What was new, to him, in The Vampire Lovers was the blatant lesbian angle. As he puts it, that element slapped him in the face in a way he'd never experienced before, having seen Dracula's Daughter long before he could infer anything salacious from the title character's conduct toward her female victim. He'd seen it in print, of course, and knew from history how the Elizabeth Bathory legend had influenced Le Fanu. So lesbianism doesn't strike him as an alien implant in vampire cinema. As an "unnatural" act, as it was perceived by the genre pioneers, it was probably a natural fit. Homosexuality in general as a "sterile" relationship defined exclusively in sensuous terms seemed analogous to the victim's romance with the vampire, and the lesbian angle plays on male fears of both the seductive succubus and the romantic friendships of 19th century women. Wendigo suggests that the lesbian seductress archetype has over time transformed the image of the male vampire from rapist to sensual seducer in his own right. On the other side of the equation, feminine weakness seemed to make a female victimized by another female a natural horror subject. There's a misogynist aspect to the archetype, a presumption of omnivorous female sexuality, that's probably still there even when guys consider lesbianism cool. But there's also a fantasy of female empowerment involved, though whether that's a guy's or gal's fantasy is unclear.
Kate O'Mara and Ingrid Pitt are positively glowing after their encounter upstairs.
John Forbes-Robertson is a passable Man in Black, but Johnny Cash is scarier.
While The Vampire Lovers is probably the best-known film version of Carmilla, it wasn't the first. Hammer came late to the subject, preceded by Carl-Theodor Dreyer's very loosely-inspired Vampyr, by Roger Vadim's nearly-as-loose and much worse Blood and Roses, and the Italian Crypt of the Vampire, which admirably builds plot complications around a fairly faithful core to make a mystery out of the story. Wendigo was recently quite impressed by the stylishness and creativity of Crypt of the Vampire, which he finds visually more impressive, even in black and white, than the mostly set-bound Lovers. Hammer has the advantage, however, in casting, with Peter Cushing as the vengeful General as well as Pitt (while Crypt has Christopher Lee in a mortal role), in scale of sets, extras and costumes, and in more overt sexuality than the merely suggestive Crypt. If gore counts, Lovers's two decapitations are another advantage over the merely creepy Crypt. Some corny crossings (a dagger hilt? really?) are mild demerits, however.
Vampires should know never to bother even coming near this guy.
Cinema's greatest vampire slayer plies his trade in The Vampire Lovers.
Hammer also makes the most of color just as Crypt does with monochrome. Ultimately, The Vampire Lovers' superior fidelity to the original story noses it ahead of Crypt in Wendigo's estimate. It's all to Ingrid Pitt's credit that her picture holds up on fresh viewing against impressive competition. We moved this picture to the top of the to-do pile to honor her memory, and the film did just that. It remains a milestone of British horror and vampire cinema in general.
In memoriam Ingrid Pitt (1937-2010)
This copy of the Vampire Lovers trailer, which stragely lays off the lesbianism, was uploaded to YouTube by Lv99Slacker.