Vampire Lovers, The (1970) [Blu-ray Review]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-04-28 18:16
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The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: April 30th, 2013

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman



The movie:

When it was released in 1970, The Vampire Lovers seemed like an obvious (and somewhat desperate) attempt by Hammer Studios to come into the new decade with its fangs fully bared. As such, its adaptation of Joseph Sheridan le Fanuís Carmilla hones in on the mix of lesbian and vampirism that made that novella famous. Itís a natural fit for a studio whose visual trademarks often included buxom leading ladies in flowing nightgowns, and thereís plenty of that on display in Roy Ward Bakerís film. His effort also amps up violence in a matter thatís atypical for Hammer, as there are decapitations and other bloodletting mixed among the overt sensuality.

The result is a film that not only anticipates much of Hammerís output for the decade, but also the European continent; as I noted in my full review of the film last year, The Vampire Lovers features a dreamy, Rollin-esque aesthetic that attempts to overpower with mood and atmosphere more so than plot, especially since the film essentially repeats itself with Ingrid Pittís Marcilla preying on Pippa Steel before moving on the Madeline Smith.

Bakerís approach works okay, with many of the visual flourishes (such as the mysterious Man in Black) bringing the film to life between its stodgy exposition scenes that require the characters to catch up with what the audience already knows. He does have a wonderful cast at his disposal, with Pitt and Smith serving as the centerpiece of his somewhat leering camerawork. On that note, The Vampire Lovers doesnít descend all the way into luridness, as a musty, distinctly Hammer air hangs over the proceedings in the form of elegant mise en scene and the presence of Peter Cushing.

As far as the 70s go, things would get both better and worse for Hammer, with The Vampire Lovers acting as a solid if somewhat unremarkable overture for its forthcoming themes and aesthetic.

The disc:

The Vampire Lovers was also the first entry in Hammerís Karnstein Trilogy, a set of loosely connected films set around the immortal clan. Last year, the final entry, Twins of Evil, finally bowed in Region 1 with a nice special edition Blu-ray release, and its predecessor can now boast the same thanks to Scream Factory.

While MGM gave the film a fine release as part of its Midnite Movies label several years ago, this disc provides an obvious upgrade from the previous release. If thereís one studio whose output was made for high definition, itís Hammer, and The Vampire Lovers features an expectedly lush, colorful transfer. The filmís leading ladies have certainly never looked better on home video, so Scream Factory is doing Godís work in this respect. Occasionally, the print shows some wear and tear, and the transfer is generally a bit soft-looking (perhaps thanks to Bakerís shooting style), but, when combined with a lossless DTS-MA soundtrack, it provides the definitive presentation for The Vampire Lovers.

The disc ports over all of the Midnite Movies supplements, which include the filmís trailer, a 12 minute feature with Pitt reading excerpts of Carmilla, and a feature length commentary with Pitt, Baker, and screenwriter Tudor Gates. Scream has added a photo gallery and a radio spot to the promotional materials as well as a couple of retrospective featurettes. ďFemme Fantastique: Resurrecting The Vampire LoversĒ is a ten minute piece featuring various critics and experts discussing the filmís background and its relative fealty to the original source material. One participant also notes that Pitt seems too old for the part of Carmilla, which also one of my hang-ups with the film (in fact, at the age of 32, Pitt was exactly twice as old as the character in the novel). The second new feature is a 20 minute long interview with Smith, who is delightful in her recollections. She recounts several anecdotes, including one that explains just how she managed to amply fill out her nightgown.

While this release doesnít feature newly commissioned artwork like some previous Scream Factory efforts, the coverís reverse side does feature poster art from various corners of the globe. All told, this release continues to show the companyís commitment to adorning its releases with love and care, and I hope this is a harbinger for other releases from this era. With its recent announcement that itíll produce a Vincent Price box set, itís safe to assume that this is the case. Itís equally safe to assume that fans should be quite pleased as Scream continues to revisit and upgrade these titles.
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