FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

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!


Yog-soggoth said...
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spazmo said...

Ingrid Pitt is the shit. Too bad Hammer Studios never paired her up with Hazel Court, another breathtaking English scream queen.

Did you know that in some editions of "Count Dracula" Stoker makes mention of the titular bloodsucker's original Bride? Her name was Countess Dolingen, and it was fairly evident that she, too, was a vampire.

Now THERE'S a movie that should've been made. Imagine it... PITT VS COURT - The House of the Cat (Carmilla was a shapeshifting cat-creature in the novel) battles the House of the Bat! Two legendary vampire queens do battle on the misty moors until only one is left standing! Goosebumps.

Stacie Ponder said...

Kind sir, I think you need to put pen to paper. With CGI, we can still make this movie happen!

Carmilla does shape-shift in Vampire Lovers, as well, but it's...not that great. Laura and Emma just look like they're getting humped by a book of carpet samples or something.

And I did NOT know about Countess Dolingen! 'Tis a banner day.

Albert Cumberdale said...

I really liked this movie, but I preffer the sequel/prequel/whatever it is Twins of Evil. If only for the fact that hearing Peter Cushing screaming "The devil has sent me twins of evil!" is the best thing ever.

Chris Cooke said...

Once met the great Tudor Gates who wrote the karnstein trilogy for Hammer - he was head of the technicians union for film and television in the UK - and instead of asking him lots of questions about membership and rates, I asked him loads about Hammer and lesbian vampires!


Andreas said...

I love The Vampire Lovers! (That sentence feels more redundant every time I say it.) Just disappointed not to see any pictures of the wonderful bathtub scene.

From what I recall, though, the non-Twins of Evil sequel, Lust for a Vampire, was pretty dull and not much a lesbian vampire movie at all.

B-Sol said...

Oh Ingrid Pitt....Sigh......

Anyway, I'm right there with ya on Hammer movies of this period, and this subgenre. In fact, it was Lust for a Vampire in particular that I think may very well have been the first horror movie I ever saw, on local syndicated TV on a Sunday afternoon. Yes, it was a different world back then...

Max the drunken severed head said...

"Before long, the girls are dead and Carmilla/Marcilla/Mircalla is long gone."

I was hoping the film would go on long enough that Ingrid would pop up again and be calling herself "Icramall."

Erich Kuersten said...

This post makes me want to loudly complain once more -- where is Vadim's Blood and Roses??

Also, Ingrid fucking Pitt is fucking super hot. Vampire lesbians need more movies made about them, and done with the perfect mix of erotica and romanticism and horror that this one has. Can I get an amen?

Stacie Ponder said...


Blood and Roses is coming, sir, fear not. I've got to get through 8 more lesbian vampires for Operation: 101010 and it will definitely be one of them.

I want to cover some modern takes o the genre as well, but I fear they'll be lacking what you pointed out: eroticism and romanticism. We shall see!

a paperback horror said...

This is one of the reasons I love the old school hammer horrors. The women were all phenomenally beautiful, and even the films themselves were aesthetically pleasing. There's nothing today, with the exception of House of the Devil, that even comes close to the level of perfection that Hammer reached.