The Vampire Lovers [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th January 2022).
The Film

At a party held by General Spielsdorf (Horror of Dracula's Peter Cushing) is crashed by countess (The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse's Dawn Addams) and her voluptuous daughter Marcilla (The Wicker Man's Ingrid Pitt) who attracts much attention from the young gentlemen and envy from the young ladies. When the countess is called to the bedside of a dying friend, Spielsdorf offers his hospitality to Marcilla to provide company to his ward Laura (Take a Girl Like You's Pippa Steele) who is being courted by young soldier Carl (Macbeth's Jon Finch). Although the two form a quick and close friendship, Marcilla has a habit of venturing out at night and Laura starts having nightmares and grows progressively weaker of a sudden onset of anemia diagnosed by the family doctor (The Fearless Vampire Killers' Ferdy Mayne). When Laura suddenly dies, Marcilla vanishes; however, Laura's best friend Emma Morton (Theatre of Blood's Madeleine Smith) and her father (A Christmas Carol's George Cole) take in comely houseguest Carmilla (Pitt) when her carriage has an accident outside their estate. The pattern repeats itself in the Morton household, but there are more watchful eyes including governess Mademoiselle Perrodot (Corruption's Kate O'Mara) and butler Renton (The Sex Thief's Harvey Hall); and Carmilla is also being hunted by Baron Hartog (Sword of the Valiant's Douglas Wilmer) whose family was decimated by the Karnstein family of vampires.

Hammer dipped its toe into on the sixties/seventies softcore (often lesbian) vampire zeitgeist with the "Karnstein Trilogy." Loosely adapted the novella "Carmilla" by Sheridan Le Fanu from his collection "In a Glass Darkly" – previously even more loosely adapted by Carl Dreyer for Vampyr, by Roger Vadim for the sublime film Blood and Roses, by Camillo Mastrocinque as Terror in the Crypt, and a lost episode of the British series Mystery and Imagination – The Vampire Lovers expands on action that took place before the story proper to provide some additional titillation. The first of Hammer's "Karnstein Trilogy" which also included Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil, the film sets the series trend (derived from the Le Fanu story) of having the vampire utilize anagrams of her name to disguise her identity, as well as having older relations who facilitate her invitation into places ripe with young female victims but seem to have little else to do (an element dropped from the third film but more prominent in the second).

While Hammer retained its British X-certificate rating by adding nudity and sex to gore in the seventies, the "lesbian vampire" element looks quite staid next to what Jean Rollin was doing in France with the likes of Shiver of the Vampires, Jess Franco in Germany with Vampyros Lesbos (or even the more lukewarm Daughter of Dracula), and Vicente Aranda in Franco-era Spain with The Blood-Spattered Bride (a pointed feminist take on the Le Fanu story) in spite of Pitt's "lusty" performance with her attacks on two male characters having more heat than her seductions of three female characters (indeed, the film has more in common tonally with Stephanie Rothman's The Velvet Vampire with the homosexual panic of that film's female protagonist transferred to the filmmakers here). It was enough for British audiences and American drive-in viewers, however, and Hammer would add a sexual element to some of their other seventies horrors including Vampire Circus, Hands Of The Ripper, Demons of the Mind, and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde while only upping the gore for their latter day final Dracula (apart from Scars of Dracula perhaps) and Frankenstein films.

The production design is handsome and the photography is one of the better efforts of Moray Grant – former operator for Hammer regular Arthur Grant (The Tomb of Ligeia) – and the scoring of Harry RobertsonHarry Robertson is actually not so overwrought compared to his work on Lust for a Vampire. The Karnstein family's envoy is played by John Forbes-Robertson who would later play Dracula when Christopher Lee refused for one of Hammer's last horror films The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. Hall would also have supporting roles in both follow-up features. Director Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember) was already a veteran director when he started with Hammer Films with Quatermass and the Pit and The Anniversary, and would remain with the company through its final theatrical features with some overlap in his crossover to Amicus during their own latter days. Producers Michael Style (Monique) and Harry Fine (Fright) and his uncredied Fantale Films oversaw the trilogy along with screenwriter Tudor Gates (Barbarella).


