The film begins many years before the main story, with Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer), seeking to avenge the death of his sister, doing battle with a lovely blonde vampire. Hartog, though he hesitates upon seeing the creatures beauty, quickly relieves her of the burden of having a head.
We then jump forward several years where we meet General Von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) and his daughter Laura (Pippa Steel). Shortly after taking in a beautiful young woman named Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt), Laura begins to have recurring nightmares. She soon becomes quite ill as well and only takes comfort in her visits by Marcilla. When Laura dies, the General notices two strange puncture marks on her neck. Well, they’re actually closer to her breast. Right around this moment, Marcilla mysteriously disappears.
Marcilla soon shows up again, this time going by the name of Carmilla. After she and her “mother,” the Countess (Dawn Addams), are in a carriage accident, she is taken in by Mr. Morton (George Cole) and his daughter Emma (Madeline Smith). Of course, Emma soon starts to experience strange dreams and sickness as well. Like with Laura, Carmilla has been visiting Emma’s room and attempting to seduce her. Helping out is Emma’s governess Mme. Perrodot (Kate O’Mara), who has been successfully seduced by Carmilla and is now working with the vampire.
Some of the other house staff begin to become suspicious of what is going on while their master has gone away and left Mme. Perrodot in charge. They begin to suspect that she is the vampire. The doctor (Ferdy Mayne) begins to believe it too and he instructs that Emma’s room be filled with garlic plants. Meanwhile, Mr. Morton meets up with the General, who has located Baron Hartog, to assist in battling the beautiful vampire.
“The Vampire Lovers” is the classic sort of Hammer Horror story. Sexual aspects of the classic horror stories were always a bit more present in the Hammer versions, but with its hints of lesbian elements, this one goes a bit further than the others. And, given that this was now 1970, the studio didn’t exactly shy away from nudity. Unfortunately, these things are all heightened at the expense of the creepy atmosphere which is usually the centerpiece of most Hammer productions. The opening and closing of the film come close, but for most of the film I just wasn’t feeling it. Though, the strange vampire on horseback who always seems to be watching, but whose identity is never explained, is a nice touch of the classic Hammer mood.
Still, I liked most of the performances. Peter Cushing is great, as usual, if a bit underused and Douglas Wilmer is good as the grizzled old vampire hunter. As for Ingrid Pitt, well, if anyone was born to play a sexy female vampire, she’s it. There’s no question here why she became such a horror movie icon.
“The Vampire Lovers” is an enjoyable enough film, but it’s just not quite what I want out of my Hammer. I’ve often said that I think atmosphere is the name of the game for making a horror film work. Hammer was king in that area. I fear that they lost sight of that a bit with “The Vampire Lovers,” becoming a bit more concerned with showing skin than causing goosebumps to break out.