Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

This US poster hardly reflects the content of the film at all!

The first film we will be looking at on Venus in Motion actually fails to meet some of our criteria for the blog, in that it isn't an overtly erotic film.  Rather it is a horror film with (for then, unusually) erotic overtones.  However, we thought it important as it was the first film we can remember seeing which contained significant nudity and, especially, lesbianism (however mild).  It had, therefore, a disproportionate impact on us.  We must have seen this on TV some time in the mid-seventies and remember it being much discussed at school the next day, particularly because it featured the magnificent Madeleine Smith, a school heroine, who by that time, was much better known than when she appeared in this

Ingrid Pitt (left) and Madeleine Smith in The Vampire Lovers

Hammer Films had been churning out their low budget vampire films for over a decade but by 1970 they were starting to get a bit stale and looked increasingly old fashioned. Hammer was aware that on 1st July 1970 the British X certificate boundary was being moved from the age of sixteen to the age of eighteen with the introduction of the new AA certificate adding an intermediate certificate.  This would enable them to release something to push at the new 18 plus X certificate boundary and attract much needed American co-finance.

Fortunately, just in time for this, Irish film producer Harry Fine pitched the idea of a movie based upon Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 novel Carmilla.  The novel had some definite, if restrained, lesbian overtones:  "Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever".

Hammer's American co-producers American International Pictures were delighted at a treatment that included nudity and lesbianism and the title itself, The Vampire Lovers, assured the film of its backing.  In fact the whole film was made by Fine's film production company, Fantale, subcontracted by Hammer.  The film was made in a rush.  When Fantale approached James Carreras at Hammer in October 1969 they were told that the film could go ahead provided shooting could begin on January 19th.  They hadn't even got a script yet!  Nevertheless Tudor Gates had the script delivered by December 15th.

Tom Chantrell's controversial pre-production poster

The final version of the script was submitted to the British Board of Film Censors in January.  Chief Censor John Trevelyan was already concerned about the direction the film was taking and he was particularly concerned about the pre-production poster AIP had been circulating amongst the trade press.

Ingrid Pitt in her ballgown costume from The Vampire Lovers. Beautifully presented!

Polish actress Ingrid Pitt's performance in Where Eagles Dare had brought her to the attention of the production team, as Goldfinger's Shirley Eaton was dismissed as too old, even though she was actually eleven months younger than Pitt.  The choice of Pitt (more about her here) was inspired and she dominates every scene she is in.  AIP had been concerned about the virtually unknown Pitt carrying the film and attempts to entice Christopher Lee into the cast were to no avail but, fortunately, Peter Cushing signed up to give it some weight.

 L to R: Ingrid Pitt, Madeleine Smith, Kate O'Mara, Pippa Steele and Kirsten Betts

The cast featured an appropriately toothsome group of young female actresses; also including Danish actress Kirsten Betts, Kate O'Mara, Pippa Steele and a twenty year old Madeleine Smith.  The film's publicity machine made the most of these young ladies, having them pose in the flimsy nightgowns that were such a feature of the film.

L to R (top) O'Mara, Betts, Steele and Smith.  Pitt bottom

The publicity shoot had Pitt wearing two different gowns and in several the women are posing with a coffin.  Betts (real name Kirsten Lindholm Andreasson) is patently not wearing anything under her nightgown and this was something that was apparent with the actresses in many scenes in the finished film.

The women made the cover of Film Review in October 1970 which coincided with the UK release of the film.

The Vampire Lovers was submitted for certification in June 1970 and the BBFC was concerned.  "Admittedly we must allow stronger meat in horror films for the new X, but the very overt emphasis on lesbianism here goes far beyond anything we have allowed except the uncut version of (the Killing of) Sister George... We are very concerned about the combination of nudity (transparent nightdresses, pubic hair showing etc) with horror."  Hammer persuaded the censors that the lesbianism was in the source novel and the BBFC backed down.  In fact, today, the film looks very mild indeed and now has a 15 certificate (mainly for the two graphic beheadings) in the UK but at the time its mix of sex and horror was groundbreaking in UK cinema.  Incidentally, Madeleine Smith had an uncredited part (as a nun!) in the The Killing of Sister George (1968).

Kirsten Betts

The film is set in nineteenth century Styria and opens with Baron Hartog fighting off the advances of an enticing vampire played by Betts, in the first diaphanous gown of the film.

