Jun 092011
 

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Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , ,

HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still can not forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word.  So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore….our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.  Here, Dr Lenera follows up his review of The Vampire Lovers last week with his thoughts on the second in Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy , Lust For A Vampire.

 

HCF REWIND NO.11:LUST FOR A VAMPIRE [1971]

AVAILABLE ON DVD:Now

DIRECTED BY:Jimmy Sangster

WRITTEN BY:Tudor Gates

STARRING:Yutte Stengaard, Micheal Johnson, Ralph Bates, Suzanna Leigh

RUNNING TIME:91 mins

REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

1830, forty years after the last manifestation of the vampiric Karnstein family.  A young woman is captured and taken to the Karnstein castle, where Count Karnstein and two aides are waiting to revive Carmilla.  The girl’s throat is slit and her dripping blood revives the beautiful vampire.  Meanwhile a writer called Richard LeStrange has come to the village to do some research for his latest horror novel.  Upon exploring the castle, he is startled by some hooded, cloaked figures who are actually students at the finishing school nearby.  When he sees a new arrival at the school, calling herself Mircalla, he impersonates another teacher so he can stay there, but in the village, a dead girl is found with bites on her neck………..

 

It’s probably obvious by now that I’m a big fan of Hammer horror, but I’ll certainly admit there were some films which missed the mark, especially during the 70s, where the studio basically a died a slow, painful death.  Lust For A Vampire is often mentioned as one of their worst, and it isn’t especially good, though I think there are elements of a interesting film in there.  It’s just that they are sunk by laziness and, at times, simple ineptitude.  It also borders on being boring at times, and that is not a word I like to use when describing a film.  It was a one of several co-productions between Hammer and EMI, and it’s undoubtedly odd that AIP, who had helped make the commercially successful The Vampire Lovers, passed on a sequel.  Tudor Gates’ script was originally called To Love A Vampire, and at first had several references to The Vampire Lovers, but for some reason most of these ended up being deleted from the script.  Ingrid Pitt, who of course had made such a great impression in The Vampire Lovers, turned the film down because she thought the script was terrible [she was at least 75% right].  The film had a troubled production, including director Terence Fisher having a car accident and having to be replaced by Jimmy Sangster, and Peter Cushing having to drop out because his wife was ill [sadly she died soon after].  His role, that of schoolmaster Giles Barton, was filled in by Ralph Bates.  One sequence where Carmilla seduces and feeds on a schoolgirl called Judy was drastically shortened from the script version at the instruction of the BBFC, and the same scene lost a few seconds of nudity when the film was released though it was restored many years later.  Lust For A Vampire was a flop, though it wasn’t helped that the studio disliked the film and had little faith in it, resulting it having a limited release especially in the US, where the sex was predictably toned down considerably.

The film certainly opens well, with Carmilla’s bloody revival staged like a black mass and heavily reminiscent of Dracula’s unforgettable resurrection in Dracula Prince Of Darkness while being just about different enough to stand out on its’ own.  We are treated to some unrealistic but rather interesting shots of the blood seeping around Carmilla’s bones and a body forming, then a creepy shot of the totally shrouded Carmilla jerking to life under the sheet.  We then switch to our ‘hero’ Richard LeStrange, and he’s introduced as a boozy skirt-chaser who isn’t especially likeable but is  certainly more interesting than many of Hammer’s other dull young male characters.  When we arrive at the school though, it’s fair to say that the pace drags to a halt and remains incredibly slow.  Now a slow moving horror film can be great, in fact there are probably more great horror films that are slow moving then there are fast, but Lust For A Vampire has little suspense, atmosphere or even horror, and therefore just sits there not really doing anything while the script wastes times on stuff like the search for a missing body.  The potentially interesting romantic aspect dominating the story just doesn’t work, being sunk by awful scripting [though I’d take this movie over all the entire Twilight series any day].  The first time Richard is alone with Carmilla, he tells her he loves her despite hardly knowing her, then the second time,  after he has found out she’s a vampire, he says “prove to me that you’re not”,  assuming she’ll have sex with him despite her having shown no feelings for him whatsoever either of the romantic or the carnal variety.  Then of course, she does have sex with him immediately!  Little then really happens until the climax, where torch bearing villagers head for Karnstein castle and at last we get some gore with some nicely gruesome stakings and a rather good downbeat final scene.

I’ve made much of this movie sound awful, but for the patient there are pleasures to be had, especially if you’re male [or lesbian!].  There are less scenes of Sapphic groping then in The Vampire Lovers, but the few there are are slightly more explicit, and have an air of casual eroticism, such as when one girl starts to massage Carmilla’s neck, Carmilla’s top falls off seemingly naturally, and the girl kisses her on the neck in what looks like a gentle variation of the way Carmilla normally bites her victims.  Unfortunately the sex scene between Richard and Carmilla is laughably staged, reveals Hammer’s often obvious sexism by having Carmilla naked but Richard fully clothed, and has a rather sweet but ridiculously out of place song called ‘Strange Love’ played over it.  Gates’ script is incredibly poor narrative-wise, and totally ignores traditional lore with vampires walking about in daylight and not being harmed by fire, but bizarrely does pepper the film with far more rounded characters then was usual for Hammer.  Aside from Carmilla, who this time seems more unfeeling and evil, we have our flawed hero Richard, who becomes more and more sympathetic as the film goes on as he genuinely falls in love, can’t really deal with it and drowns his pain in more and more drink.  There’s Janet Playfare [who sounds like a Bond girl!], the outwardly cold school girl who inside is passionately in love with Richard, and schoolmaster Giles Barton, who on the surface is a typical repressed schoolmaster most happy amidst the dust of old books, but has a secret interest in witchcraft and possibly sexual desires.  Even minor characters like a police inspector are well sketched out, it’s just that they all belong in a better film.  The slightly enhanced role for the Man In Black doesn’t work though because the film keeps throwing in shots of Christopher Lee’s eyes in Scars Of Dracula!

Director Jimmy Sangster was usually a scriptwriter for Hammer, and he was responsible for writing some of their classic early movies, but as a director he was strictly average in all three of the films he made for the compnay. With the exception of a dream scene shot through various coloured filters  [actually an especially pointless scene consisting of earlier shots in the movie], he directs this movie with little interest.  Yutte Stensgaard as Carmilla doesn’t even come up to Ingrid Pitt in acting ability, but she still has a presence and does effectively display a callous evilness.  Ralph Bates, who said that the film was tasteless and that he regretted having anything to do with it, gives probably his best performance for Hammer as Giles, hinting at repressed desires but also being rather funny [just look at the way he runs], but Micheal Johnson is not good enough an actor to show Richard’s emotional journey convincingly and is sometimes unintentionally funny in his expressions.  Likewise Micheal Raven doesn’t have a strong enough presence as the Man in Black, now renamed Count Karnstein.  I must mention Harry Robinson’s fantastic score, which seems to have been written for a very good film indeed.  He employs a variety of musical instruments and styles from 18th century harpsichord music to choral hymns, really gets into the emotional heart of the story and provides a beautiful love theme which certainly didn’t need a song played over it!  I’ve tried to be positive about Lust For A Vampire for probably more of this review than the film deserves, because it is a poor effort, there’s no getting away from that.  There are interesting elements though, so maybe this is one film Hammer [who of course have started making films again] could successfully remake!

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

 

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