Hammer VampiresChristopher NeameYutte StensgaardJudy Matheson
Lust for a Vampire
Medium: film
Year: 1971
Director: Jimmy Sangster
Writer: Tudor Gates, Sheridan Le Fanu
Keywords: horror, Hammer, vampires, boobs, rubbish
Country: UK
Actor: Ralph Bates, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh, Michael Johnson, Yutte Stensgaard, Helen Christie, Pippa Steel, David Healy, Harvey Hall, Mike Raven, Michael Brennan, Jack Melford, Christopher Cunningham, Judy Matheson, Christopher Neame
Format: 95 minutes
Series: << Hammer Vampires >>
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067367/
Website category: Horror 1970/80s
Review date: 10 December 2008
My word, is this bad. Not just the worst Hammer horror I've ever seen, but one of the most ill-conceived films of any kind. What happened? No, on second thoughts I know what happened. It's all the fault of the chief censor John Trevelyan and I hope he's cried himself to sleep at night ever since. You see, this film is the sequel to Lesbian Nudity With Ingrid Pitt (1970), officially known as The Vampire Lovers. The nudity hadn't been a problem with Trevelyan, this being the seventies, but he hadn't been at all happy with the lesbianism. Hammer had got away with it by pointing out that it was present in the original Le Fanu story they were adapting, but that wasn't going to fly with a cash-in sequel.
Lust for a Vampire thus gets all heterosexual around the halfway mark, which would also be the point where it becomes rubbish. You have no idea. Ingrid Pitt turned down the script because she thought it was terrible. Ralph Bates (who's quite good in it) called it one of the worst films ever made. These people are wise and you should listen to them.
It starts quite well. We have busty Teutonic blondes being abducted for throat-slitting and nude vampire resurrections. Those are always fun. A horror author goes looking for a castle, but ends up at a Continental finishing school run by a middle-aged English couple. The first time we see their pupils, they're doing dance exercises on the lawn in flimsy low-cut gowns with no bras. Yes, I'm a vile sexist, but come on. You know why they made this film and it's not to improve our understanding of 19th century literature. For a while the film even seems to be going down familiar lesbian paths, with a splurge of nudity around the twenty minute mark as the girls change for bed, massage each other and go skinny-dipping.
Meanwhile Ralph Bates is playing against type as a schoolmaster, being fussy and bookish. I liked him. He's one of the few passable actors on display. There's a mildly clever subversion of expectations, but otherwise it feels like any other Hammer horror. We have the usual vaguely familiar faces in a lovingly created period setting, this time 1830. There's even a tiny role for Christopher Neame, for all you fans of Dracula AD 1972. Peter Cushing would have been here too, but his wife was sick. The acting is unmemorable, with dead-eyed moments even from the lead, Michael Johnson, but no problem.
The script is the film's big worry, but at first even that seems unexceptional. The nearest I can find to a flaw is to poke a fun at the local innkeeper's helpful wodge of exposition. Everyone knows the Karnsteins are coming back because it's exactly forty years since their last manifestation. I must have missed the cake and candles at the satanic resurrection. We also learn that they're picky eaters, preying on young virgins. Mind you, they're not the only ones. Our hero is a blatant girl-chaser, going so far as to con the school's English teacher into running to Vienna so he can take the job himself. Incidentally the chap he replaces is a chinless caricature who's unconvincingly acted by one Jonathan Cecil but made me laugh anyway.
So we have an army of gorgeous girls and a man called Johnson who's thinking with his dick. What could go wrong?
1 - the film seems to want to be a whodunnit. Theoretically we don't know which girl's the vampire, having only seen her naked resurrection from the back until a flashback comes to make us happy halfway through the film. This is a promising idea. It has potential. Unfortunately if you've seen The Vampire Lovers, you'll know to be looking out for a girl calling herself Marcilla (i.e. Carmilla) who's in the charge of an older woman who calls herself the countess and a sinister man who goes around in an opera cloak and is doing his best Christopher Lee impersonation. I know, I know. It's not much to go on, is it?
2 - Johnson suddenly declares his love for Marcilla. At first this is merely unconvincing. "I love you." Eh? They've only shared about three seconds of screen time. You expect him to follow up with "but what was your name again?" The mind-blowing bit comes in a later scene when he lays out all the reasons why she's a vampire and yet he still loves her anyway. I know what you're thinking. Life expectancy = milliseconds. Uh-uh. They have sex and he's such a manly man that he cures her lesbianism.
3 - No, really.
4 - I don't need to say any more, do I?
This simply killed the film. I wasn't even laughing at it. Instead I felt disconnected, watching to the end only for the sake of my review. I wasn't interested in Johnson's scene afterwards with the only actress here I liked, a teacher who's convinced something's wrong and keeps not being allowed to go to the police. She had potential, but unfortunately before long she'd also said "I love you" and my eyeballs again were rolling. Needless to say, her confession is about as well foreshadowed as Johnson's.
Meanwhile Yutte Stensgaard is unspeakable as Carmilla. She has two good points and yes, she gets them out. As an actress, she makes Ingrid Pitt look like Dame Judi Dench. She's Danish and was apparently dubbed throughout, but that's okay since the Christopher Lee wannabe is being played by a Radio One DJ, dubbed by Valentine Dyall. He was funny, actually. How did she die? "A heart attack." Those bite marks on the neck? Don't ask. If you watch him during the climax, you'll also get to admire his camp hand gesture.
Oh, and don't expect a vampire's victim to return as another vampire. They never address the point. It just doesn't happen.
There's a scene where Johnson is arranging to meet Stensgaard at the castle after dark. Where are they having this scandalous conversation? Why, in the classroom in front of everyone. However it would seem that no one hears because they're whispering.
Before long, everyone at the school is either dead, besotted or useless, so the script whips up a bereaved father, a torch-bearing mob and a passing cardinal. The father is supposedly American and the worst actor in the film, by the way. Whew, that was close. For a moment I thought they'd have to write a proper ending. Soon the deus ex machina has set fire to the castle, whereupon Mircalla is risibly staked by a beam falling from the roof. No other beam falls in the whole castle. Johnson is grief-stricken at losing his beloved serial killer, while the cardinal gives thanks unto heaven despite moments ago having rightly been protesting that they weren't doing the job properly. Fire won't kill the undead, which I'm sure contradicts at least one Christopher Lee film, so there are still two vampires safe and sound in the flames.
This film is retarded. It doesn't even manage to be so in an entertaining way, but in a way that's borderline offensive even if you're not a lesbian. It's quite good while Ralph Bates is around, but by the end it's gone completely to pot. It's even a failure on the sexist pig front, not living up to the promise of that nudity splurge at the twenty minute mark. Stensgaard flops 'em out for her sex scene with Johnson, but the scene in question is one of the worst ever seen in a motion picture.
In fairness the film looks good, with the usual painstaking sets and costumes as well as certain other attractions. It will also work much, much better if you can manage not to notice the early lesbianism and hence the effect of Johnson's johnson. It's still basically a Hammer film and could have been rather enjoyable given some script surgery. Okay, I've run out of nice things to say now.