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Anulka Dziubunska Fiona Horne Ingrid Pitt Donna Ricci Yvonne Romain Madeline Smith
Anulka Dziubinska
Fiona Horne
Ingrid Pitt
Donna Ricci
Yvonne Romain
Madeline Smith
Madeline Smith
In a bid to halt declining popularity, Hammer released a trio of sexed-up, gory period horror movies. Steven West takes a look at the Carmilla trio.
Until the early 70’s, Hammer had only occasionally dabbled with female vampires. With an absence of fresh avenues for their long-running monsters to explore, and a relaxation of censorship regulations, the studio turned to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s well-regarding 19th century novella Carmilla. The Vampire Lovers, Lust For a Vampire and Twins of Evil revelled in lesbian couplings and decapitations, while coming up with a dozen excuses for leading ladies to disrobe. The three movies varied in the quality of their scripts, acting and direction, but two of them remain among Hammer’s best ’70s output and the much maligned Lust For a Vampire is by no means a total disgrace.
The Vampire Lovers (1970)
This film made a genre icon of Ingrid Pitt and set the tone for the sexier, gorier style Hammer adopted to suit the changing times. It opens with a stirring prologue in Syria, in which the distraught Baron Von Hartog (Doug Wilmer), whose beloved sister was killed by a member of the vampiric Karnstein family, avenges his family tragedy by staking each one of the Karnsteins as they sleep. However, the seductive Mircalla (Pitt) survives the onslaught. Years later, at a birthday ball held by the puritanical Genera (Peter Cushing, sadly under-used) for his beautiful daughter (Pippa Steele), Mircalla arrives, turns a few heads and is captivated by young Steele. Ultimately, Mircalla gets her fangs (fatally) into Steele, and shows little discrimination in notching up a hefty bitecount that also includes Steele’s close friend Madeline Smith, Doctor Ferdy Mayne and governess Kate O’Mara. Mircalla plans to take Steele back to Karnstein castle to her grave, but her old nemesis, Von Hartog has re-emerged, joined forces with the General and spent a great deal of money at his local branch of Stakes ‘R’ Us.
The Vampire Lovers is, technically, as handsome as any of the studio’s Dracula movies, with typically eye-catching sets. It also has the best cast of the Carmilla trilogy: the exotic, unique Ingrid Pitt managing to be both enticing and intimidating as the most famous of Hammer’s vampiresses. Madeline Smith’s fragile beauty and considerable appeal make her one of the studio’s most sympathetic heroines, while the older statesmen of the cast overcome some of the scripts cornier dialogue.
The Vampire Lovers’ central theme is the battle between the deadly, overt sexuality of Mircalla and her vampire brood, and the sexually repressed, even more brutal vampire hunters (Cushing, Wilmer). The depiction of the vampire hunters develops upon the darker elements hinted at in Cushing’s portrayal of Van Helsing, as well as reinforcing the question of who represents the greater threat - the liberating, uninhibited vampires or the hypocritical, arguably sadistic authority figures? The conflict between the two is resolved in the kind of climactic confrontation that Hammer always did so well: the General and the Baron finally corner Mircalla and behead her in spectacular style. In a simple but highly effective closing scene, an elegant oil painting of the young Mircalla/Carmilla degenerates rapidly to signal her demise, her other-worldly beauty decomposing into skeletal remains.
Article taken from Bite me Launch Issue
Words by George Seaton
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