Lust for a Vampire (1971)
Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.

Release Date: September 2nd, 1971 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jimmy Sangster Actors: Yutte Stensgaard, Michael Johnson, Barbara Jefford, Ralph Bates, Suzanna Leigh, Helen Christie, Mike Raven, Harvey Hall, Pippa Steel, Judy Matheson, Caryl Little, Kirsten Lindholm, Luan Peters

 


 

A

lone woman clamors into a mysterious, passing black coach – ignoring the first rule of pretty young blondes interacting with dark-cloaked strangers. Her eventual screams segue into the title credits, before she’s carried, unconscious, into a foreboding castle atop a hill. It’s here that Christopher Lee lookalike Mike Raven, as Count Karnstein, carries out a satanic ritual, during which the fair-haired victim has her throat cut for fresh blood to revive the partially mummified, desiccated corpse of the evil vampiress Carmilla Karnstein.

“These are not normal times.” Novelist Richard Lestrange (Michael Johnson) is new in the little village in the valley below Castle Karnstein, where his flirtations with a pub’s waitress are interrupted by the shopkeep’s warnings of the regularly reincarnated Karnstein clan, who prey on young virgins. The year is 1830, exactly 40 years since the last of the bloodsucking family has been seen; but everyone is still fearful of the legends and superstitions.

Incredulous of the tall tales, Richard volunteers to poke around the forbidden castle – right after lunch. There he meets the proprietors, odd Giles Barton (Ralph Bates) and easily flustered Miss Simpson (Helen Christie), at a reclusive finishing school neighboring the castle – of which Susan, Isabelle, and Amanda are just three of a notable collection of slender, virginal young women attending classes led by instructor Janet Playfair (Suzanna Leigh). It’s difficult for this institution not to look like some sort of otherworldly cult; despite Richard’s wandering eyes keeping him preoccupied with exposed flesh, nothing appears conventional about the place. And when Countess Herritzen (Barbara Jefford) arrives with her conspicuously pretty niece Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard), things only grow weirder – and more deadly, as teenaged girls turn up dead or missing.

As one of the later Hammer productions, an easily observable effort is made to increase the maturity and controversial elements. Bursting cleavages, dancers in sheer garments, massages that find clothing falling away from breasts, lesbianism, skinny-dipping, and other activities provide plenty of opportunities for gratuitous nudity. Plus, between the neck-slashing at the opening and the bloody wounds from ravenous vampires throughout, the violence has increased as well. Unfortunately, with the outrageous premise, the questionable acting, the comically expeditious professions of love, and the exploitation components, it’s difficult to take the characters and their plights seriously – particularly as everyone remains skeptical of the accruing deaths and extreme coincidences. “We don’t want to be over-hasty, do we?” This excludes a police inspector, however, played by Harvey Hall, who really gives it his all – a lone earnest player in a Z-grade production.

“I know the black art!” As usual, thanks in part to a low budget, supplemental filmmaking concepts try too hard to compensate; costumes are eccentric, makeup is excessive, and set designs are awash with fog and crumbled ruins. Barton’s desk is even adorned with a skull with a snake coiled around it – to blatantly designate his demonic predilections. And the camera favors zooming in on the piercing screams of frightened waifs or the queer glances of concealed spectators and entranced victims. Nevertheless, it’s all quite fitting, following along with the rest of Hammer’s Karnstein series, in which mysteries are entirely predictable, attractive women are plentiful, the ending is abrupt, and unintentional silliness abounds. Of course, when Richard lusts after a vampire, making love to her beneath a tomb to the tune of “Strange Love,” this chapter becomes significantly goofier than the rest.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10