A beautiful female vampire leaves her mark on teachers and pupils alike as she preys on a quiet British finishing school. Because of her alluring physical qualities her victims are both attracted to her and in terror of her. A distinctive portrayal of the post-sixties vampire eroticism which developed in the search for alternatives to the archetypal Count Dracula figure. When the fascinating and fatal Mircalla Karnstein enrolls at an exclusive girls' finishing school in Transylvania, English teacher Richard Lestrange is among those who fall victim to her striking and sensual beauty. As he risks his life to save her from the terrified villagers he must first save himself from her lethal kiss.
Spoilers follow ...
- Lust for a Vampire review by NP
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Fresh from playing an unnamed vampire in this film’s prequel ‘The Vampire Lovers’, actress Kirstin Lindholm here plays an unnamed peasant girl in the pre-credits sequence. She is attacked by another wraith-like bloodsucker stalking the countryside in broad daylight, which seems perfectly acceptable for the undead in these latter day Hammer films.
Immediately, the same studio-bound low-budget tattiness that afflicted the earlier film is evident here. Former DJ Mike Raven plays Baron Karnstein (presumably the same character John Forbes-Robertson played in ‘The Vampire Lovers’), dressed in suit and cape and dubbed by Valentine Dyall. He spills the girl’s blood to resurrect, in a nice gory sequence, Carmilla. Close-ups of Christopher Lee’s eyes, complete with red contact lenses, spliced from another film, are inexplicably inserted during this scene, further under-lining the gleefully cut-price nature of this production – and this barely ten minutes in.
Unlike the episodic nature of ‘The Vampire Lovers’, this gives us more time to get to know the characters. Ralph Bates – in a role originally written for Peter Cushing – plays Giles Barton, a fascinating character who exudes prim fussiness as schoolmaster in an idyllic Finishing School for girls, but hides a dark desire. He is chided by the girls for being a pervert, whereas the less interesting hero Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnson), who lies his way into the position of supply teacher so he can ogle new pupil Mircalla more closely, is welcomed with open arms by the students.
Pippa Steele returns from ‘The Vampire Lovers’ to play a different, equally doomed, character, as does the splendid Harvey Hall, but the titular Carmilla has been recast. Instead of Ingrid Pitt’s mastery of seduction and devilry, we have Yutte Stensgaard’s far less complex interpretation. Well worthy of a mention is Suzanna Leigh as Janet Playfair, the schoolmistress who tries to attract LeStrange’s eye. Christopher Neame, one of a gaggle of villagers would go onto play Dracula’s servant Johnny Alucard in ‘Dracula AD 1972’.
Barton’s moonlit rendezvous with Carmilla is my favourite scene from the film. Barton wishes to be a servant of the Devil, having studied vampire lore and disposing of Carmilla’s victims. His crumbling entreaties to the unfeeling girl as she drains him of his blood are a perfect mix of seduction and doom. Almost as mesmerising is Carmilla’s later love scene with LeStrange. This scene has been much derided, mainly due to the inclusion of a song (‘Strange Love’ by ‘Tracy’) throughout its duration, but I really like it. With horror, you either have to ‘go with it’ or not, and this scene helps to sell the haunting, dreamlike atmosphere – and yet it is telling Hammer never tried anything like it again. Ah well.
Having succumbed to the charms of a mortal, Carmilla’s days (or nights) are numbered. The Karnsteins return to their castle and a fiery finale involves a burning wooden stake hurtling from the ceiling, impaling the girl as the Count and Countess face their fate. I’m not sure whether I prefer this to the previous film or not. Both have flaws – usually budget-related – but many merits too. One thing I am sure about, however, is that the final picture of the trilogy, ‘Twins of Evil’ ends the project on a high.