• Lust For A Vampire (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: July 30th, 2019.
    Director: Jimmy Sangster
    Cast: Barbara Jefford, Ralph Bates, Suzanna Leigh, Yutte Stensgaard, Helen Christie, Mike Raven
    Year: 1971
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    Lust For A Vampire – Movie Review:

    Directed by Jimmy Sangster (after intended director Terence Fisher got injured) in 1971, Hammer Films’ Lust For A Vampire, the second in their Karnstein Trilogy (sitting in between The Vampire Lovers and Twins Of Evil), opens with a dramatic scene. In this bit, a beautiful woman from a nearby village is abducted by Count Karnstein (Mike Raven) and Countess Herritzen (Barbara Jefford), whisked off in his black carriage. She’s taken to Karnstein’s aged castle out in the woods where she’s essentially used as a sacrifice – her throat slit, her blood then used in an arcane ceremony wherein Carmilla Karnstein (Yutte Stensgaard) is resurrected, turned from a skeleton back into her shapely self.

    From here, we meet a writer named Richard Lestrange (Michael Johnson) who seems intent on poking about the castle grounds wherein he comes across a group of schoolgirls behaving rather strangely. He then meets Giles Barton (Ralph Bates), the headmaster at the nearby girls’ school from which they came and which happens to be located just a short walk from the castle. Lestrange is given a tour and not particularly impressed until he meets the school’s newest student, Mircalla (Stensgaard) again. He falls for her instantly and figures out a way to get closer to her by taking a job as an English teacher at the school. Mircalla, of course, is Carmilla and, as such, she starts feeding on her fellow students. When Barton figures out her identity, he offers to become a servant of both she and Satan himself, while Lestrange’s obsession with the lovely Mircalla intensifies. The townsfolk, however, are growing increasingly upset about the rash of killings that have taken place lately…

    A genuinely stylish film, Lust For A Vampire might come across as a little campy but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a whole lot of fun. Sangster gives the audience what they want from a movie like this – attractive women in various states of dress and undress messing about with the male and female populace alike, healthy dollops of stage blood, creaky gothic atmosphere and just enough drama and even romance to tie it all together. As such, despite some flaws, the movie has no trouble holding out attention, even if it doesn’t reach the gripping heights of the Lee/Cushing classics made in the two decades prior.

    Sangster’s direction is decent. Granted, this likely would have been a very different film had Fisher been in the director’s chair, but Sangster keeps the film paced well. The cinematography from David Muir is more than solid and the impressive score from composer Harry Robertson works quite well (though at one point a lovey dovey pop song called ‘Strange Love’ is used in the love scene between Stensgaard and Johsnon – that might have been a misstep on Hammer’s part!).

    As to the performances, well, Mike Raven is no Christopher Lee (though one closeup shot early in the film does appear to use Lee’s eyes!) and he maybe overdoes it a bit but he’s a kick to watch. The fact that he’s clearly been dubbed, however, doesn’t really do him any favors. Yutte Stensgaard isn’t the world’s greatest actress but she’s definitely beautiful, and in some ways, without wanting to sound like I’m objectifying her, that’s just as important as her acting ability. Her character is supposed to be able to seduce anyone and everyone, so clearly her physical attractiveness matters to the story. She pulls it off, even if her range is limited. Ralph Bates, who replaced Peter Cushing at the last minute when Cushing’s wife fell ill, looks out of place here and honestly doesn’t do a very good job in his part, though the scene where he commits to Carmilla and Satan sees him do so with enthusiasm.

    Lust For A Vampire – Blu-ray Review:

    Sbout! Factory presents Lust For A Vampire uncut in your choice of 1.66.1 or 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratios in AVC encoded transfers that appear to be taken from the same 4K scan of the negative. Given that the movie starts with a Studio Canal logo, it’s probably safe to assume this is the same source used for the upcoming European Blu-ray release. Presented on a 50GB disc, the transfer is quite strong. There’s very good detail here and plenty of depth and texture on display. Colors look very good, nice and natural, the reds pop without looking boosted. Contrast is fine and black levels are nice and deep. The image is incredibly clean, showing no real print damage at all while retaining the expected amount of natural looking film grain. No noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about. There are a few spots that look maybe a tad soft, but they appear to have been shot this way.

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, which comes with removable subtitles in English only, is also of very good quality. The track is properly balanced and free of any audible hiss or distortion. Dialogue is always easy to follow and understand and there’s better range and depth to the score than you might expect for an older single channel track.

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary from author/film historian Bruce Hallenbeck, the author of the book The Hammer Vampire. He opens by speaking about how occultist Montague Summers considered Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla to be ‘the best of the English vampire stories’ and the influence that the story had on Stoker’s Dracula. He speaks then about different adaptations of the story, the lesbian overtones in some of the earlier versions brought to the screen and then how Hammer created the definitive version of the Carmilla character. As the film plays out, he talks about AIP’s non-involvement in the film and why it doesn’t have references to the other Karnstein Hammer films, why it’s a ‘generic follow up rather than a sequel,’ how and why Fisher wound up not directing the picture and how Sangster was brought on board, how the film maximizes ‘fleshy opportunities,’ how Carmilla differs from other Hammer vampires, how he feels the film’s bad reputation is unjust, the period detail in the film, the quality of the production values, Stensgaard’s performance, what was shot on location versus what was shot in the studio, the film’s American distribution issues via Continental Films, the film’s influence on things like Dark Shadows, how Hammer was finding it difficult to compete as a victim of its own success and how this lead to increasing the amount of sex and violence on display in their films and the film’s history with British censors. He also talks up the film’s weird dream sequence, Harry Robinson’s work scoring the film, Sangster’s penchant for cleavage shots, and, believe it or not, a weird connection to TV’s Dallas. Hallenbeck’s track comes across as obviously scripted but the guy has clearly done an insane amount of research here and it pays off. There’s a bit of humor in the track and he rattles off fact after fact, really getting into the nitty-gritty of the film’s history. This is a very solid track and quite worthwhile.

    Carried over from the older DVD release is an archival commentary featuring director Jimmy Sangster, actress Suzanna Leigh and Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn. It’s an amusing talk, though at times Sangster seems embarrassed by it. Leigh is much more engaged in the talk and happy to discuss her part in the picture. Hearn moderates the track well and keeps the pair involved and engaged throughout. This is worth listening to if you haven’t heard it before.

    Shout! Factory also provides a new interview with actress Mel Churcher that runs just under four-minutes in length. She speaks here about getting the part she landed in the film, her work in the school scene, getting along with Ralph Bates and her thoughts on Jimmy Sangster.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, ninety-seconds of radio spots, a still gallery, a gallery of poster art and lobby cards, menus and chapter selection.

    Lust For A Vampire – The Final Word:

    Flawed or not, Lust For A Vampire is, if nothing else, a very entertaining picture. It might lack some of the sophistication of some of Hammer’s better-known gothic horrors but it offers enough fangs and females to appease genre fans and it’s pretty stylish on top of that. Shout! Factory has done has done a very nice job bringing this to Blu-ray. If the disc isn’t stacked to the rafters the two commentary tracks and quick interview add value and document the film’s history. Recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Lust For A Vampire Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      That last screenshot makes it look she's just seen something rather enormous. (Sorry, the dirty old man in me).

      I remember buying the tie in book for this movie at the drug store. At least it didn't have that projectile vomit inducing love song in it.