For those who missed the first installment in what has become known as the Karnstein trilogy, The Vampire Lovers established Hammer Studios' world of oversexed and under-supported (bodices, that is) vampires as a departure from earlier vampire movies by the studio. In a clear break from Christopher Lee's aggressive portrayal of everyone's favorite bloodsucker, the Karnstein vampires are capable of walking in the sunlight (although generally heavily cloaked and in the shade). Additionally, they are immune to fire, and most importantly to the continuation of the series, easily resurrected. Lust For A Vampire is the second installment of the family story, this time occurring in the century following the events of The Vampire Lovers.
The movie begins in 1830 as a young woman is first lured into, and then abducted by, a mysterious carriage which transports her to the chapel of a decaying castle. A black magic ritual occurs, led by Count Karnstein (played by Mike Raven, who appears strikingly similar to Christopher Lee) in which the blood of the young girl is poured over the covered corpse of Carmilla, who met her end in the last installment. In one of the more memorable moments in Hammer movies, the resurrected antagonist (played by Yutte Stensgaard) rises from the coffin draped in blood soaked rags and little else.
The story next changes to traveling author Richard Lestrange (Michael Johnson) who has journeyed to the village below the Karnstein castle in search of material for his next book. Provoked by village locals, he explores the ancient castle to prove its emptiness but encounters a teacher (Ralph Bates) and his pupils (young and buxom pupils, to be sure) who are visiting from a nearby newly established girls finishing school. The two become agreeable while discussing Karnstein lore, and Lestrange returns to the finishing school with them. What follows is a series of lesbian tinted seductions and murders on the part of Carmilla (called Mircalla at the school, where she has been enrolled by her parents), increasing infatuation with her by both men, and the persistent investigation of missing students by the resident do-gooder, Janet Playfair (Suzanna Leigh).
Lust For A Vampire has often been condemned as a low point in horror movies produced by Hammer Studios. Its heavy handed play towards nudity, lesbian overtones, and weak dialogue have led some detractors to claim the movie represents the beginning of the end for the studio, although Hammer would continue making productions for another 10 years. But it does, however, have at least a small following of dedicated fans who accept it as a fun, campy vampire movie with good costumes and great looking actresses. Originally titled Love For A Vampire (or To Love A Vampire), it was released in 1971 and fell victim to the turmoil of rapidly changing tastes on the part of the moviegoing public. For some it was too much, and for others not enough. Even among the cast and crew, it is remembered with mixed emotions. Ingrid Pitt reportedly would not be involved because she thought the script was terrible, and Ralph Bates was quoted by Howard Maxford as saying it was "one of the worst films ever made" despite having one of the top billings.
Jimmy Sangster, Director - Sangster had been working with Hammer for several years, writing the script for two of their earlier hits (Horror Of Dracula and Curse Of Frankenstein), but came onto this project late as a replacement for another longtime Hammer man, Terence Fisher.Yutte Stensgaard, Mircalla (Carmilla) - In her only starring role, Yutte is beautiful but ultimately overdubbed. Later in life, she would become a born again Christian in California and work as a radio personality during the 1980s.
Suzanna Leigh, Janet Playfair - IMDB claims that Leigh is the goddaughter of Vivien Leigh (of Gone With The Wind fame), however Marcus Hearn writes in Hammer Glamour that when she approached Vivien Leigh about it, having been told it by her father, Vivien had no idea what she was talking about, but consented to the younger woman's use of her name in her stage name. Her life after Lust For A Vampire is marked by personal struggles but she eventually settled in Memphis, Tennessee and organized events for Elvis fans (having worked with Elvis before his death in the movie Paradise, Hawaiian Style.
I personally love this movie. From the beginning scenes with Mike Raven as Count Karnstein to the end as the flames dance around the entire family, Lust For A Vampire is pure fun in my book. Time has dulled its edginess, and it certainly no longer seems exploitative compared to much of what is created today. One thing to keep in mind is that it is difficult to find cheaply in the United States, but if you decide to seek it out search for the uncensored European version.
Images: Marcus Brooks
Images: Marcus Brooks