The Vampire Lovers is a Hammer horror movie, made in 1970. It’s based on the short story “Carmilla“, written in 1872 by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.
The movie is set in 19th century Styria and the opening sequences have plenty of spooky-looking, drifting fog and show vampire hunter, Baron Hartog, beheading a beautiful female vampire who is part of the evil Karnstein family, who were responsible for the death of his sister. Although the Baron does his best to destroy the entire family there is one grave he cannot find. That of a young woman named Mircalla.
Mircalla (Ingrid Pitt) is not opposed to taking male victims but her tastes run more towards members of her own sex and the first time the viewer sees her is when she arrives at a party being held at the home of General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing). She arrives with a Countess who introduces her to the General as her daughter, Marcilla.
Marcilla is an attractive girl. As soon as she arrives a young man whisks her onto the dance floor, while all the other men in the room look on in envy and await their turn. Only one man seems to show no interest in her. His name is Carl and he only has eyes only for von Spielsdorf’s daughter, Laura. Carl isn’t the only one who is interested in Laura though, Marcilla can’t keep her eyes off her either.
While Marcilla is dancing von Spielsdorf is busy waltzing with the Countess. They have just finished their first dance when an anaemic-looking man arrives and tells the Countess a dear friend of hers has just died. The Countess apologises to von Spielsdorf and tells him she must leave. It’s a long journey, she will have to ride all through the night, so she asks Spielsdorf if he will take care of Marcilla in her absence. The perfect gentleman and perfect host, von Spielsdorf says it will be his pleasure; Marcilla will be good company for Laura. No good deed goes unpunished though, and his kindly gesture costs him the life of his daughter.
Marcilla disappears after Lucy’s death, only to appear again, a few miles away, calling herself Carmilla. Von Spielsdorf’s friend, Mr Morton (George Cole), is out riding with his daughter, Emma when they see a horse-driven carriage nearly overturn. Morton stops to see if he can be of assistance and helps a lady out of the carriage. The lady, who bears a suspicious resemblance to the Countess, claims that her brother is dying. She is rushing to be with him and so must sadly decline Morton’s offer of hospitality. Her niece, Carmilla, has been badly shocked by the incident, so when Morton suggests Carmilla stay with him—his daughter would be grateful for the company—his offer is accepted. Carmilla stays behind and it’s not long before Emma Morton begins to develop similar symptoms to those suffered by Laura von Spielsdorf.
The Vampire Lovers is quite a good movie, but there are a couple of loose ends to the story. For instance, it’s never explained if the Countess is also a vampire or the nature of her relationship with Carmilla? What became of the countess is just as mysterious because she is never seen again after she leaves Carmilla in the care of Mr Morton. This is excusable though. Le Fanu’s original story also leaves these questions unanswered.
The man who first turned up at von Spielsdorf’s party, bringing bad news to the Countess, turns up several times throughout the movie. He is definitely a vampire and pretty scary-looking. His relationship is to Carmilla is also a mystery but his presence certainly adds a few extra chills to the movie.
The Vampire Lovers was the first movie in Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy. The other two movies in the trilogy are Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971). All three movies share a lesbian theme and were considered quite daring in their time. By modern standards, they are pretty tame and should not offend too many viewers. The Vampire Lovers has received a mixed critical response, but the movie has become a cult favorite and many people consider it to be a horror classic.