The Vampire Lovers, or the sulphurous hidden face of Hammer’s vampire films

The Eros Femina festival unearths a little nugget of genre film, and on this occasion, let’s dive back with pleasure into the sexy vampire lovers with Peter Cushing.


Fans of genre films surely know this very well, but the English studio Hammer is one of the most important in the history of underground cinemaparticularly for its rich heritage of Gothic cinematographic works, with a dark and baroque atmosphere and highlighting quantities of creatures that are now essential in cinema folklore: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and all the stuff that Universal strives for more than reason to try to revive.

Founded in the 1930s, Hammer only made a name for itself in the 1950s by placing itself in the niche of genre films, and thanks to the involvement of talented directors and actors. It is indeed the Hammer to whom we owe the legendary performances of Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing for example, in the founding keystones that are Frankenstein has escaped! (Where The Curse of Frankenstein), Curse of the Pharaohs (Where The Mummy) and of course… Dracula’s Nightmare (Where Draculathank you France for all these translations).

Peter Cushing, the legend, and first actor victim of necromancy in Rogue One

However, if all goes well for the studio in the 60s, the dawn of the 70s will mark the beginning of a much more difficult period for the studio. The films it produces are indeed in sharp decline in quality. To the slightly grand-guignolesque romanticism of yesterday, the public prefers a new, much more realistic and traumatic approach to horror films. The competition is indeed fierce in the face of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead Where The last house on the left. The Hammer will then begin a turning point to try to stand out: add stupor, lust, sulfur, in short, add sex (spoiler alert: it won’t work). The Vampire Lovers will be the first born of this decision.

The Vampire Lovers is an adaptation of the short story carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, one of the very first vampire stories ever written, 26 years before the famous Dracula by Bram Stocker. The text, like the film, tells the story of a vampire entering the residence of the nobles to seduce and then drink the blood of the young girls (virgins of course) who are there. The original story never explicitly describes Sapphic love scenes, but the innuendos are numerous enough for no one to be fooled, and The Vampire Lovers also takes up this logic on its own account. However, the film is much more than just a vampire film with naked women and lesbian love.

Photofire on the lips


It must be realized that when the film was released in 1970, censorship was just beginning to relax and film mores to unleash. If the most baroque directors are past masters in the art of metaphor (the Cleopatra by Cecil B. DeMille is almost a manual for talking about sex without showing it), showing naked bodies is still relatively new. But as usual, the Hammer is not afraid to position itself fully on the margins of cinema, and will (consciously or not) push the envelope even further by showing sex yes, but homosexual sex and entirely centered around female pleasure.

The Vampire Lovers is therefore not only a crucial and forgotten milestone in the history of a studio, or in the history of transgression, it is a real explosion for anyone interested in certain issues that run through our time (hello Harvey Weinstein ). Because we must understand one thing: if The Vampire Lovers is so special, it’s also for the power of its main female character. Far from having within it the desire to be a banner of feminism, The Vampire Lovers yet despite himself conveys something particularly powerful through his anti-heroine.

Marcilla/Carmilla/Mircalla is the antagonist of the story, but she remains nonetheless the bright red, energetic and liberating heart of a film which, through the fascination it shows for its main character (his time of presence completely obscures that of Peter Cushing), seems far more espousing his terrifyingly sensual and supposedly corrupting cause than that of dour, gray vampire hunters. Their main occupation is, for them, to keep and objectify their offspring, finally reduced to the state of pieces of meat available to their parents.

PhotoIngrid Pitt

Ingrid Pitt, whose first major role will bring her to the rank of scandalous icon, here embodies a proud female subject character, that is to say acting for herself and by herself, as colorful as carmen of her dress, in a world that aspires only to empty its fellow men (understand, women) of all substance. So much so that it makes you wonder who is vampirising who in the end. Inevitably, the film has an old-fashioned side that must be taken in, but after this stage, this simple observation of the female characters is enough to make The Vampire Lovers a resolutely modern film even for our sad times, still capable of extolling a film as archaic in this regard as blade runner 2049 without asking any questions.

The Vampire Lovers is scheduled for June 11 at the Brady as part of the Eros Femina festival and in collaboration with the 7th genre film club. Obviously, it is an unmissable, even for those who are only looking for a little forgotten nugget of genre film. Moreover, if you are interested in gender issues, we strongly advise you to find out about the other events of the festival, which provides lots of great stuff from June 11 to 17, 2018.

Official poster

The Vampire Lovers, or the sulphurous hidden face of Hammer’s vampire films