Release Date(s)1971 (July 30, 2019)
Studio(s)Hammer Film Productions/American Continental Films/StudioCanal (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
Lust for a Vampire is the second in what is known as the Karnstein Trilogy, which includes The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil. In this 1971 effort, the vampiric Count Karnstein (Mike Raven) and Countess Herritzen (Barbara Jefford) have resurrected the beautiful but deadly Carmilla. Meanwhile, a traveling author named Richard (Michael Johnson) takes an interest in a nearby finishing school for young women, including one of its mistresses Janet (Suzanne Leigh), but especially the newly-arrived Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard), with whom he falls instantly in love with. As some of the young women begin to disappear, the local townspeople quickly become convinced that evil has once again risen in Karnstein Castle, but will Richard be able to curb both his love and his lust for Mircalla before he too falls victim?
Much of the content in Lust for a Vampire feels more like a series of missed opportunities than anything else. It’s not a good film, and it’s not a particularly effective horror film, but it has a sense of something better lurking under its surface. Jimmy Sangster, who was a Hammer scriptwriting veteran, helmed the project, but wasn’t able to deliver the goods. It doesn’t help matters much that Terence Fisher was originally scheduled to direct the film but was replaced, or that Ingrid Pitt was asked to reprise the role of Carmilla but turned it down, or that Peter Cushing dropped out due to the failing health of his wife (who subsequently passed away the year of the film’s release). Despite the less than stellar material, it’s easy to imagine a more capable and talented group of people pulling a film off that would have at least been more enjoyable.
The unsung talent of Lust for a Vampire is indeed Suzanna Leigh, who one could easily argue as being the more desirable and likable of female companions in contrast to Carmilla, but perhaps that’s just my own personal preference. The vampire material itself is stale and lacks energy, as does the majority of the film, aside from its torch and pitchfork-toting climax that’s about as effective as a placebo. None of the actors give particularly poor performances, but there’s a severe lack of creativity to the film’s story and its visuals that make it not all that exciting to watch. Other Hammer releases that same year definitely yielded more enjoyable results, such as Countess Dracula, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, and Hands of the Ripper.
Scream Factory debuts the film on Blu-ray in the US with a new 4K scan of the original negative and two optional aspect ratios: 1.66:1 and 1.85:1. Despite not being that great of a film, Lust for a Vampire soars in high definition. It’s a solid presentation with high levels of fine detail and tightly-woven film grain that only clumps during the opening and closing titles, as well as exterior shots of Karnstein Castle. The color palette is rich with potent hues, including the many dresses of the young women, the red interior of Count Karnstein’s cape, and the lush foliage of the English countryside. Blacks are mostly deep with strong shadow detail, though grain doesn’t always allow for solidarity. Contrast and brightness levels are ideal and there is next to no visible damage leftover as the material is clean and stable, outside of the aforementioned opening and closing titles, as well as transitions. I dare say the film has never looked this good.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a narrow but well-represented soundtrack. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but dialogue exchanges are clear and discernable, sound effects are given decent heft, and the score, including the film’s unusual love song Strange Love, have an ample amount of breathing room. Everything is mixed together well leaving no room for distortion, while the overall track is free of overt instances of hiss, crackle, and dropouts.
The bonus materials for this release include a new audio commentary with author and film historian Bruce G. Hallenbeck, who offers up plenty of information about the film, including its ties to the original Carmilla story and how it wound up on the big screen; a vintage audio commentary with Hammer Films historian and author Marcus Hearn, director Jimmy Sangster, and actress Suzanna Leigh, which is quite playful and informative of the film’s production (and far more entertaining than the film itself); Just One of the (School) Girls, a new 4-minute interview with actress Melinda Churcher, who recalls her memories of working on the film, which are happy ones; the UK theatrical trailer; 2 US radio spots; an animated still gallery featuring 103 promotional photos, on-set photos, and behind-the-scenes stills; and an animated poster and lobby card gallery featuring 51 images, including the film’s press book and newspaper clippings. Not included form the forthcoming StudioCanal UK Blu-ray release is Strange Love: Hammer in 1970, Script to Screen: To Love a Vampire, and an interview with actress Judy Matheson.
While Lust for a Vampire is not one of the best films that Hammer ever produced, it’s certainly an interesting film to dissect and wonder “What If?” concerning its genesis, production, and eventual release. That alone makes the extras on Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release worth the price of admission, not to mention the excellent A/V quality of the main presentation, which in itself is to be appreciated.
– Tim Salmons