Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Ten Days of Terror!: The Vampire Lovers

Film: The Vampire Lovers
Format: DVD from LaSalle Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes, when you request a movie from the library, you actually get two. That was the case when I ordered Countess Dracula through interlibrary loan; what I got was a two-fer that included The Vampire Lovers. This is a much more traditional horror movie in the sense that the title is going to lead us to think that there are vampires involved and, well, there are actual vampires involved. Even better, this is a straight-up lesbian vampire movie. I mean, I expect this from a film when it’s called Vampyros Lesbos. It’s more of a surprise when they’re just The Vampire Lovers.

Our film takes place in the middle of the 18th century in roughly southern Austria. We’re going to get a little opening sequence where a man named Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) confronts a vampire who killed his sister. While he is almost killed, he manages to kill the vampire by decapitating her.

The rest of the film is going to take place much closer to the end of the century. General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) has a birthday party for his niece Laura (Pippa Steel). Attending the party is a countess (Dawn Addams) and her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt). The countess leaves the party, allowing her daughter to stay. Marcilla is clearly attracted to Laura, who becomes inexplicably anemic (well, inexplicably for the people in the film, anyway) and suffering from terrible nightmares. Eventually, Laura dies from her anemia, the only clue to her death being two small puncture wounds on her breast. Shortly after Laura’s death, Marcilla vanishes. If you’re surprised that Marcilla is a vampire, you should honestly probably leave now.

Soon enough, Marcilla resurfaces again, this time calling herself Carmilla, which is an anagram of her original name. Once again, we find ourselves with the countess arranging for her daughter to stay with someone for an extended period. In this case, “Carmilla” will stay with the Mortons. Once again, we have a young daughter in the mix, and Carmilla is clearly interested in doing what she can to spend time with the young and naïve Emma Morton (Madeline Smith). To get to her, Carmilla seduced Mdme. Perrodot (Kate O’Mara), Emma’s governess. Carmilla also feeds from the nearby village, causing the appearance of corpses completely drained of blood.

Where we’re going shouldn’t be much of a shock here. Carmilla manages to start her nefarious work on poor Emma, who begins getting weaker and weaker as Carmilla feeds on her. But this time, Carmilla knows that people are starting to figure things out. She wants to take Emma with her and retire to her coffin for an extended period of time, turning Emma and keeping her as a lover. Naturally, there are folks who are going to stand in her way, not the least of whom are General Spielsdorf and Baron Hartog. We’re also going to be assisted by Carl (Jon Finch), who was initially Laura’s fiancé.

There are some fun ideas in The Vampire Lovers, but this is a film that is far too much in love with the idea of sexy lesbian vampires to really worry about the niceties of cinema like tying off loose ends or not including bizarre red herrings that don’t go anywhere. We’re told by Hartog, for instance, that the night he avenged the death of his sister, he managed to kill all of the vampires of Marcilla/Carmilla’s clan (and we learn that her real name is a further anagram—Mircalla) save her. If that’s true, who is the countess then? Who is the clearly vampiric man in black who shows up a few times? These two characters are never really dealt with in the movie. They’re still out there. Was this intending to build up a sequel? Did they just forget about these random vampires that weren’t dealt with?

I don’t often say that a movie could stand a remake, but The Vampire Lovers could really stand a remake. The premise for this is pretty good—and for the people who like a lot of sex in their horror movies, this is an absolute potential goldmine. And that’s really the problem with this movie, and the reason it could use a remake. With this premise, we’re absolutely ripe for a movie that is more about the titillation than it is about the (honestly) not very scary horror parts. This really needs more sex, and that’s not something I say that often.

Truthfully, this is fine, but it could have been a great deal more than it turned out to be.

Why to watch The Vampire Lovers: It’s a lesbian vampire movie from the early ‘70s.
Why not to watch: Not nearly enough sexy for the premise.