The Vampire Lovers (1970)
The Vampire Lovers (1970)

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

Release Date: October 22nd, 1970 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Roy Ward Baker Actors: Ingrid Pitt, Pippa Steele, Madeline Smith, Peter Cushing, George Cole, Dawn Addams, Kate O’Mara, Douglas Wilmer, Kirsten Betts

 


 

B

aron Joachim von Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) speaks of his impending vengeance against the Karnstein family for the death of his sister. The Karnstein castle, where he now lies in wait, houses what he claims to be murderers from beyond the grave – ghostly specters that arise to feast on the blood of unfortunate souls. Just outside the neighboring tavern, a man is attacked by a white-sheeted ghoul – an abomination that drifts about the courtyard waiting for its next meal. But Hartog is ready for it, taunting it with its own shroud.

A vampire can be destroyed only by a stake through the heart … or decapitation. And so, before the opening credits even roll, a beautiful blonde bloodsucker has her head sliced off; her seductive ways were not enough to beguile the baron. Shortly thereafter, at a lavish birthday bash, General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) welcomes the arrival of the Countess (Dawn Addams) and her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) – newcomers who immediately capture the attention of the ballroom. And when a conspicuously pasty-faced, black-and-red-caped man arrives, the dance floor falls silent.

It’s not long before the General’s niece, Laura (Pippa Steele), falls for the alluring presence of Marcilla, who stays at the vast estate while the Countess leaves to attend to a sick relative. It’s quite obvious that the attractive visitor and the vampiric man she continues to meet up with are brewing evil plans. When Laura starts having regular night terrors and begins to weaken considerably, the doctor blames anemia. But Marcilla surely has something to do with the young woman’s rapidly worsening condition. It’s as if her blood is slowly being drained from her body.

Arriving in 1970, “The Vampire Lovers” is a bit edgier than the standard Hammer frightener, struggling to keep gothic horror relevant and to keep up with the times. Not only is the violence immediate and visualized (and further suggested by lengthy bouts of screaming), but there are also the additives of nudity and lesbianism – elements that contribute to a significantly maturer product. Several other vixens turn up too, including Madeline Smith as Emma Morton (Marcilla’s next conquest) and Kate O’Mara as her governess, supplying copious amounts of cleavage, batting eyelashes, and naked frolicking from bathtubs to beds. These sequences are meant to be erotic, but they’re actually funnier than they are sexy.

Not so unexpected from the legendary studio’s works is the speed at which the story unfolds. The setup wastes no time, building up the plot prior to the title credits, before moving so quickly that there’s barely time for anyone to grieve the numerous deaths. The only things the movie slows down for are additional moments of stripping, caressing, and nightmares about an oversized rapist cat creature. Curiously, there’s a lack of mystery surrounding the vampire antagonists, who hypnotize or kill everyone in their way, making the story meander around the surviving characters, who reluctantly accept the superstitions of the villagers.

“That girl is a guest in my house!” Eventually, Hartog returns to help destroy the monsters once again, culminating in a race against the clock to save the various people possessed – or being drained – by Marcilla. In the end, “The Vampire Lovers” proves to be atmospheric, nicely costumed, and routinely amusing in its bloodsucking ordeals, even boasting a twisty, open-ended conclusion. But it’s rarely scary. And as part of a loose trilogy of vampire pictures (including “Lust for a Vampire” and “Twins of Evil”), plenty of information remains unelaborated upon, giving this chapter an unresolved feel.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10