While other pictures in the Hammer Film Productions canon have contended with the nexus of sex and horror that seems a necessary element of the vampire movie, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS wastes little time on refinement and goes straight for the jugular. This 1970 outing is based on the Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novella CARMILLA, which precedes the Bram Stoker novel and introduces the vampire as a woman capable of exploiting social mores.
After an introduction that involves Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) and the decapitation of a beautiful vampire, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS swings to the manor of General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing). He is having a big party and winds up taking care of Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt), the daughter of a new neighbour. Marcilla takes a liking to the General’s niece Laura (Pippa Steel) and their relationship turns deadly. Some time later, Marcilla resurfaces as Carmilla and takes her act onward to the Morton family.
While some mystery wafts through the events of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, the flesh is laid bare. Marcilla/Carmilla is a huntress of sorts and she targets her quarry with every weapon in her toolkit, exploiting emotions and loneliness where she sees fit. She is sexual, introducing a world of pleasure to her innocent victims. And she seems capable of blending dreams with reality, which causes dizzying confusion for Laura and Emma Morton (Madeline Smith). It is only when bitemarks are revealed that the sinking feeling sets in.
Marcilla/Carmilla is a member of the Karnstein clan, which includes a maternal figure (Dawn Addams) and a man in black (John Forbes-Robertson) who appears on horseback at all the right moments. There is an attempt at crafting a modest mythology, especially when the General retrieves the Baron to take care of business in the final act. What’s more interesting is the procedure of the Karnsteins, which involves exposing young women to the charms of the gorgeous Marcilla/Carmilla. There is little left to the imagination and Hammer’s approach is thankfully without shame.