The Vampire Lovers (1970 UK)

Ingrid Pitt 1970 (2)In Australia this movie ran continuously for at least 5 years at the same theatre, so popular was this Hammer classic. The Vampire Lovers is a classic tale of good versus evil, the way vampire films should be, with the vampire as a soulless and selfish creature with no humanity left in it. The modern idea of the suffering humanistic vampire decrying the pain of immortality is somewhat embarrassing. Another ridiculously overused modern device is vampirism as an infectious disease. We’ll have none of that here!

People always want to over analyze things, to come up with a scientific explanation for everything. There’s no explanation for evil. The real vampire is a symbolic creature. It’s not sensitivity to UV radiation that makes them burn up in sunlight, it’s that light from the sun comes from a higher power. The wooden stake is used not so much to “kill” the vampire as it is to bind it to the earth. The stake is supposed to pierce the heart and come out the other side into the dirt so the body, heart, and earth are one. In my opinion, The Vampire Lovers is the best of the Hammer vampire films, barely squeaking past The Horror Of Dracula. Having a top director like Roy Ward Baker, and a cast with Peter Cushing on hand, certainly helped.

This, and the other non-Dracula vampire films, like Kiss of the Vampire, are very underrated and on a whole, better than the Dracula series. It never feels like childish moments just there for titillation and it is mixed nicely with the old Gothic traditions. It’s a nice combination of styles that strikes directly against the hinted-at seductiveness of the earlier Hammer flicks. The additional violence is also nice to see, and delivers more than the usual blood-fare. There is decapitations galore, as well as neck bites and bloody corpses spread quite liberally throughout. A striking musical score by Harry Robinson also keeps the tension high.

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One thing I really enjoyed was the subplot where the butler, who figures out that there’s a vampire in the house, then engages in a battle of wills with the vamped out chief of staff. I do think Ingrid Pitt was an incredibly sensual woman on the screen. She certainly did not leave her performance in the locker room! Only her clothes, but that’s another matter. Also, I agree with Ms. Pitt’s assertion (on the DVD commentary track) that the original story isn’t about female homoeroticism. Women in those days were always more affectionate than they are now (as were men) to a lesser degree. I think the “lesbian subtext” is more about wishful thinking on the part of the horny male producers of this. A very conscious effort was put into sexing up horror cinema around 1970 as society’s morals had loosened up like never before.

The Vampire Lovers is worth sitting through just to see the Karnstein Castle set, which is a marvel of atmospherics that nobody else has quite been able to equal in the 46 years that have passed since the film was made. There is a picture postcard “Adult Fairy Tale” quality to Hammer’s production that always manages to be respectable even when the lead actress is going down on one of her victims. Leave it to Hammer to make a classy sexploitation potboiler that never relies on overtly graphic imagery to make it’s case. It’s more suggestive and dreamy, hypnotically watchable, and a simple enough story to work in spite of how ridiculous it all is if you make the mistake of actually thinking about it too much.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review, you are incredibly spot on about the symbolism of vampire lore! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My pleasure! I appreciate your support. 🙂

    Like

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