The Karnstein family were two-hundred year old vampires who terrorised the land until dispatched with stakes to the heart. Some years later, a Countess arrives at a ball held by General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), but is called away when news of a death reaches her. She leaves her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) in the General's care until she gets back, and Marcilla strikes up a close friendship with his daughter Laura (Pippa Steele). However, at night, Laura is haunted by dreams of a large cat feeding on her, and grows weaker by the day - what could the matter be?
As an attempt to find something new to do in their vampire genre, Hammer Studios embarked on a series of films inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu's story Carmilla. This effort was the first, scripted by Tudor Gates with help in the adaptation from producers Harry Fine and Michael Style, and proved to be a success at the box office. Yet this was more to do with the novelty of female nudity and softcore sex scenes that had been introduced, rather than any renewed popularity of those now-hackneyed bloodsuckers.
In truth, the familiarity of the story lends the film a fairy tale quality, with its Middle European setting, vague historical trappings and stern morality. It's almost cosy. When Marcilla has drained Laura of her blood, she moves on, leaving everyone distraught, and ends up being introduced to Morton (George Cole) as Carmilla. These noblemen are very keen to allow the Countess's daughter to stay with them, aren't they? Anyway, the cycle begins once more, when she forms a close bond with Emma (Madeline Smith), who also has terrible nightmares and begins to look suspiciously wan.
As the villainess, Hammer's new star Ingrid Pitt was ideal. Her soulful eyes and low voice carry just the right exoticism for an otherworldly air, and her unashamed sexuality provides the threat to the puritanical menfolk. I suppose you could see The Vampire Lovers as an account of a group of repressed, heterosexual men saving impressionable young ladies from a predatory lesbian, but Pitt brings life to her undead character in a way that Carmilla could easily be seen as the tragic heroine of the piece.
Carmilla reads bedtime stories of torrid romance for Emma, perhaps a nod to the audience that this tale of passion is just as indulgently trashy. The wide eyed Smith would certainly fit in with one of those potboilers, but instead of being swept off her feet by a dashing young man, such as Jon Finch, she falls for the charms of a mysterious female. Despite Carmilla's loneliness and depth of feeling, she causes more harm than good, adding a little resonance to a film that has its share of silliness (see the tavern silenced by the mention of the word "vampire"!), although she is less sympathetic in the last half hour. Music by Harry Robinson.
Reliable British director who worked his way up from teaboy to assistant to Alfred Hitchcock to overseeing his own hit projects from the 1940s to the 1970s. Making his debut with The October Man, he continued with Morning Departure, Don't Bother To Knock, Inferno, The One That Got Away and what is considered by many to be the best Titanic film, A Night To Remember.