Jimmy Sangster, 1971
Starring: Ralph Bates, Yutte Stensgaard, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh
Though Carmilla Karnstein is killed in the events of The Vampire Lovers, her family resurrects her in this second film in Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy. Now known as Mircalla and unaware of her true identity, the young noblewoman arrives at a girls’ finishing school located near Castle Karnstein. A horror writer and new staff member, Richard Lestrange, falls desperately in love with her, but others become suspicious of her identity when local girls are found dead, drained of their blood. Lestrange, who is an expert on vampirism, is one of the few who can stop the Karnsteins.
The silliest of the three films in the Karnstein trilogy — smack in the middle of The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil — is this campy delight that makes little sense compared to the more serious and sultry The Vampire Lovers, but will please any Hammer fanatics or anyone who delights in female vampire films. Like the others in the series, this includes mild themes of lesbianism — Carmilla feeds primarily on young women — and the concept of an aristocratic vampiric cult that Hammer also used in The Brides of Dracula, The Kiss of the Vampire, and Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter among others.
Though based loosely on Sheridan Le Fanu’s story “Carmilla,” this has little to do with the great Irish horror author’s work aside from the use of the titular character. It’s also a complete mess, despite some very fine moments. There are some well executed nude scenes, a great sense of atmosphere — particularly at Castle Karnstein — and some pleasant moments of gore. Though Carmilla is nowhere near on the level of Ingrid Pitt’s portrayal in The Vampire Lovers, Swedish actress Yutte Stensgaard is wide-eyed and lovely, convincingly talking her classmates into late night swims or seductive massages. The best scene of the film is Carmilla’s resurrection, where blood is poured on top of her bones and she rises — in all her nubile flesh — to walk across the room wearing nothing but a bloody sheet.
But there’s also plenty about the film that doesn’t make any sense. It’s unclear why Carmilla sometimes doesn’t know who she is — it’s sort of implied in the first film that she is resurrected or at least reappears regularly through the centuries. She also implausibly falls in love with Lestrange, despite her preference for victims of the female persuasion. They have one of the most ridiculous sex scenes in any Hammer film, with a bad pop song imposed over awkward shots of Carmilla’s orgasm face. And her girlish victims are all clearly too old to be attending a private school for girls, with most of them obviously in their mid-20s.
When director Terence Fisher was forced to step down due to an injury, regular Hammer writer Jimmy Sangster assumed duties. While I think he’s the studio’s best writer (and probably its most prolific), he just can’t compare with Fisher in the director’s chair. There are also a number of average and occasionally substandard performances. Peter Cushing was supposed to appear, but was absent as his wife was ill — though he had starring or costarring roles in the other two films of the trilogy. Mike Raven’s Count Karnstein is a poor stand-in for Christopher Lee, while Michael Johnson (Anne of a Thousand Days) isn’t quite on the same level as Hammer’s other leading men.
While I really enjoy Lust for a Vampire, it’s only recommended to more die-hard Hammer fans. Pick it up on DVD to check out some nice supplementary features from Anchor Bay, though this is really more of a rental than a purchase. It’s a shame Yutte Stensgaard wasn’t a bigger presence in British horror, but she’s certainly eye-catching here in one of her most prominent starring roles. Sadly she was probably better suited to comedy, appearing in some of the Carry On films and the On the Buses TV series, and some of her moments on screen are unintentionally amusing… though that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film at all.