During the production process by American International - Hammer Films, Roy Ward Baker directed The Vampire Lovers, a 1971 horror film set in late 18th century Germany. Written by Harry Fine, Tudor gates, and Michael style as an adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, the film is readily available on Blu-ray.
Baron Joachim von Hartog pierces the hearts of, and decapitates, the entombed at the Karnstein estate, after his sister dies by a vampire. The only tomb he does not find is the one belonging to Millarca Karnstein.
Millarca is given the names Marcilla and Carmilla by her supposed mother. Under those guises she is welcomed into families’ homes and preys on their daughters. As Marcilla, she preys on General Spielsdorf’s daughter, Laura. Laura has nightmares of a huge gray cat choking her and sucking her blood. Millarca evades a suspecting Spielsdorf and returns to her tomb. Spielsdorf’s suspicions about his daughter’s death prompt him to visit Hartog. Meanwhile, Millarca, as Carmilla begins preying on Emma, Mr. Morton’s daughter. Emma has the same nightmares Laura had. She mentions the cat transforms into Carmilla. As Morton is away at Vienna, Laura’s health declines and her governess falls under Millarca's spell. A servant named Mr. Renton mistakenly suspects governess Perrodon to be the vampire and summons the doctor, who fills Emma’s room with garlic and adorns her with a cross necklace. Those things repel Millarca, much to her chagrin. On Morton’s arrival, he realizes his daughter is ill, but does not believe in the doctor’s practice or the existence of vampires. His landlord reminds him of Emma’s death and Spielsdorf’s visiting Hartog. Morton leaves at once and runs into the two men in the forest. They found the doctor’s body, which Millarca had attacked for putting garlic in Emma’s room. The three of them join forces and head to the Karnstein estate. Millarca’s tomb is found and her body pierce and decapitated, appropriately ridding the world of the vampire.
Lesbianism and Sexism through Seduction
The movie focuses on lesbian and heterosexual seduction not as a purely sexual act, but in connection with two female vampires enfeebling their prey. There are inactive male vampires in the film, but the two active vampires happen to be women. The first immobilizes Baron Hartog with her beauty. Only an accidental interaction with his cross gives him the strength to regain control and cut off her head. The encounters between Millarca and her victims are especially seductive. She and the two young girls, Emma and Laura, are nude and in bed together on many occasions--in one scene, Millarca even takes off Emma’s dress and begins kissing her chest. The servant Renton is not seduced by a nude Millarca, but a sexual one nonetheless. After Millarca gains control of governess Perrodon, she draws her into a bedroom, stands by the window in the moonlight, and removes her own dress, which seems unnecessary as Perrodon is already hypnotized. The film's creators might have hid behind vampirism as they made women out to be sexually objectified, or they may have just gone overboard with the idea that vampires are seductive creatures.
The movie’s main characters are in high society, and Millarca’s supposed mother, a countess, is trusted because she is able to fit into high society. The Karnstein’s have their own castle, and perhaps this points to the fact that they are well-bred and explains why no lower-class families are part of the story. However, the writers could have had vampires from a wealthy family infiltrate lower-class families, so a choice was made. The writers probably stuck with the idea of wealthy victims from the novella it was based on, Carmilla. Had they chosen otherwise, their film would have been more relatable to the 1970s, a decade under economic hardship.
Other adaptations, such as Blood and Roses and Nightmare Classics: "Carmilla," incorporate a working or server class into the story. They, in fact, are the ones who are either first to suspect what is going on with Carmilla or the most accurate in their suspicions. Notably, The Vampire Lovers, even given previous exposure to Blood and Roses, chose not to engage the lower class in the story, which falls in line with Carmilla.
The Vampire Lovers is considered one of Hammer Films' raciest. While a modern reception on The Urban Politico claims that the nudity in the film was tasteful, the TV Guide wrote that the film's lesbianism seemed exploitative. Outside of sexuality, Variety, a magazine considered to have published the first film review in history, gave The Vampire Lovers a mostly negative review on the bases of little story and "flat" dialog. Reel takes the criticism a bit further, mentioning the film had great sets, but lacked both "engaging characters and an intriguing plot" and was mostly non-recommendable.
Significance of Adaptation
The Vampire Lovers was only the fifth film adaptation of Carmilla, though at least a couple of stage adaptations had also existed by 1971. Ingrid Pitt, the Polish actress who played Mircalla, developed a "cult" following among horror fans from her portrayal in the film.
The film takes the lesbian eroticism of the novella and makes a soft-core pornographic film based loosely on the original plot. Perrodon is entirely new and adds yet another female for Carmilla to prey on. Other film adaptations of Carmilla, such as Blood and Roses, include the theme, but it is not overpowering. In a recent adaptation, Nightmare Classics: "Carmilla," the theme is barely touched upon, and Carmilla preys on both male and female characters. The film follows the novella and focuses heavily on the illnesses as experienced by Carmilla's victims, a theme that is left out of the two other adaptations.