Monday, August 16, 2010

The Vampire Lovers (1970)/Lust For A Vampire (1971)

Buying an all region/PAL-to-NTSC DVD player was the best investment I ever made!

(Well, I've had three of them since 2002 as each one only lasts for about 2 years of good, solid use, but that's another story!)

So, I got this DVD set for only $12 -- including shipping! -- and I am very excited to have both of these films back in my collection.

I had these films on DVD already but sold them when they got rare; The Vampire Lovers (1970) was on an American disc with Countess Dracula (1971) which I sold some years ago as that was getting rare at the time -- it's since back in print.

I also sold my American DVD of Lust for a Vampire (1971) for about $40 last year.

Okay, on to the films and this 2-DVD set!

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

I'm not going to recount the plot as that can be found easily online elsewhere. And while The Vampire Lovers gets dismissed as a lesbian vampire flick from the Hammer Studios -- which it is -- that's unfair as the film is quite well done with more than enough time spent on the development of the main characters of Carmila (Ingrid Pitt) and Emma (Madeline Smith) to ensure that this is not just a sex-and-blood romp.

When I finally found this film as a teenager, I'm sure that I watched it because of Ingrid Pitt.

Now, rewatching it for possibly the 10th time, it's Madeline Smith who captivated me.

Madeline really turns in a remarkably wide-eyed performance. Sure, this style of acting is a bit dated but, for the time (1970), it was fine. I mean, the part calls for that kind of innocence and Madeline delivers. It would be unfair to criticize her for any failings of the story or script.

But, if one was looking for the ultimate Hammer Horror girl, Emma (Madeline Smith) could be it; wide-eyed, bosomy, innocent, sexy, and English, Madeline sets a kind of template for the Hammer girl even if that template would be unused as the studio was going decidedly downhill in the 1970s.

Well, if not downhill, the times had changed and Hammer was somehow now producing product that was...less subtle and more obvious. The hints had become reveals of flesh-and-blood.

Peter Cushing is in this far too little but his presence lends a sort of gravitas to the thing but, as I said, The Vampire Lovers is far less exploitative than most people think it's going to be. Yes, it's got the skin and the blood, but the performances are sound and the film doesn't veer too far from the story at hand in the pursuit of those fleshy diversions.

The DVD here runs about 87-minutes and that slightly shorter running time could be due to a different frame rate from PAL to NTSC? I don't know. I think the picture is anamorphic widescreen as the DVD packaging doesn't identify the aspect ratio and the film print is probably the same one used on the US MGM DVD.

No extras to speak of, save a trailer, but a quality release with a largely clean print on display of this semi-classic.

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

If The Vampire Lovers was the turning point where Hammer decided to deliver on the sex-and-blood that they had always hinted at, then Lust for a Vampire (1971) is where they just gave up and started with the sex and added the vampire stuff as an afterthought.

Well, that's unfair; clearly the film is not an exploitation film in the way that the films of this era that played 42nd Street were -- the Hammer imprimatur still gives this sort of thing a level of class and respectability -- but it's a lot less subtle than anything the studio had ever released before.

There's a school for girls, a new student, Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard), who may be a lesbian vampire and so on.

The whole thing calls to mind the "Castle Anthrax" stuff in Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975) -- the material is ripe for parody.

I must admit that the scene where Ralph Bates as the timid teacher pledges his allegiance to the Devil and Mircalla is silly and effective at the same time; not so keen on the Devil business, but who could blame him for pledging himself to Yutte Stensgaard in a mist-shrouded country field at night?

If nothing else, Lust for a Vampire serves as a catalogue of Hammer Horror starlets: Yutte Stensgaard, Pippa Steel, and Suzanna Leigh are all in this.

Pippa Steel...

Suzanna Leigh...

Luan Peters...

Even the amazing Luan Peters has a small role in this!

And, what discussion of Lust for a Vampire would be complete without a mention of the weird pop song, "Strange Love" that plays during one of the seduction scenes? Sung by Tracy, the song doesn't seem to fit the film and immediately dates the proceedings as being filmed in 1970.

But, hey, no one was ever going to take Lust for a Vampire as a realistic period piece anyway.

The DVD here runs about 92-minutes and appears to be anamorphic widescreen. The print is remarkably clean and the sound is good too. The only extra is the trailer.

I'd add that both films seem like essential Hammer Horror films to me for reasons not entirely related to horror. Neither one is a masterpiece but for even a casual fan of the Hammer Horror starlets, The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Lust for a Vampire (1971) are both required viewing experiences.