It is the question which has perplexed horror movie fans for decades: which is superior, Hammer's 1970 lesbian vampire opus The Vampire Lovers
, or its 1971 sequel, Lust For a Vampire
? Opinion is sharply divided, even amongst the titans of British horror movie criticism, with Johnathan Rigby of English Gothic
fame giving the nod (just) to the earlier film, whilst David Pirie author of Heritage of Horror
favours the latter. The general consensus seems to be that Vampire Lovers
represented an attempt by Hammer to strike out in a new direction, adapting a literary classic, (Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla
), in order to breathe new life into its horror product, which was still dependent upon its increasingly tired Dracula
franchises. By contrast, Lust for a Vampire
, is seen as a cheap cash in on the success of its predecessors, rushed into production with indecent haste and an inadequate script. Having recently watched both of these movies for the first time in years, I thought I'd add my views to the debate.
What is clear from this viewing is that Hammer certainly saw Lovers
as some kind of prestige picture marking a bold new era for them. Not only does it clearly have a reasonable budget, (it was co-financed by AIP), but it also has an above average cast including Peter Cushing, Douglas Wilmer, George Cole and Ingrid Pitt. Hammer also assigned a 'name' director to the film; Roy Ward Baker who, in addition to his earlier work for Hammer, had directed several big budget British studio pictures in the 1950s and 1960s. The whole thing comes over as some sort of BBC historical drama - with added bared breasts and lesbianism. Being a fairly straight adaptation of LeFanu's novella, it has a reasonably well-structured plot, which progresses more or less logically. But it does feel slow, with its strongest male lead - Cushing - vanishing for a large part of the film. Lust
, by contrast, does
feel like a hastily assembled cash-in, with a B-list cast and crew and a script that feels as if it was scrawled on the back of an envelope. It's also hampered by a bloody awful song - 'Strange Love' - which plays over some of the seduction scenes. The whole thing looks noticeably cheaper than its predecessor. To be fair to Hammer, it does seem as if they started out with the idea of this also being a 'prestige' picture. However, they lost both legendary gothic horror director Terence Fisher and star Peter Cushing shortly before production began, whilst Ingrid Pitt turned down the opportunity to recreate her role as the vampiric Carmilla. Fisher was replaced by Jimmy Sangster, (who later admitted he didn't have a clue what he was doing), and Cushing by Ralph Bates, (who later described the film as one of the worst ever made), whilst Yutte Stensgaard, (who couldn't act for toffee but looked very beautiful), took over as Carmilla. Watching the film again, I couldn't help but feel that it could have survived these set-backs if only the script had been stronger.
Its lack of consistency, either internally, or in terms of the previous film, is surprising, considering the same writer was responsible for both. For instance, quite early on, the script gets into an unholy mess on the simple matter of its protagonist's name
. In the first film we clearly establish that Carmilla is simply one of her aliases, (she also calls herself Marcilla), and that she is really the undead Countess Mircalla Karnstein. However, in Lust
, she enrolls at a ladies' finishing school under the name Mircalla, and Ralph Bates' character, (a supposed expert on the Karnsteins), identifies her from an old portrait as really being the undead Countess Carmilla
Karnstein! (By the third film, Twins of Evil
, she's back to being Countess Mircalla, played by yer another actress, Katya Wyeth). The portrait also poses problems, it looks just like Yutte Stensgaard, yet later in the film a character states that the Karnsteins change their appearance every time they are revived so that no one will recognise them, (presumably explaining how come they are all played by different actors than in Lovers
). But even these problems wouldn't have mattered if it wasn't for the fact that most of the script seems to consist of sub-plots designed solely to pad the film out to feature length. These sub-plots meander all over the place, often amounting to nothing. Worst of all, some are patently ludicrous - the whole business with the police inspector, for instance: surely someone
would have noticed his disappearance? Add to that a conclusion which seems perfunctory - villagers waving flaming torches and assisted by a passing bishop burn down Castle Karnstein - and you end up with a film which seems very lightweight, to say the least.
However, when all is said and done, I can't deny that I actually prefer Lust
. Despite its virtues - decent production values, solid script and top-notch cast - Vampire Lovers
does come across as terribly po-faced, seeming slightly embarrassed by its central lesbian vampire scenes and nudity. By contrast, Lust For a Vampire
is much more fun
, with no pretensions to art or seriousness. It gleefully embraces the lesbian themes, using them as an excuse for as many gratuitous topless scenes as possible - young women seem to be whipping their knockers out at the drop of a hat! No, the plot doesn't make much sense, but the truth is that we all know that nobody is watching it for that! The final reason for me favouring Lust
is entirely personal - to be quite frank, I fancied Yutte Stensgaard more that I did Ingrid Pitt. There is no doubt that the late Miss Pitt was a far more talented actress than Yutte Stensgaard, but ultimately I felt no sympathy for her Mircalla, I just felt intimidated. By contrast, despite her limited acting skills, (she plays the part entirely impassively for the most part, with barely a flicker of emotion crossing her face), Stensgaard is somehow more sympathetic - we're sorry to see her staked at the end, whereas in the previous film it was a relief. Not only that, but how can you not like a performance in which sexual ecstasy is indicated by the actress crossing her eyes?
Labels: Musings From the Mind of Doc Sleaze