When i was a pre-teen and young teen, “The Vampire Lovers” was something of a holy grail.
If by holy grail you meant a Hammer horror film that not only featured Peter Cushing, a favorite actor, but also actress Ingrid Pitt and a bevy of actresses in various stages of undress.
And making out.
I didn’t see the 1970 movie in theaters or even a drive-in, a venue in which I assume it excelled. I saw it years later on HBO or Cinemax or on home video.
But for a while there, I was fascinated at the thought of seeing this R-rated movie.
A big part of the reason for my interest was this picture:
This “Vampire Lovers” publicity shot of Ingrid Pitt – or at least one like it – appeared in an issue of Cinefantastique magazine and guaranteed I would jump at the chance to see the movie when I could.
Of course, in the days before home video or the Internet, that meant waiting for it to come around to a theater again – something that didn’t happen with British horror movies – or for it to show up on HBO or some other pay channel.
I saw it back then, which it finally showed up, and I watched it again this afternoon.
It’s an odd movie and presented something of a risk for Hammer – best known for the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” movies – and its U.S. distribution partner, American International Pictures.
That’s because while the movie had all the trappings of Hammer’s successful horror movies – period setting, costumes, good production values and blood, all in living color – and it had Cushing as a good guy, it had a couple of offbeat elements.
Chief of them was the movie’s sexually-charged villainess, played by Pitt. As Carmilla, Pitt is a vampire very much like Dracula – including his taste in victims.
Carmilla, you see, is a lesbian vampire.
Sure, she seduces and kills, with fangs sinking into throats, a couple of men in the movie. But it is her attraction and seduction of women in the film that sets it apart from other monster movies of the day and is, to a great degree, why it became a cult classic.
Pitt – who appears fully nude in the film – spends most of the movie seducing, bedding and biting female acquaintances including nubile Emma (Madeline Smith, who appeared in several Hammer films). She even appears to fall in love with the young woman, which proves to be her downfall.
Hammer made a series of erotic female vampire movies, of which “The Vampire Lovers” was the first. The others were “Lust for a Vampire” and “Twins of Evil.” Pitt also played the title role in “Countess Dracula” in 1971.
If you’re just seeing “The Vampire Lovers” for the first time, be aware there is fairly extensive nudity – all female cast members of course; sorry for those hoping to see Cushing at least bare-chested – and scenes that are sexual in nature.
In other words, that publicity photo of Pitt didn’t lie.