The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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In Nineteenth Century Austria, the aristocratic General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) invites Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt), the daughter of his newest neighbor, to stay in his house while her mother is away. Within a short time, the general's own daughter, Laura (Pippa Steel), has mysteriously grown ill and eventually dies, after which his young guest disappears. The general, suspicious and grief stricken, hurries to Vienna to meet with a friend of his who, he believes, may be able to provide him with answers to his questions about Marcilla. Meanwhile, the same woman, now going by the name Carmilla, is taken in by another local aristocrat, who also has a daughter, Emma (Madeline Smith), on whom the strange house guest exercises an erotic but deadly influence.

Roy Ward Baker's The Vampire Lovers is a wonderfully fun film. While it is burdened with several overdone scenes, a number of awkward lines, and a few other faults, it is such a genuinely fascinating, sensuous, and eerie movie that it is almost certain to captivate the viewer.

The director combines in his film a sense of ominous menace with both a potent evocation of the supernatural and a sensuous almost feverish eroticism. While making the viewer aware of some mysterious, numinous presence, some uncanny power that has taken form in Carmilla, Baker repeatedly reminds him of the dangerous cruelty of that power and, consequently, fills him with real feelings of fear. At the same time, the director brings out the seductive allure of such an otherworldly being and makes clear the intoxicating, hypnotic influence she is able to exert on those around her. Thanks to the skillful evocations of all these feelings, Baker's film is able to draw the viewer into its unearthly, deadly, and profoundly sensual world and immerse him in its beauty, its mystery, and its brutality.

The performances of the various members of the cast greatly contribute to this emotive impact achieved by The Vampire Lovers. Pitt brings to her role a sophisticated but desperate salacity and makes the viewer feel that he is watching some ancient, lethal power that, though alienated from mankind, is desirous of forging connections with the young women it encounters. Madeline Smith and Pippa Steel, who play these women, may be the least accomplished performers in the film, but both, especially the former, do infuse their characters with an innocent, youthful carnality and with a sense of that wondrous excitement felt by persons discovering their own sexuality and anticipating their first sexual experiences. Even Peter Cushing, though he plays only a small part in the movie, is able to make the viewer aware both of General von Spielsdorf's love for his daughter and of the character's determination to avenge her death.

Not only is much of the acting surprisingly good, The Vampire Lovers is also, for the most part, a genuinely well made film. The sets and costumes used are all beautiful and successfully evoke another era. The special effects, if never impressive, are usually effectively employed, and the script, if not poetic, is well crafted. Occasionally, the movie's production values are not of the highest quality and the lines spoken by the actors are, at times, clichéd, but such faults are relatively rare and do little to decrease the film's enjoyableness.

While it is hardly a great movie, The Vampire Lovers is consistently well made, evocative, and engaging. It is one of the best horror films I have seen.

Review by Keith Allen

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