Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: The Vampire Lovers

The way I imagine it, the studio discussions that led to The Vampire Lovers viewed it as an incredibly crass, commercial venture:
Studio head A: It's 1970, see? We can get away with nudity in movies now, see?
Studio head B: We're British. Why are you talking like a 1930s American gangster?
Studio head A: Bleedin' 'eck. I'd a point I was going to make, and now I've lost it.
Presumably, somebody eventually--politely--suggested making a cheesecake horror movie, and somebody else recommended legitimizing it to the censors by adapting a saucy Victorian novel, and Bob's your uncle, someone remembered Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu.

Carmilla, if you weren't aware of it, is an Irish vampire novel which predates Dracula by about 26 years. It's also pretty famously racy, which means that it gets dragged through the mud regularly by the entertainment industry who figure they can get away with a little sex by dressing it up as classic literature. Direct references to Carmilla show up in anime, Anne Rice novels, and Batman cartoons, where the sex is presumably less explicit.

I have read Carmilla mostly in order to gain a context for Rob Matsushita's Irish Lesbian Vampire 2, a play which ran at Madison, Wisconsin's Broom Street Theater for a few weeks in the year 2000. ILV2K was a noisy, explosive B-movie-on-stage, and was a direct sequel to another play, Irish Lesbian Vampire (duh) by Joel Gersmann, who might best be described as Madison's theatrical answer to John Waters. I did not see ILV, but saw Gersmann's adaptation of The Three Musketeers, in which d'Artagnan spends all of his time masturbating, and Cardinal Richelieu is Richard Nixon. It is a wonder, then, that so much of the book survived the jump to Matsushita's sequel.

The Vampire Lovers is a passable adaptation of Carmilla made by Hammer Films in 1970. In it, a young, and beautiful woman named Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) is entrusted to the case of General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing. Marcilla develops an uh, inappropriate friendship with Spielsdorf's daughter Laura, who gradually succumbs to a mysterious wasting illness which kills her.

Marcilla leaves, changes her name to Carmilla, and the events repeat themselves at the home of Mr. Morton. Emma Morton (Madeline Smith) suffers nightmares and punctures to her neck, and the family doctor starts getting suspicious. Meanwhile, all the women in the cast spend a lot of time without bathing and dressing and bathing again. It's an awkward movie to watch with other people.

Sooner or later, General von Spielsdorf shows up with Baron Hartog, played by Douglas Wilmer looking like a cross between Peter Sellers and Jeffrey Tambor*. Hartog, too, lost a sister to Carmilla, and he's out for revenge. Carmilla puts her clothes on and flees to her decaying castle with Hartog in pursuit.

Some names are changed, some characters have been added and other subtracted, but this is more or less what happens in the book, and it doesn't make for a great movie. There's a lot of nostalgia for The Vampire Lovers, and I believe that's mostly because Pitt and Smith are good looking gals who spend a lot of time in various states of undress, which is something they were both famous for. Hammer Films was known for putting cleavage and gore front-and-center, and those elements are really all The Vampire Lovers.

The biggest problem, I think is that Carmilla wasn't conceived as a visual story. The original novel gradually reveals Carmilla/Mircalla/Mallarca etc. to be the same person, and that moment--even if it's not a surprise to the reader--is the climax of the story. On stage this wasn't a big deal; it was a small production with lots of charaters, and the audience was misdirected (probably unintentionally) by the fact that every actor played multiple roles. The movie spoils its secret early when Ingrid Pitt starts using a different name, and does nothing to compensate for the lost drama. Ho-hum.

You know what would have saved this movie? Witty banter, kung fu, guns, a murder spree perpetrated against cable news pundits, and an all-out gunfight to the tune of "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners. Wait--I'm describing Irish Lesbian Vampire 2. Somebody should make a movie out of that. Preferably with the combined casts of Dogma and The Matrix, because that was the hypothetical Hollywood cast my friends and I came up with at Denny's afterward.

Geez, that was fourteen years ago.

Fourteen. Years.

Where's my soup? Get off my lawn.

*A professional critic might have made a mental note of this, but would not have forced the observation on you, the reader. Sorry.
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.