Synopsis: Buxom vamps and bloodthirsty beauties abound in this “absolutely yummy” (New York) thriller showcasing the netherworld’s most voluptuous vampire! Traveling the countryside searching for victims, Carmilla quenches her thirst for blood with the best-looking maidens she can find. But when she unleashes a murderous sexual massacre on a small town, the local gentry fights back…plotting to drive a stake through the heart of this sexy, savage killer!
In ‘The Vampire Cinema’, author David Pirie decried the number of quality vampire productions. By the mid ’70s, when the book was first published, there appeared to be very little appetite for vampirism on the silver screen; it was basically relegated to the fringes and there weren’t any half-decent production – everything was done on the cheap and, often, half-@$$ed.
The whole idea was to hammer out a quick picture for very little cash and recoup it with the help of a small, but devoted, community of horror film buffs. These films were mostly exploitative, with an accent on gore and nudity to draw the audiences in. A more sophisticated approach wasn’t even considered, because it was thought that there wasn’t a market for it.
I’ve seen a few of these late ’60s/early ’70s vampire films and they’re enjoyable in their own way. It’s true that you can generally lump them all together, however: they often have a similar look and vibe about them. And the stories, when someone bothered fleshing one out, aren’t all that complex or involving. But they can be fun, if in the proper frame of mind or with the right company.
‘The Vampire Lovers’ falls right into that category. The title alone screams the genre: it was based on a book called ‘Carmilla’, originally published in 1872, but the producers decided to change it for obvious reasons (that is, if you consider the marketability of a horror film called ‘Carmilla’). The fact that it’s about a lesbian vampire also says something; given the era, it probably wouldn’t have made in any other context than in a cheapie that barely anyone would see.
It all revolves around the female characters, even if the outcome obviously hinges on the men (given when it was originally published and even when this film was produced, it’s no surprise!), and yet the actresses are pretty weak. The lead actress, Ingrid Pitt (who, incidentally, is considered a horror icon) barely eked out a credible performance. And in some cases, I’d say the “actresses” got the roles solely because their breast implants passed the audition.
Quite seriously, I’m starting to be of the mind that actresses with fake boobs should be forbidden from being undressed on screen – not only is it revolting to see sculpted-cement balls that stand rock hard to attention, but it totally skews our perception of the female form (case-in-point, our out-of-control addiction to implants in North America). To me, it’s a total eyesore and, during scenes that are supposed to be titillating, I end up turned off and tuned out.
Anyway, back to the acting: there is a breathtaking scene between the bosomy Ingrid Pitt and Emma Smith wherein both were speaking with the wrong intonations and even the wrong tenses. It was amazing to watch a half-decent script turned into complete hogwash by incompetent “actors”. In fact, the dialogue is so mangled that I couldn’t even tell if it was technically proficient (my hunch is that it was, even if it’s not apparent in the final product )
At least there’s Peter Cushing. While I’ve seen him a smidge better (for instance, in ‘Star Wars’), he provides enough gravitas and overall skill to provide us with an oasis of competence. The rest of the cast is decent enough, but it’s Cushing who makes up for the amateurs on display – despite only having a secondary role.
And it’s not just (some of) the actors who are grossly incompetent: the director and/or editor were as well. I’ve seen worse films, evidently, but there are a few sequences of seriously deficient editing. Case-in-point, the close-ups of Carmilla’s mouth, as she attacks her prey, featured at least three different mouths: a regular mouth, one with crooked lower teeth, and one with fillings (fillings? on a vampire?). Ai carumba!
There’s not much to be said about a movie like this one. If you’ve seen a traditional period vampire film, then you know what to expect, story-wise; it creates a certain mood and it does have redeeming values. Truly, what kills this one are the performances, without which it would be a fairly okay, middle-of-the-road vampire flick, perfect for late at night or cheap thrills.
Post scriptum: I’ve since discovered that the French have made a very good adaptation of the novel in a film titled ‘Et mourir de plaisir’. You know what? I’d actually like to see that…