As the special feature on the new Blu-ray of Lust for a Vampire state, the Hammer brand was very much in a state of flux at the turn of the 1970s. The Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing era of sequel success was coming to an end and, in their place, Hammer was delivering sex and scandal. With its boundary-pushing depictions of lesbian sex, Lust for a Vampire remains one of the company’s most notorious films – but that’s about all there is to it.
The protagonist is flouncing posho Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnson) – an author who’s approximately 5% talent and 95% privileged bravado. If he were real and around today, he’d probably be Prime Minister. He letches his way into a weird finishing school, positioned within touching distance of Castle Karnstein, which just about everyone in the nearby village believes is inhabited by vampires. Unsurprisingly, they’re right and student Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard) is the reincarnated spirit of a vampiric countess.
Sex is very much at the centre of Lust for a Vampire, to the detriment of just about everything else. The exquisitely judged camp and well-played seduction of the Christopher Lee Dracula movies is tossed aside for an odyssey of cheap silliness and flamboyant, fleshy displays that is a long way from any sort of subtlety. Harry Robertson’s ludicrous score explodes with noise at every possible opportunity, as the camera zooms into the lurking face of Mike Raven’s Count Karnstein, who gets little to do other than wander around looking creepy.
Stensgaard is beguiling and interesting as Mircalla, but her scenes are often undercut by the arrival of Johnson, who blusters in at random with an over-cranked declaration of love. Indeed, this is a movie in which characters are constantly professing their foremost desires in clunky fashion, like the final week of Love Island in which everyone suddenly declares their fervent passion in a haze of product placement hair wax and hormones. By the time one character matter-of-factly states “I happen to love you” in a late scene, seemingly at random, my eyes were rolling so consistently they could barely focus on the screen.
This is a movie that’s wildly melodramatic, while being free of any sort of storytelling logic. Enjoyable vampire silliness prevents it from being a complete waste of time – a ritualistic early scene serves as a blood-soaked highlight – but this is clearly a movie scuppered by a production house which had priorities in the wrong places. It looks pretty good on Blu-ray though.
Dir: Jimmy Sangster
Scr: Tudor Gates
Cast: Yutte Stensgaard, Michael Johnson, Ralph Bates, Mike Raven, Helen Christie, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh, Harvey Hall
Prd: Harry Fine, Michael Style
DOP: David Muir
Music: Harry Robertson
Run time: 95 mins
Lust for a Vampire is arriving on UK Blu-ray and DVD for the first time via Studiocanal on 12th August.