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The Vampire Lovers (1970)

The Vampire Lovers is one of the more famous of Hammer's later cycle of films, for two reasons (both belonging to Ingrid Pitt). But copious amounts of Ms Pitt's flesh aside, it has been unfairly maligned. In no way is it as bad as the sequel Lust For A Vampire, and it's certainly not as toe-curlingly awful as the real tit-and-bum stuff like Virgin Witch.

It's a very literate translation of La Fanu's short story Carmilla (some would say too literate), with none of the kitschness of Lust. Apart from the occasional appearance of an unnamed green-faced tosser on horseback (I have no idea why), Lovers is also quite a good film. Not as wonderful as Twins Of Evil, but certainly not as bad as Horror Of Frankenstein.

In the pre-credit sequence we get told the new vampire rules - if you steal their shroud, they can have no night of rest. Plus they can only be killed by a stake through the heart or decapitation. So after self-styled vengeful vampire killer Joachim Von Hartog goes to search for these "murderers from beyond the grave" and spies a "kind of human shape" (or woman under a pink blanket), we get Hammer's new approach distilled into a single scene - shrinking away from a gorgeous blonde, Hartog appears to have failed until her exposed boobs touch his crucifix. She bears her fangs, he finds his strength and lops her head off in a triumph of special effects. No, really. Unfortunately, the makers were obviously so impressed with their cleverness that they chose to repeat the scene twice again during the film.

During a Pride And Prejudice style dance hosted by General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), we are introduced to Marcilla (Pitt) and her suspiciously young-looking mum, who arrive after Morton (George Cole) and his daughter Emma (Maddy Smith) have left. Marcilla's mum does a bunk and leaves her daughter in the charge of Spielsdorf, and it's not long before his daughter, Laura (Pippa Steele), has succumbed to Marcilla's nudy breast-kissing antics ("Oh Marcilla you're so kind to me... I swear I shall die when you leave..."). Every night Laura finds herself attacked by a giant cat, and during the day Ingrid practises her acting on-camera (sample dialogue: "I could not SLEEP... I went to the CHAPEL... to PRAY..."), but it's not long before Laura's dead, the doctor discovers puncture marks on her norks and Marcilla vanishes, the house echoing to Cushing's plaintive calls of her name. Marcilla has made her way back to the castle seen in the pre-credits sequence, and as her nightgowned figure vanishes into the fog, the camera comes to rest on the tombstone of Mircalla Karnstein. A-ha.

Of course, it's not long before the obligatory busty girl is attacked in the forest, and we're then treated to a spectacular coach crash which sends footmen and horses scattering in all directions. The crash has happened right in front of Morton and Emma, and who should stagger out of the overturned coach but Marcilla's mum - her daughter is inside. Mum palms her daughter (this time called Carmilla) off on the trusting Cole and legs it again, and it's not long before Pitt and the equally busty (and more lovely) Maddy Smith are enjoying several naked bed and bathroom scenes together ("You must take it all off..." says Carmilla).

It's also not long before Emma is having the same nocturnal feline visits as Laura before her ("The trouble with this part of the world is they have too many fairytales," says her governess, Kate O'Mara), but of course, this being an age before telephones, the family has no idea what has happened to their friends down the road.

Another peasant girl is killed in the forest, and as her funeral courtege passes by Carmilla and Emma, Carmilla reacts quite badly.

"I hate funerals!"

"I thought it sad, yet somehow beautiful," replies Emma.

"You must die! Everyone must die!"

Blimey. Calm down, love.

It's not long though before people start putting two and two together, and realise there's a vampire at work. The weakening Emma is surrounded with cricifixes and garlic (Pitt does a fantastic double-take the first time she walks into the bedroom), the Karnstein legacy is explained (twice) and Cole meets up with Spielsdorf, Laura's boyfriend and Bartok, finally realising that Marcilla, Carmilla and Mircalla are all one and the same: "That girl is a guest in my house!"

As a whole bunch of sweaty blokes rush back to Cole's house, Pitt is busy munching her way through the servants (the butler failing to realise it was her who was the be-fanged one), but fails to kill Emma - and as a knife is thrown at her by Laura's grieving boyfriend, vanishes into thin air. Things are boiling up nicely for a climactic approach towards the castle by torchlight, and we're not let down as we proceed to a very gory staking and a not-as-good-as-the-first-one decapitation.

The final scene sees Mircalla's painting turn from a beautiful girl into a skeleton (nice touch).

Vampire Lovers is a good film, not great, illuminated by the gorgeous Maddy Smith, the ever-dependable Cushing, a decent script and a few home truths about vampires. Much like Dracula in the original book, Mircalla walks around in sunlight, is afraid of just garlic and crosses, nothing more, and doesn't have recourse to coffins. Refreshingly, she doesn't even like funerals. Makes Lee's Dracula look positively Transylvanian.

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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