Lust For A Vampire (1971 United Kingdom)

This has one of the most ludicrous plots ever: a girl’s finishing school is positioned next door to notorious vampire haven, Karnstein Castle, like some heaven sent butcher’s shop. For it to succeed as a sensual erotic horror, Lust For A Vampire required a far more nuanced approach than an inexperienced director like Jimmy Sangster (despite being a talented and prolific writer) was able to give. Sangster’s approach was to ladle on the Gothic silliness in the opening scenes, relying on the frequent female nudity to distract viewers from the script’s sillier aspects. Plus lifting his visual flair from the continental horror directors of that era.

Mircalla Karnstein is the lesbian vampire from the previous offering in this trilogy, The Vampire Lovers. Then, with the name Carmilla, she was played by 32 year old Ingrid Pitt (she with the nymphomaniacal face). Now, a year later, she is reincarnated as 24 year old Yutte Stensgaard–a more innocent looking, serious pupil at a Styrian finishing school, circa 1830. Serious about vampirizing her classmates that is, as well as anything in trousers. A visiting author, Richard Lestrange, (“Lord Thurston’s son”) is the anything in trousers. Charmingly played by Michael Johnson, he wastes no time in falling in love with Mircalla. The whole production is all about furtive adolescent vampirising behind locked doors, lesbian assignations by moonlit lakes and the petty sexual intrigues of the classroom and dormitory.

With all this fumbling and erotic tom foolery going on its no wonder Lust For A Vampire exudes an aura of potent, cloying, sensuality. There is even one long audacious tracking shot down the garden to the lake in which the camera becomes Mircalla stalking her victim, the director managing to convey the right mix of narcissism and ghostly physicality. So you can’t say this is outright exploitative porn. At least here we have a half decent story. What other pleasures do we have? Ralph Bates puts in a memorable turn as creepy professor Giles Barton, complete with bad wig and granny glasses. He is a weak willed teacher who yearns to “learn more and more” at the feet of Mircalla and the forces of darkness in general. One of these forces of darkness is the ludicrous Mike Raven, who fails epically as an autistic Christopher Lee while his voice is dubbed by someone with a more manly vocal depth.

I was impressed by the costumes (when the women actually kept them on) and the scenery, especially the castle and adjoining graveyard. As for rating the acting, with no Peter Cushing/ Chris Lee presence we have to rely on the females for the most convincing performances. There are two in particular. Helen Christie, as Miss Simpson, adequately portrays a woman who, although initially appearing to be strong and in control, soon suffers an emotional collapse as her world begins to crumble about her. Barbara Jefford is formidable as the deceitful Countess Herritzen, and the camera man makes sure we drink in her bosom baiting. In fact, the bosoms on display in this film is the main reason it generated a nice profit on release. Now it looks like the most guilty of the guilty pleasures offered up by Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy. If you are looking for something scary look else where. This is camp. 🙂

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Comments

  1. Brilliant review. The Karnstein trilogy is definitely a must-see for those who enjoy campy vampire flicks!

    Liked by 1 person

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