director Roy Ward Baker
For most people, the vampire story starts with Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, the 1897 novel turned stage play turned movie turned iconography galore. Lesser known, perhaps is Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 novella, “Carmilla” but it too has been a story to launch the proverbial “1000 ships” (or movies/interpretations) itself. I don’t know if it originated lesbian vampire tropes, but it did indeed serve as the source material for inspiration for Roy Ward Baker’s Hammer film, The Vampire Lovers.
It comes from 1970, when no longer are bosoms merely heaved against the constraints of Victorian dresses but breasts are bared in their natural glory. Particularly if you see these in their originally unedited versions. I really kind of wonder about these films when I might have encountered them on television in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
It’s been a while since I’ve read “Carmilla”, but the film seems to keep relative faith to the story. Young Carmilla (Ingrid Pitt) roams from home to home, dropped off by her mother, to befriend young girls in relationships that become explicitly sexual. Only she is a vampire, and she is slowly sucking these young girls dry of life, turning anyone’s head with her vampire allures.
The film is considered the first of the “Karnstein Trilogy” for Hammer, written by Tudor Gates, which includes Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971) — right up Jean Rollin’s alley, it seems. But the films it brought to my mind, ones I know I saw on TV back in the day, were Countess Dracula (1971) and Vampire Circus (1972), which if I remember correctly carried on with this voyeuristic lesbian vampire themes…and bared breasts.
The Vampire Lovers is a solid feature from Roy Ward Baker, director of a number of Hammer features. Again, I find myself looking at more and more films that I need to see to complete my image and understanding of the British horror films and Hammer in particular.