“The Vampire Lovers” begins on the fog filled, dilapidated grounds of the Karnstein property. Baron Hortog (Douglas Wilmer) has kept watch all through the night. The Karnstein’s are not ordinary people; they are a family of vampires. One of the family members murdered the Baron’s sister to satisfy their need for blood. The Baron is there to seek revenge, and revenge he gets. When one of the female Karnstein’s (Kirsten Lindholm) returns from her nocturnal activity, he beheads her. The Baron than works through the night to destroy the remaining vampires as they sleep in their coffins, but there is one grave he can’t find.
The grave that the Baron could not find was that of Mircalla Karnstein. The scene shifts from the Baron to a lavish party the following evening at General von Spielsdorf’s mansion. The part of the general is played by BAFTA winner Peter Cushing (House of Long Shadows). The Countess (Dawn Addams) arrives with Mircalla, pretending to be the niece of The Countess, she is going under the pseudonym Marcilla. The eyes of every man in the room are focused on the attractive Marcilla and she is immediately asked to dance.
Marcilla is portrayed by Ingrid Pitt (Where Eagles Dare). A short period of time passes when a mysterious man (John Forbes – Robertson), dressed in black, replete with top hat, appears and has words with The Countess. She needs to leave. The Countess informs General von Spielsdorf that she needs to ride through the night, and would he mind looking after Marcilla until her return. The general is all too happy to have Marcilla as his houseguest.
The general’s daughter Laura (Pippa Steel) is taken with Marcilla. At one point, Laura fears that Marcilla will have to leave once The Countess returns, but she tells Laura that she’ll never leave her; it’s all a ploy. Soon after Marcilla arrives Laura begins having nightmares, but unbeknownst to her, they are all too real. Marcilla comes to Laura in what she thinks are dreams and drains her blood. After a bit of time, the young girl dies and Marcilla moves on. She is always aided by The Countess, and the mysterious man in black, who is never far behind.
Marcilla changes her name for her next victim. This time she is called Carmilla. Her intended target is Emma (Madeline Smith). She is the daughter of wealthy, landowner Roger Morton, a role acted by BAFTA nominee George Cole (Minder). Carmilla makes quick work of ingratiating herself to Emma, her father, and members of the household staff, such as the governess Mme. Perrodot (Kate O’Mara) and the butler Renton (Harvey Hall). Once more, even though Carmilla is taken with the young beauty, Emma begins to have nightmares. Will Emma fall victim to Carmilla’s need to drink human blood?
Trivia buffs take note: The role of the Man In Black was offered to Christopher Lee, but he turned the part down. Even though Ingrid Pitt is playing a vampire, she can walk in sunlight and cast a reflection, which is not the norm in vampire lore. The filmmakers did, however, keep the traditional vampire repellants of the cross and garlic. Ingrid Pitt was offered a part in the sequel “Lust for a Vampire” (1971), but she didn’t care for the script and opted to star in the film “Countess Dracula,” (1971). Additionally, there was a third film in the series, “Twins of Evil” (1971). The three films are collectively known as “The Karnstein Trilogy.” “The Vampire Lovers” became the first Hammer horror film to contain nudity, as well as the fist Hammer film to receive an R rating in the United States.
“The Vampire Lovers” was directed by Roy Ward Baker (The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires). The film was adapted from the 1872 novella written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. The screenplay was a faithful adaptation written by Tudor Gates (Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson). Harry Fine (Fright), and Emmy nominee Michael Style (Luther), brought the adaptation to the screen. The horror film premiered in the United Kingdom on October 4, 1970.
The film has a bit of an unwarranted reputation. Yes, there is some nudity, but not as much as some reviewers make it out to be. There is an element of overt sexuality that exists between Pitt’s character, Laura, and Emma, but for a film that has been dubbed a lesbian vampire movie, it is terribly mislabeled. Those viewers who have heard what the film is about and watch it expecting to see a 1970s version of BAFTA nominee Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2013 film “Blue is the Warmest Color” are going to be woefully disappointed. “The Vampire Lovers” for the most part is implied, almost nothing is shown.
The film features excellent production design and use of atmosphere. Pitt is intense and passionate in the role. Overall, she does a better than average job conveying a centuries old female vampire, who is a master at using seduction to prey on her vulnerable victims. At the same time, however, she is able to bring a bit of pathos to the character, in certain scenes. A viewer might wonder if Pitt’s character enjoys her life as a vampire, or would trade it all away to be able to live with one person who truly loves her. This film is recommended for fans of horror film icon Ingrid Pitt, those interested in vintage horror films, and those viewers who can’t get enough of cinematic vampires.