Released theatrically stateside in 1970 by American International with an R-rating with trims for violence and nudity – including some censorship via solarization during the pre-credits sequence – Vampire Lovers has been regularly available on home video with an Embassy Entertainment tape in 1985 and VHS and laserdisc editions in 1997 when Orion had the AIP library via Filmways. When MGM acquired the AIP library through their purchase of the bankrupt Orion, they mounted a series of restorations – some of which went directly to DVD while others first turned up without fanfare on television, replacing the AIP edits that had been in circulation – with Vampire Lovers coming to DVD in 2003 in a double feature with Countess Dracula. That non-anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer was uncut apart from a shot of the pre-credits sequence vampire's severed head hitting the ground.

The shot was also missing from Scream Factory's first go at the film on Blu-ray in 2013 – as well as the 2014 Network UK Blu-ray and the 2020 German Hansesound Blu-ray – and is still missing from their 2021 edition which was derived from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, itself apparently incomplete since there is already a replacement program underway for a repressing to restore the full frontal shot of Pitt rising from her bath that was inadvertently left out. Apart from this error, the new transfer is miles ahead of the old Blu-ray edition, looking brighter with healthier skintones and vibrant colors that make the production design and costumes more striking. A slight jump during the dissolve from the castle matte painting to its sound stage courtyard seems to have been part of all past transfers. The brightness, for better or worse, does show off the attractiveness of certain sets (the Spielsdorf ballroom, the Karnstein castle) and the cheapness of most of the others.

The aforementioned severed head shot is included in context as an extra (1:22) but in significantly poorer quality than the surrounding footage; hence Shout!'s decision not to integrate it into the film unlike the 2016 German Anolis edition.


The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track boasts clear dialogue and highlights the nuances of Robertson's score. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.


Ported over from the MGM disc is an audio commentary by actress Ingrid Pitt, director Roy Ward Baker, and screenwriter Tudor Gates, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, while the audio commentary by critics Jonathan Rigby and Marcus Hearn comes from the 2014 Network, and the audio commentary by film historian/author Dr. Steve Haberman and film historian/filmmaker Constantine Nasr is new to this release. The filmmakers reveal that producer Harry Fine was an Irish fan of Le Fanu, Pitt met Hammer's Sir James Carreras at a party and was invited to audition the very next day (Sothcott reveals that Carreras had to defend casting Pitt to the Ministry of Labor and define what she had that English actresses were lacking), and that although Cushing was added at the last moment at American International's insistence, he was as meticulously prepared as ever when he requested a meeting with Baker. Pitt and Baker share memories of Cushing and his wife Helen who died shortly after the film, and they also (perhaps disingenuously) plead ignorance about the lesbian "undertones" of the script.

Perhaps because of the presence of Gates, Baker and Pitt hold back on their opinions of Style and Fine, and Gates because of their presence holds back on the credit he has taken elsewhere for sexing up Hammer; as such, it is up to the critic commentaries to expand on this. In addition to noting the shared sets between the three back-to-back films The Vampire Lovers, Scars of Dracula, and Taste the Blood of Dracula (which they note featured Smith in a non-speaking role), Hearn and Rigby also note the iconoclastic choices of Gates and contrast the Le Fanu and Stoker and Hammer's treatments of their works. They note the ways in which Baker followed Gates' script but also point out differences – including some scripted versions of scenes that worried the censor board – and also address some of the structural issues, rumors that script worries had Carreras sending it to Jimmy Sangster who was in Hollywood writing for TV cut would return later in 1970 to direct for Hammer, fielding concerns from all angles, hiring Baker who had no previous experience with Gothic horror, and the recycling of opticals from Laura's dreams for Emma's. Most interestingly, they draw paralles with the studio's move from Lee's Dracula to Pitt to the Gothic genre's transition from predatory male (Polidori's Lord Ruthven from "The Vampyre" patterned on Lord Byron) to devouring female with Carmilla.

While there is some overlap, Haberman and Nasr also point out more differences from the screenplay and finished film including the absence of narration originally, which Haberman attributes to Baker and Gates adapting Le Fanu's Swedenborgian view of characters having their "inner eye" opened to the presence of the supernatural in contrast to Terence Fisher's treatment of Dracula as a monster invading the real world. They note that the film was brought to Hammer by Fantale Films, and that Gates took credit for nude vampires and the lesbian angle – they also note that the script left up to the interpretation of the director the undertones of the bath scene – and the Carreras was motivated by the British Board of Film Censors' announcement that they would be adjusting the X-certificate from over sixteen to over eighteen; as such, the film was put together quickly in January 1970 for release later that year. Haberman and Nasr also note the criticisms of the film's weaknesses and offer their own defenses of them. Most interesting is their analysis of Carmilla's sociopathy with her victims, being intensely in love with them but unaffected by their deaths, and suggests that the "infantile feeding" method of biting the breast is that of an "evil mother" archetype (also noting that in the novel, Laura had previously met and been bitten by Carmilla when she was a child).

