Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Hammer found the hit they needed with 1970's "The Vampire Lovers." A loose retelling of Sheridan Le Fan's "Carmilla", the film mixed the studio's atmospheric trademarks and haunting Gothic horror with new levels of violence and (especially) eroticism that struck a chord with audiences, and pretty much kicked off the lesbian vampire craze. So, like other hits the studio had with their takes on Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy, the studio decided to capitalize on the success of this movie. Sadly, what we got was "Lust for a Vampire", which proves that all the T&A in the world can't always save a movie.

"Lust" opens with a woman being sacrificed by Count Karnstein (played by-oh God no-Mike Raven) to resurrect Carmilla (Yutte Stensgaard, replacing Ingrid Pitt.) Well, it looks like they've got a new Finishing School full of female victims, as well as a handsome author named Richard Lestrange (Michael Johnson) whose taken interest in Carmilla and the more Lestrange Headmaster Giles Barton (Ralph Bates) who really wants to be the vampire family's minion.

Though there are some pluses-a few eerie moments (the image of Carmilla walking off into the fog is haunting), a few fine performances from several Hammer regulars, the obligatory female nudity and an impressive score from Harry Robinson, but "Lust for the Vampire" is a rather limp affair. This is largely due to the lackluster direction from Jimmy Sangster and anemic screenplay by Tudor Gates. Sangster is well respected for writing screenplays for some of Hammer's finest movies, such as "The Curse of Frankenstein", "The Horror of Dracula" and "The Mummy", but as a director he just seems uninterested with the whole affair (indeed, he's gone on to dismiss the movie), making it all feel more like generic Erotic Horror instead of a Hammer movie-and the use of stock footage from one of the studio's Dracula films, as well as the poor production values sure don't help matters much. Gates' screenplay meanwhile, is full of plot holes and lapses in logic. Here, vampires can walk around during the day, and Carmilla has gone from a predatory but also almost human monster to a bland bisexual girl.

Also worth noting is that most of the performances here are really bad. Sure, Johnson and Suzanna Leigh do fine in their roles, but Yutte Stensgaard is really hit and miss as Carmilla. There's moment's where she shows promise, but she's too poorly written, and her cross eyed throes of ecstasy look is more bound to draw laughs than scares. That's nothing compared to Ralph Bates, whose melodramatic performance as a man who really wants to be Carmilla's servant is hilarious, as is his awful hair. At least those involved had the decency to keep Mike Raven's role small, as he's only in the movie's opening and conclusion. Plus, the fact that his voice has been dubbed over by actor Valentine Dyall is probably a blessing in disguise.

Hammer would give the world one more lesbian vampire film with "Twins of Evil" that same year (I have no idea if that's available on DVD in the U.S.-let me know if it is), but this is just a poor film. I wanted to like it at times, but it's just too bland, poorly directed, written and acted to enjoy. See "The Vampire Lovers", a Jean Rollins vampire film or "Vampyres" if you want a better fix of Sapphic undead girls.

Rating: 3.5/10

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