Based on Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, Hammer Studio's The Vampire Lovers is a wonderfully earnest horror set amidst the beautiful English countryside. This spearheaded Hammer's vampire trilogy, also known as the Karnstein trilogy (comprising of this film, 'Lust For A Vampire' and the seminal 'Twins Of Evil') and consequently launched Ingrid Pitt's acting career.
Ingrid Pitt is clearly Hammer's revelation, she flaunts her presence as if she were a veteran to the screen. She gives a marvellously cold portrayal of the film's central villian, the murderous Carmilla. A vampiric lesbian who preys on young virgins.
The film has a slight plot but it doesn't really matter. Hammer deliver this sensuous horror with such aplomb, such relish, that the end product is a delight to behold. Ingrid Pitt is planted deceptively in the rich households of generous noblemen, only to concentrate her attentions on their daughters. The English rose, Madeline Smith, plays the central damsel in distress - albeit the distress is manifested as more of a fatalistic, lesbian love affair. Pitt worms her way into the naïve girl's bedrooms, wins their trust. Bodices come flying off and fangs are bared. The violence is all transmitted psychologically through nightmarish dreams, thus the girl is completely unaware of Pitt's malevolence.
The film is beautiful to look at and the two female leads are simply a joy to watch. They fit into their roles perfectly. Ingrid Pitt, in particular, delivers a female vampire that has become an icon, a nice foil to Christopher Lee's Count - I certainly wouldn't want to baby-sit their kids!
The Vampire Lovers is a classic Hammer, derided by some for its nudity - surely, this is luke-warm by today's standards, this is a movie that one returns to, being such a consumable delight of the genre. It is a joyful depiction of Gothic horror, giving us an icon to remember in Ingrid Pitt. Madeline Smith is also wonderful, it's a shame she wasn't in more Hammer films in a central role. This film stands admirably alongside its second sequel, the masterpiece, Twins Of Evil.