Roy Ward Baker
1 Hr., 31 Mins.
The Vampire Lovers October 25, 2019
he Vampire Lovers is a misleading title. True there are vampires in the movie: the main character — slinky, unscrupulous Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) — definitively is one. She bares her fangs frequently and ensures most make-outs end with a bite to the neck. She speaks with an implacable European accent that we eventually guess is probably Transylvanian, and if not that one that for sure originates someplace from where
Dracula's relatives would be likely to congregate. But to be sure, anyone to whom she might devote either her heart or her sexual kinks will not be turned into a vampire. They’ll just die of anemia. So as such there can be no vampire lovers here. I’d say, then, that if you’re in the mood to experience the dramas and sexual adventures of vampire lovers, move in the direction of Blood and Roses (1963), or Ganja & Hess (1973).
But even if The Vampire Lovers doesn’t deliver what its title suggests it’s going to deliver, the movie, released in 1970, is still an enjoyable one. As is the case for even the most deficient of features put out by Hammer Horror Productions, it’s at the minimum an adeptly made journey into gothic terror — overrun with tableaux defined by their castles, blankets of fog, capes, full moons. I liked to look at it.
The Vampire Lovers is certainly lucky to have Pitt, who has to carry the thinly plotted movie on her regularly flashed shoulders and soon enough has convinced us that she's better than the material needs her to be. The role transparently required during the auditioning process that the actress embodying it be willing to reveal skin and “act." Pitt is tangibly having fun; clearly she's a bit above it. She’s like a cigarette-smoking femme fatale from a prototypical film noir, except instead of puffing Lucky Strikes she’s sucking hemoglobin from vulnerable veins when not blueprinting her destruction of pretty young women and their families.
The film is set in the 19th century, and largely follows Marcilla as she makes trouble around Europe. The vampiress, who has improbably long hair and carefully eyelinered cat eyes, has formed a foolproof mode of operations by now. She inserts herself into the homes of wealthy families with beautiful daughters either at the end of their teenage years or in their early 20s. She befriends them; soon they’re dead. It’s clear that she’s the culprit behind the suspicious demises — she’s gone usually by the time the doctor dramatically reveals to the camera bite marks on the breasts or neck of a given victim — but both the film and the locals with whom Marcilla comes into contact feign ignorance. It’s probably not what we think. What we’re seeing, maybe, is the responsibility of a super-pale man in a Dracula cape and jet-black hair-piece who rides around the European setting on a horse I’m worried never gets to stop to eat. The cameras in The Vampire Lovers are obsessed with cutting to shots of him voyeuristically watching the action but never write for us an accurate cutline. We never learn the identity of this sunblocked weirdo, but we get enough glimpses of him stalking premises any time a tragedy festers to guess. (If not Count Dracula himself, then perhaps he's an ancestor of Cassandra Peterson.)
The Vampire Lovers doesn’t give Marcilla a happy ending — not that she totally deserved one. In the prologue of the movie, we see a vampire hunter named Barton Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) behead a blond blood-suckeress after they run into each other in a palace. The visual of her chopped-off cranium, prettied by her shiny blonde locks, serves as the background when the title of the movie pops up on the screen, in lime green. So we know that when Hartog shows up at the end of the film, his hair newly white, what’s going to happen in a few minutes isn’t going to be great for our anti-heroine. It’s a good thing that The Vampire Lovers has a sort of The Talented Mr. Ripley (1951) conceit going on. Like in that book, which was written by Patricia Highsmith, we wanted its title character, a con artist and murderer, to keep getting away with his serial wrongs because he was so good at getting away with them. Marcilla, unfortunately, doesn’t get to like Ripley does for a time. But among the few genuinely terrific things about the film is that we gun for her immorality to go undiscovered so much that when she’s physically stopped, we’re bummed out.
Aside from Pitt and the way it gets us to root for a villain, The Vampire Lovers isn't very good on the whole. But it was successful enough upon its release that it got a couple of somewhat-sequels — Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1972), the latter of which is a fairly overlooked minor masterpiece of gothic horror. It helped further popularize the lesbian vampire subgenre, too, with successors coming in the form of Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness (1972), and Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), all of which are much better. Iconhood, though, does not a masterpiece make. But the movie has its moments. B-