The Vampire Lovers  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Vampire Lovers is a 1970 British Hammer Horror film directed by Roy Ward Baker and starring Peter Cushing, Polish actress Ingrid Pitt, Madeline Smith and Kate O'Mara. It is based on the Sheridan le Fanu novella Carmilla and is part of the so-called Karnstein Trilogy of films. Other films in the trilogy are Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1972). The three films were somewhat daring for the time in explicitly depicting lesbian themes.


In the early 19th century Styria a beautiful blonde (Kirsten Lindholm) in a diaphanous gown materializes from a misty graveyard. Encountering the Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer), a vampire hunter out to avenge the death of his sister, the girl is revealed as a vampire when her breast is seared by his crucifix. Baring her fangs to attack the Baron, she is swiftly decapitated.

A sultry dark-haired lady leaves her daughter Marcilla (Pitt) in the care of General von Spielsdorf (Cushing) and his family at their Styrian mansion. Marcilla quickly befriends the General's daughter, Laura (Steele). Laura suffers nightmares that she is being attacked, and her health deteriorates until she expires. Marcilla vanishes from the General's home.

Faking a carriage break-down, Mircalla's mother leaves her (now using the alias Carmilla) at the residence of a Mr Morton. Here, Carmilla befriends and seduces Morton's daughter Emma (Smith) but her need to feed overcomes her emotional attachment and Emma too begins to fade. Emma has nightmares of a being pierced over the heart, and her breast shows tiny wounds. Emma's governess Madame Perradon (Kate O'Mara) also falls victim to Carmilla's erotic blandishments and becomes her willing tool. Some in the household, the Butler and a Doctor, suspect what might be happening, especially in the wake of several local girls suddenly dying. But Carmilla kills each one. All the while, a mysterious Man in Black (clearly also a vampire) watches events from a distance, smiling (his presence is never explained).

After Carmilla kills the Butler, having convinced him that Madame Perradon is a vampire then persuaded him (for some reason) to remove the garlic protecting Emma, Carmilla goes to Emma's bedroom. She says she must go away, but is taking Emma with her. A desperate and sick Madame begs Carmilla to take her with her. Carmilla kills her, in front of a horrified Emma. Emma is barely rescued by a young man named Carl (Jon Finch) who fashions a makeshift cross from his dagger. Carmilla flees to her nearby ancestral castle, now a ruin.

All this coincides with the arrival of the General, who brings with him a now-aged Baron Hartog. They find Carmilla's grave, where she sleeps. Her eyes open, and interestingly enough she makes no move to defend herself. The General lifts a stakeā€”and back in her bedchamber Emma screams "No!"--then drives it into Carmilla's heart. He then cuts off her head. Carmilla's portrait on the wall decays, showing now a fanged skeleton instead of a beautiful young woman.



Before production the script of The Vampire Lovers was sent to the chief censor John Trevelyan who warned the studio about depictions of lesbianism, pointing out that a previous lesbian film The Killing of Sister George had had five minutes excised by his office. In response Hammer replied that the lesbianism was not of their doing but was present in the original story by Le Fanu. Trevelyan backed down (Sinclair McKay 2007: 118). Production of The Vampire Lovers began at Elstree Studios on 19 January 1970 and used locations in the grounds of Moor Park Mansion, Hertfordshire (standing in for Styria, central Europe). It was the final Hammer film to be financed with American money — most of the later films were backed by Rank or EMI.

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