Death By Cinema – 11 – The Vampire Lovers

“If I must just choose the method of my demise, I choose…

Britt

Death By Cinema!” -Britt Rhuart

Day 11: – The Vampire Lovers

I’m guessing this might be the best film I watch all month long, though I don’t know what else I might watch this month (there might be something better). I say that without ever having seen this film. How can I say that? Because this is a Hammer Film.

For those philistines unaware, Hammer Films was a British film company that made horror films, largely from the mid-50s till the end of the 70s. While most everything they did fell into the exploitation genre, most of their films were actually well done. This was because they had solid directors like Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis and actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. They remade the classic Universal horror series, but in a new light. The films were in color and filled with blood and sex (well, as much as could could be shown for the time). The films themselves are usually very well done and are almost all very entertaining.

By the time the late-60s came about, Hammer had mined it’s Dracula and Frankenstein series very well, and were constantly looking for new horror. They settled on an adaptation of J Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire novel, Carmilla. This story had been adapted before in Britain, but never by Hammer (though Lee did star in a version called Crypt of the Vampires). Hammer added an extra bit of exploitation to the film by making the female vampires of the film lesbians. Now, lesbian vampire films could be its own sub-genre of exploitation films, with filmmakers like Jean Rollin and Jess Franco each taking their turn, but this was the first semi-mainstream version, making it all the more shocking. The film starred Hammer mainstay Cushing, as well as Ingrid Pitt, the lead vampire, and Hammer heartthrob. It was able to spin off two sequels, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil. Aw, hell, I done introduced it enough.

