), The Vampire Lovers was daring in its portrayal of lesbian lust and bare breasts, providing some of the most explicit scenes in any English-language film for the time.
The Vampire Lovers is, as you might expect, based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla; sure, practically every lesbian vampire movie says it's based on Carmilla, but The Vampire Lovers keeps close to the source material.
There's not to the film much in terms of plot: the Karnsteins were a wicked wicked vampire family, and they've been wiped out, save Marcilla. Err, Mircalla. Make that Carmilla. At any rate, it's Ingrid fucking Pitt, and she likes pretty young things. With the help of her "Aunt", the mysterious Countess (Dawn Addams), Carmilla ends up staying with the families of these innocent lasses; inevitably, the girls become infatuated with Carmilla. As their infatuations grow, however, they become weaker and weaker. Before long, the girls are dead and Carmilla/Marcilla/Mircalla is long gone.
There are a few concepts at work that set The Vampire Lover apart from its fellow lesbian vampire flicks. First, there's that moniker, "lesbian vampire"- though that's the familiar term for the subgenre, it's actually quite rare when the vampire in question is actually a lesbian. For the sake of, perhaps, palatability with mainstream audiences, the women are often bisexual- particularly in films from decades ago. Pitt's Carmilla, however, strictly joneses for the ladies, a remarkably progressive idea in 1970. She fake-out seduces a few men with kisses, only to kill them quickly so they're out of her way...but she falls in love- and in bed- with the girls.
Yes, Carmilla falls in love! There are more than a few unexplained concepts at work in The Vampire Lovers (for example, who the hell is the laughing vampire on horseback?), but Carmilla's motivations are clear: when she falls for a lady, she wants to be with her forever. Unfortunately, she's one of the undead and therefore destroys the very things she loves when she gives in to her primal urges. She slowly drains the life from her beloved until they've passed and she's forced to find a new family and a new victim. Silly Carmilla, a happily-ever-after is rare for the cinematic lesbian- and it's never in the cards for a lesbian vampire. Sad, sad. She just wants love! She can't help it that she gets bite-crazy.
As this is a Hammer Studios vampire film, you'd be right to expect that the bloodsucker's reign of terror is brought to an end by Peter Cushing. Here, he's no Van Helsing, though- he's General von Spielsdorf, and he seeks to avenge his daughter Laura, who died after falling under "Marcilla"'s spell (and teeth).
There's far more romance than horror at work in The Vampire Lovers, and that's just fine- again, this is primo Hammer output, more old country vampire vibe than anything else. Mind you, I dig that sort of thing, movies that feature superstitious villagers clutching bouquets of garlic flowers and making the sign of the cross. Still, Roy Ward Baker knows how to squeeze every drop of atmosphere out of the lush country settings, and he doesn't skimp on the fang-baring. Or the breast-baring, if that matters to you. One of my favorite shots in the film is this, which is oh-so-very Nosferatu.
You know, even if I wanted to become a lesbian vampire later in life (or...unlife or afterlife or whatever), Carmilla/Mircalla/Marcilla has taught me that I'd need a better name than "Stacie". First of all, it's not very old world seductive. Second, how many alias anagrams can I get out of that? Cietas? Tascie? No right-minded young lass or kind-hearted Generals would fall for those!