A fifth audio track (in addition to the three commentaries and feature audio) features "The Rapture of Cruelty: Carmilla in Classic Cinema, an audio essay by Haberman read (melodramatically) by actress Smith over the first 52:39 of the film, providing background on Le Fanu and his novel, the influence of Swedenborg not only on the author but the approaches of Baker in the film and Carl Theodore Dreyer on Vampyr. The essay provides an overview of Carmilla adaptations including Terror in the Crypt, Blood and Roses, and The Blood-Spattered Bride – while also noting that Juan Lσpez Moctezuma's Alucarda drew characters and situations from both "Dracula" and "Carmilla" – as well as the Showtime adaptation with Meg Tilly, The Unwanted, The Moth Diaries, and a recent web series but leaving out the imperfect but interesting Styria and the most recent and underwhelming Carmilla from 2020.

"Carnal Crimson" (19:05) is a new interview with author and critic Kim Newman who compares Hammer's approach to Rollin and Franco but suggests that the film's artistic pretensions are why the film still stands up as a sort of "Masterpiece Theatre" exploitation hybrid. He also discusses the input of Fantale – who swooped in when Anthony Hinds became disillusioned with the company and just stopped showing up to board meetings – and American International's requirements before losing interest in the franchise to pursue their own Blacula and Yorga ones, and also notes the similarity between Lust for a Vampire as a sort of parody of a vampire in a girls' school setting and former Hammer cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis' German comedy The Vampire Happening (which has a Hollywood actress inheriting an Austrian castle and her lookalike vampire ancestress seducing the monks of a nearby monastery and the pupils of a girls' school). As well as contrasting the passive-aggressive Carmilla and physically-aggressive Dracula of the Hammer ventures, Newman also likens Carmilla to various "cuckoo in the nest" characters of Boudu Saved from Drowning, Teorema, and most insightfully Poison Ivy (in which a topless Drew Barrymore infiltrates and seduces the family of social outcast Sarah Gilbert).

"Fangs for the Memories" (24:31) is a new interview with film historian/author Jonathan Rigby who covers the alteration of the X-certificate rating – that Pitt's "sexual juggernaut" was not Carmilla in the Le Fanu mode but she attained the "Queen of Horror" brand on the strength of three films including this, Amicus' The House That Dripped Blood, and The Wicker Man (noting that Pitt hated Hammer's Countess Dracula in which she was redubbed) – by which time there was no industry to support her with more vehicles – the nudity requirements of seventies actresses, how Hammer returned to its X-certificate for gore model with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (in which Smith was fully-clothed from head to toe), as well as providing some background of the otherwise mostly neglected Mayne and Wilmer.

"Feminine Fantastique: Resurrecting The Vampire Lovers" (9:56) from the British Blu-ray is the most dispensable piece in light of all of the newer features with a bunch of talking heads – among them Newman, "Hollywood Gothic" author David J. Skal, and filmmaker Ted Newsom– relating anecdotes about the film that have been heard elsewhere on this disc; and "New Blood: Hammer Enters the ‘70s" (26:22) is much the same with Hearn, authors Denis Meikle and Iq Hunter, and film historian Jo Botting, although we do get a look at the Hammer archive including a salacious AIP trade ad for the film that had censor John Trevelyan having kittens.

The remainder of the disc's features include Pitt's reading of Carmilla from 2003 (12:02), the aforementioned deleted beheading shot, Trailers From Hell: Mick Garris On The Vampire Lovers (2:32), the film's U.S. theatrical trailer (2:19), U.S. radio spots (1:25), and four photo galleries.


The cover is reversible - the reproduction of the AIP artwork used for the earlier Scream Facotry Blu-ray is on the inside - and a slipcover is included with the new artwork with the first pressing.


The Vampire Lovers, Hammer's leap into the seventies with thrusting stakes and heaving bosoms, remains an iconic and influential work and Scream Factory puts together a comprehensive extras package to accompany their new 4K master (the glaring flaw of which should be addressed with a replacement soon).


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