Vampire Lovers, The (Gruft Der Vampire)
Released by: Anolis Entertainment
Released on: December 2, 2016.
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, Peter Cushing, Madeleine Smith
As the sixties turned into the seventies, England’s Hammer Studios was going through a bit of a restructuring. They’d scored hits in decades past with war movies, crime thrillers and other films that don’t exactly fit in the horror movie mould but it seemed to be the horror films that were winning at the box office. With censorship loosening a bit, it was decided that an adaptation of LeFanu’s Carmilla might make for a good addition to the studio’s catalogue, and thus was born The Vampire Lovers, a fantastic blend of gothic horror, vampirism and racy sexy thrills.
The story follows a woman named Carmilla (played by Pitt) who has managed to retain her youthful vigor and good looks despite the fact that she is, in fact, hundreds of years old. Her secret? She’s a vampire, of course, and she becomes under the command of the equally beautiful Countess Karnstein (Dawn Addams) and a mysterious man dressed all in black (John Forbes-Robertson). By chance, she becomes welcomed into the home of General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) who lives with his gorgeous young niece, Laura (Pippa Steele), who takes a liking to Carmilla but soon turns up, her life taken suddenly by what Spielsdorf assumes is an illness. Closer inspection reveals to puncture wounds in Laura’s pale skinned neck, however – and you know what that means.
Carmilla, no fool, disappears without a trace but soon shows up again, this time in the home of Mr. Morton (George Cole), who also shares his home with a beautiful young woman in the form of his only daughter, the stunning Emma (Madeline Smith). When Morton has to travel, Carmilla is left alone with Emma and her true intentions soon start to show and when Morton returns, he finds his daughter looking gaunt and pale. Though he assumes she’s ill, there’s more going on here than he realizes, and when Spielsdorf and a vampire hunter named Barton Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) show up, Carmilla’s game seems to be up.
Despite the fact that, according to Marcus Hearn’s The Hammer Vault, producer Harry Fine wanted Bond Girl Shirley Eaton to play Carmilla and initially dismissed Polish born beauty Ingrid Pitt due to her age (obviously not realizing Eaton was, in fact, older than Pitt!) this movie would not have been the same without Ingrid in the lead. Here the actress makes the most of the role she’s since become best known for, vamping it up and exuding more sex appeal than any Hammer starlet before or since. She’s seductive, mysterious, alluring and beautiful but also powerful and frightening in the role – in short, she’s perfect for the part and it’s easy to see how she’s able to seduce the various characters in the film, male and female alike. Of course, Cushing is great here too, he and Wilmer make a great team and both Dawn Addams and John Forbes-Robertson are both great in their supporting roles as well, but this is, first and foremost, Pitt’s movie – let there be no doubt about that.
This is also a well paced and slick looking film, with Roy Ward Baker at the top of his game, keeping the action moving at a good pace and balancing the macabre vampiric elements with enough sex to make crowds of the day stand up and take notice (the age restriction on the UK’s X certificate had just been raised to eighteen years and Hammer was clever enough to take advantage of what that would allow them to show). There’s loads of atmosphere here, lots of great sets and period costumes and while the budget was low, comparatively speaking, all involved do a fine job of ensuring that every penny winds up there on the screen. The end result is a slick, sexy film that looks far more lavish than it probably should have and which would pave the way for Hammer to enter a resurgence of sorts in the early seventies. Pitt would follow this up with Countess Dracula for Peter Sasdy and then leave the Hammer fold but would later appear in Amicus’ The House That Dripped Blood as a female vampire, playing a role similar to the two Hammer parts that earned her a place in horror movie history. Sadly, both she and director Roy Ward Baker would pass away in 2010.
Anolis Entertainment brings The Vampire Lovers to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer that takes up roughly 26 GBs of space on the 50GB disc. The quality of the transfer is quite nice, and the picture is quite clean. There is some minor print damage that shows up here and there (you can see the vertical scratch on the right side of the first screen cap, for example) but nothing so distracting that most will take issue. Colors look pretty solid and skin tones appear lifelike and natural. There are some really minor compression artifacts in some of the darker scenes but if you’re not looking for them odds are pretty good that you won’t notice them. Black levels are nice and deep and there are no noticeable issues with either noise reduction or edge enhancement. Film grain appears looking quite natural and there’s solid depth and texture to the image.
DTS-HD Mono tracks are provided in both German and English language options with removable subtitles available in German only. The English track sounds just fine. If you listen for it you might notice some occasional hiss in the track but it’s nothing to get too fired up about and most of the time the track is clean and clear. Balance is never a problem, the levels are fine, and the dialogue is always easy to understand. The score sounds quite good here as well, with some solid depth to it.
Carried over from the DVD release that was put out domestically by MGM’s Midnight Movies line a few years ago is the commentary track with director Roy Ward Baker, actress Ingrid Pitt and writer Tudor Gates that covers a lot of ground. Moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, the discussion covers the importance of this role to Pitt’s career, script changes, the sexuality in the film, casting, location shooting and much more. It’s pretty much an invaluable resource for those who want to know more about this particular film and this period in the history of Hammer horror. New to this release is an audio commentary with Doctor Rolf Giesen and Volker Kronz but it is in German language only with no subtitles of any kind provided.
Resurrecting The Vampire Lovers is a ten minute featurette that talks about the involvement of producers Harry Fine and Michael Style in getting the picture made as well as Tudor Gates’ work penning the film for Hammer adapting Carmilla. There’s discussion here about the film’s faithfulness to the source, how it differs from the Dracula films Hammer had made, Hammer’s desire to incorporate more sex into their pictures, the pros and cons of the casting of Ingrid Pitt, what Peter Cushing brought to the film, the ridiculous hotness of Madeleine Smith and the way that the film portrays lesbianism as both alluring and horrifying at the same time (very much a product of its time in that regard). John-Paul Checkett, Kim Newman, Ted Newsom, Wayne Kinsey, Eric Hoffman and David J. Skal all contribute their thoughts here and there are lots of archival stills and images used here alongside plenty of pertinent clips from the feature itself.
The disc also includes a twenty-one minute interview with Madeleine Smith who speaks here quite candidly about playing Emma in the film. She’d been acting for two or three years when she took the role after playing a small role in Hammer’s Taste The Blood Of Dracula. She notes that the script wasn’t particularly explicit and that she was impressed with getting a big part in the film, AIP’s involvement in the film (she describes it as an ‘uneasy marriage’), how she didn’t realize the film would require the nudity that it wound up asking of her, how she felt that her appearance did indeed make her a good match for the part, and how she stuffed herself with yogurt for a week before the shoot to enhance her cleavage! From there she talks about how she got along with her co-stars, acting in the film’s lesbian scenes, how Roy Ward Baker ‘really got some acting’ out of her in the nightmare scene, going into the production as a very naïve young woman and what it was like working with Peter Cushing on this film (describing him as much loved by many but a very grave individual during this particular production). This featurette and the Resurrecting The Vampire Lovers featurette look to have originally appeared on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray release from 2013.
Additionally, you’ll find excerpts of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla read by Ms. Pitt (roughly twelve minutes’ worth) and the film’s original German and U.S. theatrical trailers, a few U.S. radio spots, a few different still galleries, standard menus and chapter stops.
The Final Word:
The Vampire Lovers is a Hammer classic and one completely worth owning! Anolis Entertainment’s Blu-ray release presents the movie in very nice shape with fine audio and a good selection of extras (even if the new commentary isn’t English friendly). All in all, this is a fine release for a very deserving film!
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!