Random Thoughts While Watching the Film:
This random thoughts section may be a bit shorter, as I’ll only comment if something is particularly good or bad. Being that this film is Hammer, I’m thinking there will be more good then bad, but I’m expecting to comment on a bit of both.
The opening is very moody and creepy, as expected. I particularly like the sets and the image of the mists rolling over the English moors. Very sinister. I also like that the vampires in this don’t need their coffin to be safe, but they do need their shroud. The score is solid as well.
Woah! That decapitation was brutal! Literally, we see the sword cut the head from the neck. Obviously it was a dummy, but it was still decently convincing.
Seeing Peter Cushing is always such a treat. He could be anything from a badass to a gentleman to a monster. From what I gather, in real life he was a badass gentleman (much like his friend and costar Christopher Lee, who was an even bigger badass).
I gotta say, I always love Hammer’s production design, from its set to costumes, they are always on point.
Wait… what just happened in that dream sequence? Did… did that woman just have sex with a shag rug? And think it was a cat? What?
Here we see the character Marcilla (aka Carmilla) beginning her lesbian tendencies on the first victim, Laura. It’s subtle and actually very tasteful, a few soft kisses on the cheeks, lips, and neck. Especially the neck…
The doctor pulls down Laura’s nightgown to use his stethoscope, giving us a nipple shot, and we see that Marcilla has sucked the blood right frothier breast. We also see Marcilla’s tomb, where we see her real name, Mircalla Karnstein. We know from the opening the Karnsteins are an old vampire family.
We then get to the next part of the story, where Carmilla, as she is now being called, stays with a new family to prey upon.
Wow, I’m shocked. I know Hammer exploited sex, but usually it’s left to cleavage or the occasional nipple. Here we see full nudity of Carmilla, though it’s just a quick peek at her bush as she stands from a bath. I must say, Ingrid Pitt had a nice body.
Those are some interesting nipples on actress Madeline Smith.
I gotta say, the dream montages are just very weird. I can’t even say they’re bad, but they are unusual when compared to the rest of the film.
It’s a bit unusual that these vampires can appear in the daytime, but I’m just glad these ones don’t sparkle. I don’t mind slight changes to the vampire myth, and the fact that the original story also contained this and is older, adds to the credibility of this change. Still VAMPIRES. DON’T. SPARKLE!
Actual line: Carmilla reads from a book: “‘Pulling her gently towards him, he showered her sweet, upturned face with manly kisses.’ This is a silly book.” I get it, she’s saying it’s silly because she’s a lesbian. I think this is the first time I’ve included a quote because I actually thought the line was good.
I like the Carmilla character, she’s a really engaging vampire. Unlike other vampires, she is not motivated solely by a bloodlust, as many vampires are, she genuinely seems in love with the character Emma. The sexual confusion of Emma adds to the story as well, because it’s not just a woman who desires her, it is a vampire (though she doesn’t know it). Carmilla also fears death and death in the women she loves, hence the reason she turns them. This is a very well developed character.
The Hammer view of lesbianism is actually fairly progressive for the early 70s. While it is regressive in that it does equate lesbianism to vampirism, Carmilla is a deep and sympathetic character. At no time are we lead to believe she is evil because she is a lesbian, and in fact is only considered evil because she is a vampire. Also, her being gay is separate from being a vampire. It is connected through her persona, but is not a choice of hers, it just is her, as it is in real life.
Is it wrong that I’m actually rooting for Carmilla and Emma to hook up and live as vamps for eternity? Imagine your OTP.
I believe Emma is supposed to be bisexual, or at least bicurious. She obviously feels something towards Carmilla, though she is clearly attracted to men as well.
The butler is beginning to suspect Carmilla. Good. Usually, a butler would only be good for being the murderer or the murdered in a film.
Carmilla bites the doctor taking care of Emma. He tries to draw a cross in the dirt, but the wind blow it away. Really, would that work?
We flashback to the beginning and learn of how Baron Hartog killed the Karnsteins by chopping their heads off and staking them. Apparently he didn’t do a very good job, as Carmilla is still alive, as are two others, called on IMDb The Countess (apparently Carmilla’s mother) and the Man in Black (I’m guessing her father), all vampires.
Emma’s father finds The General (Cushing) and Baron Hartog. They head to Castle Karnstein to kill the rest of the vamps. The castle is very well done, full of cobwebs and paintings.
Carmilla seduces the butler, but this is a ploy to get to Emma. He gets rid of the garlic surrounding Emma and Carmila bites and kills him. Solid plan.
We know now that Carmilla is evil, but I still like her as she still seems to love Emma and that’s the reason she’s going to all this trouble.
Carmilla tries to kill the man who loves Emma, but is forced to disappear when he draws a cross (well, a knife, but it’s cross shaped). However, she seems more concerned by the fact that Emma is horrified at the sight of her. Good character move.
Actual quote: “Only now can I see the evil in her eyes.” I still don’t see it.
Of course it’s Peter Cushing who stakes Carmilla. Only fitting that it should be film’s best Van Helsing. He also cuts her head off.
Oh, man, the horror in Emma’s voice screaming, “Oh, God, no!” as Carmilla is killed. She then breaks down crying. Aw, they really were in love. Man, I loved their relationship.
Wait… Carmilla’s painting regresses to a skeleton with fangs? I expected her body to do so, but the painting? That’s some Portrait of Dorian Gray stuff right there.

So, that was the movie and I really loved it. The film is dark and moody like most Hammer films, but I gotta say, this was a step above the rest. I would honestly put it on par with Horror of Dracula or Curse of Frankenstein, maybe even beyond those. This is because of the new (to me and largely the viewing audience), unique story of Carmilla. But the best part of the film to me is the writing and portrayal of Carmilla. I spoke on how the character was written, but both she and Emma are very well written and developed characters. So often in vampire movies, the vampire is only motivated by hunger. In this one, the vampire is motivated by love and we are left to question of what it means to be one of the undead, from an emotional standpoint. We also question if the villain is truly evil, or just a victim herself. On top of all that, Ingrid Pitt delivers a solid performance (as does Madeline Smith as Emma), creating one of the most memorable vampires on film, and that’s saying quite a bit! I’m really going to have to check out Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil, even though Ingrid Pitt doesn’t return.

Tune in tomorrow for my review of Day of the Animals!

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