The Film (3/5)
Hammer Studios has already existed for decades when they experienced a sudden jolt of success with their one-two punch of the Curse of Frankenstein and the Horror of Dracula. These 2 films aside from being grounded by two men who would become a legendary pairing in the realm of fantastic film, had amazingly lurid color schemes, extreme (for the time) violence, and a new shocking take on pre-existing characters. Over the next decade Hammer would further tap these franchises, and other horror related staples to create their own specific brand of literate gothic horror.
However, as the sixties began to draw to a close Hammer's particular brand of horror began to look not quite as shocking as it once did. As the horror genre is apt to do about once every decade or so it went through a metamorphosis, and new more shockingly violent and sexual films were coming out that made the material Hammer was coming out look more timid in comparison. To stay relevant Hammer had to change, and they had to do it while maintaining their identity. They did this by going back to what made them successful in horror films to begin with, a literary adaptation, but not just any story, in this case they decided to begin the 70's with an adaptation of the 19th century lesbian vampire novella Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu.
The film they would make would be the Vampire Lovers, which could very well be considered the most successful adaptation of Carmilla ever created. Hammer would end up creating a trilogy of "Carmilla" films continuing on with the character and themes present in this film in Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil, however those films are more thematic companions (in the case of Lust... a prequel).
When I first saw The Vampires Lovers it was during a 5 films VHS movie marathon my friends had instigated one weekend night when we were probably 13 years old. There were three probable reasons we had rented this particular title. 1. It was horror, 2. We hadn't seen it, and 3. It appeared there was the opportunity for nudity which considering we were 13 should probably mean it was reason number 1. At that time I remember loving the film not just for the naked Ingrid Pitt, but for the wonderful Hammer brand of atmospheric horror on display even this late into their filmography.
Revisiting the Vampire Lovers over the years I noticed that while it is still an outstanding piece of atmospheric horror, it is quite quaint, and looking at it in the context of other similarly themed films from that time I have to wonder if Vampire Lovers ever created the shock to the system Hammer was looking for considering that the studio would not survive the decade as a theatrical film making force.
When watching the Vampire Lovers on this occasion I took more notice that while director Roy Ward Baker was willing to show ample nudity throughout the film, the moments of lesbian sexuality that are implied throughout the film are never truly shown. This in direct contrast to the films of Jean Rollin (Shiver of the Vampire, Requiem of the Vampire), Jess Franco (Vampyros Lesbos), Harry Kumel(Daughters of Darkness), Vicente Aranda (The Blood-Spattered Bride), and Jose Ramon Larraz(Vampyres) who would in the half decade before and after Vampire Lovers create other similar genre fair willing to go much further with the concept than Baker and Hammer were with Vampire Lovers.
The Vampire Lovers while not the explicit showcase it may once have been, however it does have a lot going for. The film for one is a quite atmospheric and stylish affair courtesy of Baker's direction. The performances from Madeline Smith, Peter Cushing, and Ingrid Pitt and absolutely wonderful. Pitt and Cushing of course steal the scene every time they are on screen.
The Vampire Lovers stars Pitt as Carmilla a vampire who during the course of the narrative finds herself as the guest of two homes. Each home she stays in has a daughter, that falls in love with Carmilla, and each daughter begins to weaken (and one dies) the longer Carmilla is in there presence. It is eventually revealed that Carmilla is one of the last remaining Karnstein's a family of vampires whose residence is in an abandoned castle. It is up to a party of Vampire Hunters led by Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) and General Von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) to stop Carmilla before she can take any more lives.
Scream Factory presents Roy Ward Baker's the Vampire Lovers in it's original 1:85:1 aspect ratio in a very solid 1080p AVC encoded transfer. I have not watched Vampire Lovers for a few years, and the last viewing was courtesy of the split MGM disc with Countess Dracula, but I can say that the Blu-ray from Scream is an improvement in all areas. The color reproduction is very nice, fine detail is greatly increased, black levels are solid, and flesh tones are accurate. There is a nice organic grain structure at play throughout the film as well. There is a bit of print damage throughout the film, and some people might say the film looks a bit soft. I will agree that it does, but having watched the film on VHS, DVD, and now Blu-ray I will say that Vampire Lovers has always had a very soft look to it, and the transfer seems to only replicate the style of the film itself.
Scream has presented Vampire Lovers with a completely serviceable DTS-HD Mono Master Audio track in English with optional English subtitles. The audio track works quite well, with dialogue coming through nice and clearly as does the the films score. I did, however, detect some faint instances of pops and hissing on the track.
Scream Factory have put together a nice slate of extras for their release of the Vampire Lovers on Blu-ray. The disc kicks off with a commentary track featuring director Roy Ward Baker, actress Ingrid Pitt, and screenwriter Tudor Gates. We then have Feminine Fantastique a 9 minute piece that goes into the background history of the film. This is followed up by a 20 minute interview with Vampire Lovers co-star Madeline Smith, and a reading of excerpts from Carmilla by actress Ingrid Pitt. The disc is rounded off by trailers, radio spots, and a photo gallery.
A late period entry into Hammer's oeuvre. It is the studio's first attempt to create something truly shocking for the 70's audience with somewhat mixed results. The A/V restoration from Scream Factory is quite nice, and certainly befitting to the material, and the extras are a mix of informative and entertaining. Vampire Lovers certainly comes RECOMMENDED.