March 08, 2008
Lust for a Vampire
ThereÂ’s something about a Hammer film. Something beyond the gratuitous nudity and the bright crimson blood and the lush symphonic musical score. They have a distinctive look and understated yet luscious style which contrasts nicely with the characters, which tend to be just the slightest bit over the top. Lust for a Vampire is a sequel to The Vampire Lovers, which was loosely based on the 1872 story Â“CarmillaÂ” by Sheridan Le Fanu. The title was obviously picked to titillate and obscures the fact that amongst the blood and fangs is a story about the power of love. It takes place in a generic European region where the villagers speak English, dress in a vaguely Bavarian manner and often mention Vienna as the closest prominent city.
Every forty years, the vampire inhabitants of KarsteinÂ’s Castle reincarnate and feast their way through the local villager population. The year is 1830, which means that itÂ’s about that time again. We meet Richard Lestrange, who has just arrived to the area. He happens to be one of the premier supernatural authors of his day, and heÂ’s there to be inspired and to write about local legends. He doesnÂ’t actually believe any of the superstitious nonsense that the townspeople are warning him about, and he barely tries to hide his amusement at their assertions. Not that they care what he thinks. TheyÂ’ve warned him, and how he takes the warning is up to him.
Lestrange is of the privileged class. HeÂ’s also a horndog on perpetual prowl and there isnÂ’t a woman safe when heÂ’s around. Lucky for him thereÂ’s a womanÂ’s finishing school right nearby, brimming with lovely, impressionable young students. He quickly uses his name and reputation to gain access to the school, and with a cheeky bit of subterfuge manages to become the new English Literature professor.
Up in the castle, a ritual is underway. The boss evil dude Â– who looks like Dante from Clerks, in about another ten years Â– pours a chalice of virginÂ’s blood over a desiccated skeleton in a coffin. He intones a chant and beseeches Lucifer to Â“Turn now this fresh, warm blood into a body of thine making, this innocent spirit into evil.Â”
WouldnÂ’t it figure? Pure evil comes to life as a blond woman.
Girls, both villager and from the school, begin disappearing. Lestrange believes that the vampire stories may be true (heÂ’s seen first-hand evidence), but oddly enough he doesnÂ’t actually do much of anything about it. HeÂ’s reluctant to voice his suspicions, and his first instinct when the subject arises is to scoff. HeÂ’s an educated man, and doesnÂ’t want to seem to be too like the local yokels.
The film has several intertwined storylines and it isnÂ’t until about halfway through that you finally learn how all of the mysterious characters fit in. ThatÂ’s not to say that all the subplots make sense or are all that tightly woven together. There are several places in the movie where a logical or potential horrific progression is bypassed in favor of a romantic interlude or extra gratuitous boobage. Although I hate to complain about young, beautiful, busty naked ladies, sometimes the brief cut to schoolgirls kissing each other just doesnÂ’t make up for derailing the main story. This film could have been made without a single bare breast and I believe it might have improved things.
The vampires are mostly traditional, in that they are repelled by the cross and must be staked through the heart. They also have the ability to mesmerize a person with their eyes, which was always my favorite vampire power. On the other hand, daylight doesnÂ’t affect them. What keeps this group from becoming overly powerful is the fact that they donÂ’t add a bunch of newbie vampires to their group. As far as theyÂ’re concerned, there are two groups: existing vampires and food.
The vast majority of the movie takes place at the finishing school. The castle figures heavily at the beginning and then is almost entirely forgotten until the end, when weÂ’re treated to a good olÂ’ torch bearing mob, led by a Cardinal in red robes.
The real standout actor of the cast is Ralph Bates, who plays an obsessive teacher at the school. His character is eccentric and memorable, and he does a fine job of playing the quirky role without falling into the trap of being weird just for the sake of weirdness. Bates was being groomed to replace Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in Hammer movie roles, but he came along during HammerÂ’s steep decline and never achieved the greatness that his predecessors did, although the potential is definitely there.
Like many Hammer movies, Lust for a Vampire is a beautiful movie. The countryside is stunning and the sets are atmospheric. Not really minimalist, instead the various sets contain enough to effectively place the scene. Whereas a bedroom might be fully furnished right down to the pictures on the walls, the tavern is suggested by a few tables and a bar that seems to float into the scene out of nowhere. In both cases, it is sufficient.
The widescreen print itself is clear and bright, which is nice, but what kills this movie is the amateurish editing. During one sequence, we are treated to a sudden close-up of fake-looking bloodshot eyes that are supposed to be the head vampire. WhatÂ’s jarring is that the eyes rather obviously donÂ’t belong to him! ItÂ’s these kinds of shots that are seemingly edited in at random, for whatever reason, and it just breaks the flow of the story. During one romantic scene, a sickening-sweet love ballad blossoms on the soundtrack. Where did that come from? ItÂ’s glaringly out of place and does nothing but detract from the movie as a whole.
Something that amused me: the menu screen shows a Christian Cross to indicate the various choices, and when you select something the cross inverts. Nice touch, and it ties in with a minor point in the story.
As for extras on the disk, thereÂ’s a theatrical trailer and several radio spots (with a nude montage of the beautiful Yutte Stensgaard in the background). Also included is a poster and stills gallery, which includes some haunting artwork. The publicity stills tended to play up the sexual aspects and lesbianism in the story. Brief bios of director Sangster, actor Ralph Bates (who was, incidentally, also Louis PasteurÂ’s grandson), and Yutte Stendsgaard, whoÂ’s career lasted only nine films in less than five years. Finally, thereÂ’s a commentary track with director Sangster, actress Suzanna Leigh and a Hammer Films historian. It was ok; not the best, not the worst IÂ’ve heard.
Lust for a Vampire is the middle piece of HammerÂ’s Â“CarmillaÂ” trilogy (The Vampire Lovers and Evil Twins round out the set), and according to many itÂ’s the weakest of the three. ItÂ’s not as bad as its reputation suggests. ItÂ’s not as good as it could have been.
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