Lust for a Vampire
U.K. / 1971
Directed by Jimmy Sangster
Ralph Bates
Suzanna Leigh
Yutte Stensgaard
Color / 95 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
More lesbian undead courtesy of Hammer Films.
    Lust for a Vampire followed quickly on the box-office success of 1970's The Vampire Lovers, which upped the ante on the traditional gothic horror trappings with its Sapphic eroticism, bare female bodies and bloody beheadings. More or less a sequel to that film, Lust forms the second entry in Hammer's "Karnstein Trilogy" very loosely based on Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla which concluded with Twins of Evil. This is definitely the runt of the litter.
    Decades after the events of the first film, the Austrian province of Styria is once again plagued by the cancerous evil of the Karnstein family. A noble house of Satan-worshipping vampires, the Karnsteins feed off the local populace in between periods when they vanish for years at a time. During their latest visitation a virginal maiden is kidnapped by Count and Countess Karnstein (Mike Raven, Barbara Jefford), and then sacrificed in a blood ritual to restore another member of the family to "life": Mircalla Karnstein, the beautiful vampiress beheaded at the climax of Lovers. (Played by Ingrid Pitt in that film but by the younger Yutte Stensgaard, a Danish model, here.) Posing as the niece of the Countess Herritzen, Mircalla enrolls at an elite girl's academy catering to the daughters of wealthy Brits and Americans. Conveniently the school is located just over the hill from Castle Karnstein. She's not all that concerned with furthering her education her chief interest being the availability of nubile young females to seduce and exsanguinate. Turns out Miracalla doesn't even have to make the first move; her American roommate, Susan (Pippa Steele), is a lesbian quick to offer the therapeutic ministrations of a topless back rub.
A traveling English novelist, Richard Lestrange (the very Timothy Dalton-ish Michael Johnson) has also wormed his way into the school to get at the chicks. He arranges to divert the newly-arrived English instructor to Vienna so that he himself can graciously take up that duty. It's love at first sight when Lestrange spies Mircalla. He pursues her, oblivious of her nightly assignations with Susan (as well as other girls). Another man on the premises is not so naive, yet equally obsessed Giles Barton (Horror of Frankenstein's Ralph Bates), the creepy art instructor and co-owner of the school. Steeped in the history of Castle Karnstein, Barton realizes Mircalla's true identity. One night he watches her kill Susan in the woods, then hides the body, saying nothing. He confronts Mircalla, begging to be turned into a vampire himself. Instead she drains him and leaves him to die.
The school's dance instructor, Janet Playfair (Lost Continent's Suzanna Leigh), starts forming her own suspicions while at the same time, in a sappy subplot, falling in love with Lestrange. His attentions remain firmly fixed on Mircalla, however; the lesbian vampire decides to swing the other way for once and grants him a night of earthly love she gives up the booty but doesn't bite him. Lestrange is totally obsessed now, refusing to aid Janet in getting to the bottom of things. Further complicating matters for Janet is the headmistress, Miss Simpson (Helen Christie), who's fallen under the influence of Countess Herritzen (actually Karnstein) and is covering up the deaths and disappearances. But Susan's father comes calling, determined to get answers, as well as Inspector Heinrich (Harvey Hall, also in Lovers) of the Austrian police. The local villagers, too, are getting restless... Time to light those torches!
Lust for a Vampire is sub-par Hammer, even with the barebreasted beauties to keep things lively. It features one of the worst pop songs ever used in a vampire flick, the gratingly awful "Strange Love". For a story this thin we get much too little in the way of titillation or outright horror. Sluggish and cheap-looking, it's hamstrung by some rather slapdash production values. In one scene, when the Karnstein's coachman attempts to escape the mob, a camera crew can clearly be seen positioned by the roadside. A key special effect, in which a character is impaled by a burning piece of wood, uses perhaps the phoniest dummy I've ever seen in a movie totally ruining the film's fiery climax. The ending shot of Karnstein Castle in flames is stock footage lifted straight from the previous year's Scars of Dracula. That's not all that was cribbed from the vault... During the blood ritual, close-ups of Count Karnstein's eyes are actually inserts culled from a Christopher Lee Dracula flick! (Lee's bloodshot orbs should get a guest-starring credit in the titles.) And speaking of Count Karnstein, Mike Raven whose voice was dubbed over for the final product essays a rather unimpressive master vampire, making periodic appearances throughout trying vainly to look sinister. He's not as bad as Zandor Vorkoff in Dracula vs. Frankenstein, mind you, but...
    Thankfully the other performers fare better. Bates and Leigh are always watchable; Johnson is quite good as the besotted Lestrange. Starlet Yutte Stensgaard is no thespian she's often a vacuous presence here but her obvious physical attributes serve her well in the role. (It isn't a particularly demanding one, anyway.) She does have nice bristols.

Anchor Bay continues its policy of quality with this latest addition to the company's Hammer Collection, which streeted simultaneously with Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (also starring Bates). Lust for a Vampire's 16x9-enhanced, widescreen (1.77:1) video transfer looks virtually flawless; the disc boasts a digital mono audio track that's crisp, clear and devoid of hiss and "cracklies".
    Bonus materials collected for this edition should please Hammerheads immensely. The original theatrical trailer is included, along with a pair of lurid radio spots aimed at the American exploitation market. In keeping with the last batch of Anchor Bay Hammers there's a montage of photos and production stills set to the movie's main theme. An audio commentary with director Jimmy Sangster and costar Suzanna Leigh, nicely moderated by film historian Marcus Hearn, ranges over the production of the film as well as things Hammer in general. Leigh contributes much more here than would be indicated by her relatively minor role in Lust; the elderly Sangster, by the way, positively loathes the flick! There's also a nice Easter Egg on the disc. At the Extras menu screen, arrow over until a scarlet cross is highlighted on the hilt of Karnstein's dagger, then select. This gains access to a montage of Stensgaard glamour shots, including a couple of topless ones. (But be warned... This cheesecake gallery is set to the strains of the truly horrid "Strange Love"
.) 12/09/01