Director: Jimmy Sangster
Script: Tudor Gates
Cast: Ralph Bates, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh, Michael Johnson, Mike Raven, Harvey Hill, Helen Christie, Yutte Stensgaard, Pippa Steel
Running time: 95 minutes
When producer and head honcho Anthony Hinds left Hammer Films at the end of the Sixties budgets went down and the company wasn’t sure which direction to take when it came down to its output, so it went through a bit of an experimental stage and churned out a few erotic horrors, including The Vampire Lovers and its companion piece, Lust for a Vampire.
Lust for a Vampire is one of the least regarded of the Hammer horrors and is often given short shrift by fans and critics alike. The truth is that the film, while not great, is certainly not the unmitigated disaster that many make it out to be.
Beginning with an innocent peasant girl being kidnapped by the evil Karnstein family, and sacrificed in order to resurrect their matriarch, the vampiric Carmilla Karnstein, Lust for a Vampire focuses on matters of the flesh (nubile female flesh, of course) rather than the out-and-out gothic horror that most of Hammer’s oeuvre usually concentrates on. The film goes on to narrow its gaze on a new finishing school for young wealthy women who are steadily being picked-off one-by-one by a dark force that’s inveigled its way into their ranks. Along for the ride are male tutors Giles Barton (Ralph Bates) and novelist Lestrange (Michael Johnson) who both fall for the blonde beauty that is Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard), the daughter of a countess who seems to wield far too much power over the school to be healthy.
As the disappearances and murders mount up the police are finally summoned by the deputy head (Suzanna Leigh), who, for some reason, has fallen in love with the rather lecherous Lestrange who’s a very bizarre choice of hero, since he seems to like ‘em very young… At least Lestrange finally susses out what (or should that be ‘who’ Mircalla really is) and finally comes to his senses in the final reel.
Lust for a Vampire was obviously a cheaper Hammer film, but they still managed to fill the screen with some nice locations, excellent period costumes and some gorgeous women to wear said costumes. The cast are a mixed bunch, with Ralph Bates and Suzanna Leigh acquitting themselves well in their mostly under-written parts, while the likes of Yutte Stensgaard and Mike Raven bring up the rear in their less believable delivery of their characters. However, to be fair on Stensgaard, she acts better than she’s ever given credit for, although there’s still plenty of room for improvement! Raven, on the other hand, is uniformly bad as Count Karnstein, and is even dubbed to add further insult to injury.
Perhaps what lets the film down the most (apart from the dodgy love song, Strange Love, by Frank Godwin) is the script, which is rather lacklustre and never really creates much in the way of excitement or interest. However, there are just enough iconic Hammer moments throughout the film’s running time to make it slightly memorable. For example, the scene where Carmilla is first resurrected in her coffin is good fun and her subsequent rise in the alluring (and bloodied) form of Yutte Stensgaard will certainly give, err, rise, to many a heterosexual man! In fact, originally some of the scene was cut out due to the presence of blood on naked breasts. Thankfully it’s now been reinstated for us to enjoy in high definition!
StudioCanal has done a good job with this release, with the picture and sound quality being good; perhaps too good as we can now see where the fake side-burns are glued on!
Lust for a Vampire won’t be to every horror fan’s taste, but is still good fun in its own cheesy and semi-erotic way, so ignore what many mainstream critics say and check out the cheese…
Studiocanal are distributing Lust for a Vampire on Blu-Ray. As per usual with Studiocanal there are plenty of special features including:
Strange Love: Hammer in 1970 (23.5 mins) – The likes of Jonathan Rigby, Alan Barnes and Kevin Lyons talk about Hammer’s year in 1970 when many significant changes were afoot.
Script to Screen: To Love a Vampire (8 mins) – Alan Barnes talks about the script and how it was initially called ‘To Love a Vampire’.
Judy Matheson: Bride of the vampire (16 mins) – The actor talks about her career and about working on a Hammer set. She was also in Twins of Evil with Peter Cushing (delightful) and Crucible of Terror with Mike Raven (humourless).
Stills gallery – Featuring seven minutes worth of stills and posters from the film.