This is one of my favourite Hammer films that is based on the novel Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which was first published in 1872.
Carmilla is a tale full of vampire lesbianism and Hammer’s adaptation of it is very good. Carmilla played by Ingrid Pitt preys upon two females, killing one and almost succeeding with the second named Laura.
Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever”. (“Carmilla”, Chapter 4).
Laura grows very close to Carmilla, not suspecting that Carmilla is a vampire as she can happily survive during daylight hours. At night, Laura suffers terrible encounters with a large black cat biting her bosom and drawing blood. She screams and unfortunately for her, she’s told that it’s just a bad dream. Later on in the story, the villagers reveal the history of the Karnstein vampires and we see Carmilla being staked and beheaded.
What I adore about this film is the opening sequence. The tale of how Baron Joachim von Hartog played by Douglas Wilmer watched a Karnstein vampire rise from its tomb in a plume of smoke, all shrouded and mysteriously glide off out of the smoke filled graveyard. He steals the vampires shroud knowing that the creature will not be able to rest without it. The vampire returns and he coaxes the vampire to him by revealing its shroud. When approached, Baron Joachim von Hartog is consumed by the vampires beautiful appearance, her naked body covered lightly with a soft see through gown. He’s mesmerised until the vampire reveals its fangs and he makes one strike of his sword and decapitates the vampire in one.
The Vampire Lovers is the first Hammer film to base its story on Carmilla. It was followed by the 1971 film, Lust for a Vampire and in this film we see Yutte Stensgaard playing Carmilla. I’ve hunted down my favourite clip of Lust for a Vampire to show you below. The third and final film is the 1971 film, The Twins of Evil which doesn’t feature the character Carmilla, but does feature members of the Karnstein family. Twins of Evil is another favourite vampire film of mine and I love Madeleine Collinson’s portrayal of Frieda Gellhorn.
I’ve just been informed that reference to the Karnstein vampires is made in the film 1972 film ‘Vampire Circus’ although I will have to watch this film again at some point to confirm that.
I have such a passion for vampires thanks to Hammer Horror. They always casted their vampires as beautiful women with heaving bosoms and scantily clad, with the exception of Christopher Lee as Dracula of course! Ingrid Pitt played Carmilla with such passion and of course she was stunningly beautiful.