Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hyperglycaemic Vampire Cheese Women

It's rare for a film to make me fill like a huge Hostess snack cake, but 1971's Lust for a Vampire had precisely that effect on me. It's been criticised for excessive camp, which it certainly has, but that doesn't quite explain the effect. There's something peculiarly embarrassing about its sexploitation, its cynicism oddly earnest and innocent. It's like finding the porn stash of the fourth best science student at a backwater high school. It panders in the darnedest way. It's impossible to watch without grinning and wincing at the same time.

Lust for a Vampire is Hammer's vaguely, sort of sequel to the far superior The Vampire Lovers from the previous year. Based on Le Fanu's 1872 vampire novella Carmilla, The Vampire Lovers had camp, certainly, but Ingrid Pitt anchored the film with a genuinely effective portrayal of thwarted, deeply felt needs.

Pitt is replaced in Lust for a Vampire by Yutte Stensgaard as Mircalla, whose real name is Carmilla--whereas in the previous film, and in the novella, the character's real name was Mircalla and her alias was Carmilla. It's not really clear why they decided to change this, maybe they thought Carmilla was the better known name and they decided to get ahead of the Frankenstein's monster becoming just "Frankenstein"--except both names are used in the movie so . . . Fuck, I can't even speculate.

Stensgaard is no Ingrid Pitt, but she doesn't do so bad for her greatly reduced screen time. Most of The Vampire Lovers is shown through Mircalla's POV, while Lust for a Vampire has the POV from a male protagonist, a gothic writer named Richard Lestrange.

He's an Englishman visiting Styria for inspiration and finds himself in a small village in the shadow of Castle Karnstein, which the villagers warn him is haunted by vampire women. So he goes up there and is promptly cornered by some gorgeous young dames in cloaks, only to find they're merely students at the nearby girl's school. This scene is followed by a scene of the girls exercising in incredibly flimsy stolas and all doubt as to what sort of movie this is intended to be is quite removed.

Mircalla is brought to the school shortly afterward, to prey on the girls while pretending to study and Richard takes a job instructing in English literature. Hijinks ensue.

I'd be more disappointed by the shift from the previous film's tragic lesbian romance to superficial heterosexual fluff if it wasn't so pitiful. Here Mircalla is seduced by Lestrange because he says he loves her. As they commence to coitus, the soundtrack gives us an insecure, faux 70s beatnik song called "Strange Love" performed by someone credited as simply "Tracy", who in any case is tone deaf. Listen, if you dare;

Still better than Twilight.

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