Gay vampires? Yes, please.
Hammer Film Productions was long known for their richly atmospheric Gothic horror films when the 1970s rolled in. But with a new decade came a new attitude. For The Vampire Lovers (1970) that meant putting the men in the backseat for a feature focused on lusty lesbian vamps. Censorship had relaxed a great deal by this time, and since this film was based on a nearly 100-year-old novella, 1872’s Camilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, the studio could place the onus of all that sexuality on a book… and not necessarily their script. This was the final joint co-production between Hammer and American International Pictures, the latter of which was pushing to increase the erotica factor for their next feature. Vampire Lovers does feel unlike anything Hammer had done before, with a twisting story that is mostly invested in getting attractive female co-stars to hook up—it’s evident where the focus lies.
A couple of transient-yet-dapper ladies, Countess (Dawn Addams) and her “daughter”, Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt), travel the countryside befriending wealthy men and insinuating themselves. There, they wiggle into their lives for the purpose of seduction—not of the men but of their women. First, Laura (Pippa Steel), daughter of the respectable General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), is befriended by Marcilla. Subsequent to their new friendship Laura begins to experience horrid nightmares and, eventually, a slow anemic death. Could those tiny puncture wounds on her breasts be evidence of some crime?
Before anyone can put it together Countess and Marcilla hit the road, winding up at the estate of Mr. Morton (George Cole). This time Marcilla, now going by Carmilla, unleashes her charms on Morton’s daughter, Emma (Madeline Smith), who begins to suffer the same fate as Laura. It is only thanks to diligent sleuthing by Morton’s butler, Renton (Harvey Hall), that the truth about local vampire legends is uncovered. But who has the strength and knowledge to stop these sanguinary seductresses? Unbeknownst to them both, Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer), a known vampire hunter, is hot on their trail.
All the expected trappings of Hammer can be accounted for here: European countryside castles, lusty women, saturated cinematography, classical horror scoring, Peter Cushing, vampire hunting. But the material never quite grabbed me in terms of story. I was happy to drink deeply in the visuals, of which Hammer rarely can disappoint. Yet the source material and screenplay are more invested in carnal matters than crafting a compelling horror yarn. Erotic horror films were exciting and forbidden rentals during my formative years. But as an adult with internet access seeing boobs and watching lesbian vampires frolic about doesn’t hold the appeal it once did. I don’t say this to suggest Vampire Lovers is a bad film or, worse, uninteresting. Even a marginal Hammer film with all the accoutrements is better than most horror out there; just temper expectations if you’re expecting something in line with their more celebrated works.
Scream Factory previously issued Vampire Lovers on Blu-ray in 2013. Now, eight years later, they have reissued the title with a fresh 4K scan of the original camera negative. The results are quite spectacular, yielding a sumptuous 1.85:1 1080p image that is a clear leap in quality over the old edition. Cinematographer Moray Grant uses a kaleidoscope of colors throughout, offering plenty of primary pops and lush hues to sell this thick baroque atmosphere. Contrast is balanced and black levels are inky. Lots of lovely film grain swirling about. Scream Factory has been nailing their reissued discs and this is another surefire winner in the video upgrade category.
The sole listening option is an English DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track, which is a no frills affair but quite adequate in terms of fullness. Harry Robinson’s score is packed with big, bold horror cues. Dialogue sounds evenly leveled alongside sound effects and the soundtrack. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
There are four audio commentary tracks – film historians Dr. Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr; director Roy Ward Baker, actress Ingrid Pitt, and screenwriter Tudor Gates; film historians Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby; “The Rapture of Cruelty – Carmilla in Classic Cinema”, written by Dr. Steve Haberman and read by actress Madeline Smith.
“Carnal Crimson – Kim Newman on the Carmila Legend” (1080p) runs for 19 minutes and 5 seconds, the critic discusses Hammer’s output as they left the ‘60s and moved into another decade, along with analysis of this film and its source material.
“Fangs for the Memories – Remembering The Vampire Lovers” (1080p) runs for 24 minutes and 31 seconds, this is a lengthy interview with author Jonathan Rigby discussing the particulars about the film.
“To Love a Vampire – An Introduction by Madeline Smith” (1080p) is a new interview with the actress who delivers anecdotes and more.
“Madeline Smith – Vampire Lover” (1080p) is a 2013 interview with the actress, covering her work on this film, that runs for 20 minutes and 32 seconds.
“Trailers from Hell: The Vampire Lovers” (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 34 seconds, with filmmaker Mick Garris offering praise for the film.
“Feminine Fantastique: Resurrecting The Vampire Lovers” (1080p) runs for 9 minutes and 56 seconds, featuring interviews with several talking heads about the film and novel.
“New Blood: Hammer Enters the ‘70s” (1080p) runs for 26 minutes and 22 seconds, featuring numerous interviews with folks discussing Hammer’s new direction for a new decade.
“Reading of Carmila by Ingrid Pitt” (1080p) runs for 12 minutes and 5 seconds, featuring excerpts from the original novel.
A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 2 minutes and 19 seconds.
A radio spot runs for 1 minute and 25 seconds.
An image gallery (1080p) runs for 15 minutes and 5 seconds.
Finally, a deleted scene (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 22 seconds.
- BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE
- Audio Commentary With Film Historian/Author Dr. Steve Haberman And Film Historian/Filmmaker Constantine Nasr [NEW]
- The Rapture Of Cruelty: Carmilla In Classic Cinema – An Audio Essay Read By Actress Madeline Smith [NEW]
- To Love A Vampire – An Introduction By Actress Madeline Smith [NEW]
- Carnal Crimson – Film Historian/Author Kim Newman On The Carmilla Legend [NEW]
- Fangs For The Memories – Film Historian/Author Jonathan Rigby Remembers The Vampire Lovers [NEW]
- Audio Commentary With Director Roy Ward Baker, Actress Ingrid Pitt, And Screenwriter Tudor Gates
- Audio Commentary With Film Historians Marcus Hearn And Jonathan Rigby
- Feminine Fantastique – Resurrecting The Vampire Lovers
- New Blood: Hammer Enters The 70s – Film Historians Discuss Hammer Films During The 70s
- Madeline Smith: Vampire Lover – An Interview With Actress Madeline Smith
- Reading Of Carmilla By Actress Ingrid Pitt
- Deleted Shot Of The Opening Beheading
- Trailers From Hell: Mick Garris On The Vampire Lovers
- Theatrical Trailer
- Radio Spots
- Photo Galleries – Movie Stills, Behind-The-Scenes Stills, Posters, And Lobby Cards
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
- The Vampire Lovers
- Special Features
Visually entertaining but thin on story, Hammer’s light erotic vampire thriller may not deliver all the goods but it is one of their more notorious titles and certainly worth watching. Scream Factory is asking fans to double dip on this new remastered version, and with such stunning video quality and a ridiculous wealth of extras it seems easily worth it.