Movie Review: Lust for a Vampire (1971)

DVD Review: Lust For A Vampire (1971Lust for a Vampire is the second movie in Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy. The first movie, The Vampire Lovers, was based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story “Carmilla”. Lust For A Vampire extends the idea and continues the story forty years later, in 1830, but with Danish actress Yutte Stensgaard starring as Carmilla instead of Ingrid Pitt, who took the role the previous movie.

The movie begins by showing Karnstein Castle high up in the hills, the scene then cuts to the village below, where a fair, young maiden is just about to take some dinner out to her father—who, one presumes, is working in the fields. The viewer never finds out for sure because she never gets there. She makes it through the woods okay, but as soon as she’s out in the open countryside a carriage pulls up beside her, the door swings open and, smiling, she climbs inside. Her father really should have told her not to get lifts with strangers because once she’s seated inside the carriage she gets a better look at the hooded figure sitting beside her. Then she starts screaming and it becomes pretty obvious her dad is not going to get his lunch any time soon.

The carriage whisks the now unconscious maiden up to Karnstein Castle, where her travelling companion—who turns out to be the countess from the first movie—slits the girl’s throat and drains the blood into a chalice. While this is happening the rather sinister looking Count Karnstein offers up prayers to Satan and pours the warm blood into Carmilla’s casket. Then, after a few more incantations, the bones that have lain there for forty years begin to flesh out quite nicely and the finished result looks pretty damned good.

Michael Johnson plays writer, Richard Lestrange, who is lodging in the village. When the landlord of the tavern notices Richard flirting with one his bar girls he explains that in normal circumstances there is no harm in having a joke with a serving girl, but these are not normal times and the writer will not find any girl in the village willing to talk to a stranger.

Giles Barton offers his services to Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard) in Lust For A Vampire
Giles Barton offers his services to Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard)

The landlord then states it’s forty years—to the day—since they were last seen, and before that forty years again. When Richard enquires who he is talking about the landlord says, “Karnstein. That’s their castle up on the hill.” The Karnsteins, he goes on to explain, are vampires. They have the power to reanimate themselves and now is the time of their return. When the landlord adds that the Karnsteins prey on young virgins Richard treats it as a joke and tells the landlord that he is not worried because he is not a young virgin. When he realizes the depth of the villagers’ feelings, he decides to prove the legend wrong by going up to Karnstein Castle himself. Alone!

When he arrives at the castle, Richard begins to lose some of his confidence, especially when he notices a fresh blood stain on the altar. Then, when three beautiful young girls appear, he remembers the landlord’s words and seems about ready to do the proverbial pap in his pants. Fortunately for him (and whoever does his laundry), the girls are not vampires at all, but students from a new finishing school that has set up shop in the vicinity. The girls are accompanied by one of their tutors, Mr Barton, and Richard follows the group back to the school where he has a job keeping his eyes in his sockets when he sees all the young ladies dancing in the garden. At that point, he seems especially interested in one of the teachers, Janet Playfair.

Mr Barton introduces Richard to Miss Simpson, who runs the school, and it is not long after this that the Countess Herritzen arrives with her niece Mircalla, who is to be a new student. Richard, fickle guy that he is, forgets all about the other girls and the very lovely Janet. He now has eyes only for Mircalla.

Of course, Mircalla is actually the reanimated Carmilla Karnstein and, as in the last movie, she is a lesbian who prefers to prey on members of her own sex. However, later on in the movie, the ever-persistent Richard manages to get a job tutoring at the school and begins his pursuit of Mircalla. He is so taken with her that, even though he is aware she is a vampire, he continues to force his attentions on her until he finally gets a bit of vampire loving up in the grounds of the castle. He seems to blow the girl’s mind too and the lovely Mircalla becomes quite taken with him after that.

The main characters in Lust For a Vampire are Richard Lestrange and Mircalla, with Janet Playfair, constantly flitting around in the background because she’s in love with Richard and also hopes he might be able to help her discover why some of the girls have vanished. Unfortunately for Janet, Lestrange only has eyes for Mircalla and he has a pretty good idea what has happened to the girls so, in an effort to protect his love, he tries to talk Janet out of spilling the beans to the authorities about what has been going on at the school. Richard might love Mircalla, but it’s a love that’s doomed from the start. Not only do they come from different backgrounds, the young lady has some rather nasty eating habits as well.

Lust For A Vampire was made in 1971. Things were tamer in those days, so the viewer is spared the sight of too much nastiness. Blood is shown, but not the wounds that pump it. When the countess slits the young maiden’s throat, for instance, the camera does not show the cutting, just the draining.

Count and Countess Karnstein and Mircalla in Lust For A Vampire (1971)
The Karnstein Vampires

In a way, Lust For A Vampire is just as much a love story as it is a horror movie because that strange Richard Lestrange really does lose his heart to the un-dead girl of his dreams. The story is pretty weak though, and Lust For A Vampire is not nearly as good as The Vampire Lovers. I also noticed Harvey Hall, who played the manservant Renton in The Vampire Lovers, shows up in this movie as well. This time as Inspector Heinrich. I recognized him straight away and it made me wonder if there was such a shortage of actors Hammer was forced to use a known face from one movie, as a totally unrelated character in the sequel.

In a similar manner, Peter Cushing, who played General von Spielsdorf in the first movie returns in the final movie in the trilogy, Twins of Evil. Not as the general this time, but as Gustav Weil. So, again, a known face from one movie turns up as an unrelated character. That seems a bit daft, but it’s not the sort of thing to spoil my enjoyment of the movies too much. It just annoys me a little. There is nothing staggeringly unique about Lust for a Vampire, but I have seen plenty of Hollywood’s more recent efforts that are a lot worse than this old Hammer Horror. It’s not brilliant, but it is okay. It has a certain charm.

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