Ingrid Pitt (left) and Pippa Steele

Some years later Marcilla (Pitt) is dropped off by her mother at the house of General von Spielsdorf (Cushing).   She befriends the general's niece, Laura (Steele), and soon pounces on her in bed.  There is a very mild kissing scene and then Pitt starts to kiss the upper breast of Steele.  It all looks rather sweet now but to a teenage Triple P this was the height of erotic content we had seen on TV!

Triple P had seen some vampire films at this point (largely other Hammer ones) and of course knew that vampires bit on the neck but here was a female vampire biting other women on the breast, as was revealed in the scene where the doctor finds bite marks on Laura's breast in the film's first gratuitous nipple revealing moment.

Marcilla reappears under the name Carmilla at another house and this time targets the owners daughter Emma (Madeleine Smith).  Her seduction begins with the famous bathtub scene which features in so many of the stills from the film.  It's not surprising as Pitt looks absolutely stunning and her bust is a miracle of nature.

When Pitt emerges from the bath she flashes her pubic hair for a fraction of a second but that was enough to send the censors into a tizz.

Smith hands Pitt a towel which she wraps around her waist leaving her magnificent bust bare.  This was what impressed Triple P at the time.  Previous films we had seen where the actresses showed some bare breast (Laraine Stephens brief nipple glimpse in The Thousand Plane Raid (1969) springs to mind) just gave a quick flash but Pitt remains topless for what seemed ages but was, in fact, just under a minute and a half.

Madeleine Smith makes Triple P's entire class' day

Added to this we had Madeleine Smith also baring her twenty year old bust in a moment of supreme eroticism for Triple P's school class.  The scene was filmed on a closed set and Smith remembers being very nervous whilst noting that Pitt seemed totally unconcerned about her on-set nudity.

A still topless Pitt then chases Smith around the bedroom before forcing her down on the bed and a disappointing cutaway which was still too much for the censor, however, who objected to the scene, although it remained in the final cut.

We are then introduced to Kate (Dynasty) O'Mara as Emma's governess.  Pitt's character soon gives her one of her not quite innocent kisses.  Pitt manages to be able to look superficially innocent as she interacts with the other women in the cast so that you can see why they, believably, aren't suspicious of her.  However, because we know her true nature we also take in the little flicks of her eyes as she gazes (literally) hungrily at her victims, eyeing their pliant bodies.  It's a great performance by Pitt and not surprising that it made her a cult figure.

Next follow's Pitt's second seduction of Smith's character and this was rather more graphic than the first episode.  Pitt sits on Smith's bed, undoes the top button of her nightdress and pulls it down to reveal Smith's perfect bust.

Pitt leans forward to kiss Smith on the lips (which we don't see) but we do see her kissing Smith's neck before working her way down to the top of her breast before we cut to a close up of Smith's face as Pitt disappears out of shot as he moves down (we assume) her body. The British Board of Film censors wanted the whole latter part of this scene cut but it remained in the final film. As is often the case it is what isn't shown that makes the scene erotic.  The only slight dissonant note here is Smith's rather curious expression.  The Convent educated Smith later admitted to being a virgin at the time and to the fact that she really had no idea what was supposed to be going on in the scene as she didn't know what a lesbian was!

O'Mara's governess gets suspicious, especially after Smith shows her the puncture marks on her breast but Pitt later strips naked (in silhouette against a window) in front of O'Mara before an implied seduction.

Other are becoming suspicious too, especially the butler but Pitt seduces him too, going in for some very sensual  ear nibbling before pouncing.  Finally, tempting him in yet another see through nightgown she gets him into the bed where he enjoys a little breast fondling before Pitt regains the upper hand and, probably not coincidentally, climbs on top of him.

It's only when Pitt's character is caught biting Kate O'Mara's governess that things can progress to the usual Hammer vampire denouement.  The blood on Pitt's lips during this scene was also of concern to the censors.

Ingrid Pitt in excelsis in publicity shots for The Vampire Lovers

So, as we said at the start, not a specifically erotic film per se but probably the first we saw on TV which included such brazenly displayed bare breasts (and particularly fine ones at that) and certainly the first with a lesbian theme.  Its erotic power is not nearly as strong when viewed today but Ingrid Pitt certainly gives it her all and the other beauties in the film make it worthwhile late night viewing.  It wasn't technically a Hammer film as it was made for Hammer by Fantale who later said that their aim was to make better Hammer films than Hammer. The Vampire Lovers has good sets and costumes compared with a lot of Hammer made movies.  The film was very successful at the box office but Hammer had already commissioned a sequel, Lust for a Vampire (1971), while the first film was still being made, which we will look at another time.

Film: 6/10
Women: 8/10
Explicitness: 3/10

Overall: 5/10