Written by Daniel Epler | Cobwebs: A Gothic Cinema Podcast
On July 30, my favorite Blu-ray label, Scream Factory, released the 1971 Hammer Film Productions movie Lust for a Vampire. This was extremely exciting to me, as it was the only film I hadn’t yet seen in Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy because of how difficult it had been to get ahold of here in the United States. Being able to own it now—a pristine Blu-ray copy, no less—is yet another miracle pulled off by my beloved Scream Factory!
The Karnstein Trilogy comprises three Hammer vampire films, all featuring vampire antagonists from the Karnstein family. Lust for a Vampire is the second film in the trilogy, following The Vampire Lovers and preceding the release of the Twins of Evil prequel. However, the continuity is fairly inconsequential here, and I don’t think that the order in which the trilogy is watched really matters.
Let’s talk plot. The film centers around a writer and all-around douchebag named Richard who writes about spooky occult stuff, though his knowledge on the subject never becomes relevant. Instead, he cons his way into teaching English at an all-girls school so that he can hit on the students. Yikes, dude! That definitely hasn’t aged well. One small consolation, at least, is that Richard only sexually harrasses one woman at the school named Mircarla, and she might just be a…VAMPIRE!
Unfortunately, even if you can manage to look beyond the ‘70s James Bond-esque sexual politics (fans of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service will recognize the similar plot devices), you’ll still find…not a very good movie. And this is coming from a self-reported giant sucker for old vampire flicks like this.
Lust for a Vampire is easily the weakest and shlockiest entry in this trilogy. It somehow lacks both a decent protagonist and antagonist, which is a major detriment. One of the main reasons Hammer movies work so well is because they’re often outfitted with terrific actors who elevate the silly material into something great. This movie had the ridiculous and silly-as-hell script, but it didn’t follow through with the terrific actor part.
Poor Yutte Stensgaard as the vampire Mircarla tries her best, but she can’t hold a candle to Ingrid Pitt, or even the playboy twins from Twins of Evil. She’s stunningly beautiful, but so bland to watch on screen. Michael Johnson as Richard (insert dick joke here) is not a terrible actor, and he’s the only reason the character as written isn’t completely insufferable…only mostly insufferable and awful, which made him impossible for me to root for.
That being said, I admit that I still had a good time watching Lust for a Vampire. By this point in Hammer’s history, 1971, its films’ sets and costumes were still on-point, and I love the visual style of these ‘60/’70s vampire movies—I’m like Charley Brewster in Fright Night. It’s not that the style alone fools me into thinking they’re all good, but I do enjoy most of them. And, certainly, Lust is better than some of the later Dracula films.
The cheese drips hard here—so much so that an entire love ballad plays during a love scene—but it’s all in good fun, and my time wasn’t wasted. We love these movies when they’re great enough to become classics, but we can just as well imbibe them for the purely carnal enjoyment of watching highly sexualized vampires murdering people. And, even still, it wasn’t only that—there were a few scenes that I really did enjoy. For example, there’s a scene I loved toward the beginning, when the vampire Mircarla is resurrected in a bloody ritual. That scene works beautifully and is just as creepy as you want it to be.
If you’d like to compete your Blu-ray Karnstein Trilogy, this is exactly the release you’ve been waiting for. The transfer is beautiful, and the film even comes in two different aspect ratios. This is not a collector’s edition release, but the special features are still respectable. There is an all-new commentary track from author and film historian Bruce Hallenbeck, and previously existing commentary from director Jimmy Sangster, actress Suzanna Leigh, and Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn.