LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971)
TWINS OF EVIL (1972)
Hammer starlet Madeline Smith in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS.
WITH an absence of fresh avenues for their monsters to explore, and a relaxation of censorship, Hammer turned to J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. A curious mix of traditional vampirism and Irish folklore, the novella overtly uses lesbianism to heighten tension and to symbolise abnormality, and was a major influence on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. By adding this explicit frisson to their already luridly realised baronial halls, village taverns and moonlit woods, the studio’s Karnstein Trilogy - all scripted by Tudor Gates - suggests a more obvious deviance and desire, and a recognised stage in which the drama could be played out.
Roy Ward Baker's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS is historically remarkable for being the first (and only) co-production of Hammer Films and American International Pictures. While this combination looks promising on paper, the result is an uneven attempt to bring the studio into the late 1960s marketplace by revelling in lesbian couplings and graphic decapitations. In early 19th Century Styria, Carmilla Karnstein (Ingrid Pitt) is insinuated into the household of General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), and the death of his niece soon follows. When Emma Morton (Madeline Smith) begins to suffer from fatigue and anaemia, her fate rests in the hands of her young suitor (Jon Finch) and the vengeful fathers of Carmilla’s previous victims. While too mature and earthy to make an ideal Carmilla – Le Fanu wrote her as a young creature unaware of her destructive effects – Pitt nevertheless displays some memorable vampiric anger, including the panting seduction of a governess played by Kate O'Mara. The central theme of the film is the battle between Carmilla’s brood and the repressed, brutal vampire hunters – Cushing’s General and Douglas Wilmer’s Baron Hartog make suitably grim-faced avengers - reinforcing the question of who represents the greater threat; the uninhibited vampires, or the sadistic authority figures.