Lust for a Vampire 1971 ****

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They didn’t have Comic-Con in 1970, but if they did, they might have been speculating on the franchises and multiverses of the day; would George Lazenby top Sean Connery’s five James Bond films? Would Alan Arkin’s Inspector Clouseau eclipse Peter Sellers? And would Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy launch a horror franchise to dwarf their popular Dracula and Frankenstein revivals? (Bringing back Terrence Fisher and Peter Cushing, plus red hot vampire lesbianism would surely be a draw). The answers to each of these propositions were no, no and no, and miscalculation of audience demands were the cause in each case, but Hammer’s Karnstein films are well overdue a reassessment. Ireland’s J Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla was the jumping off point for 1970’s The Vampire Lovers, but with Fisher and Cushing dropping out for this loose sequel, Jimmy Sangster crafted an unusually restrained treatment of vampire lore. Large dumps of exposition establish that Styria, Austria is a supernatural place where the locals grumble about the influence of the vampire family Karnstein. Writer Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnston) is warned off visiting, but stumbles across a luxurious girls school where the ‘girls’ all appear to be models of about 25 and all wear the kind of diaphanous nighties that suggest auditions for The New Seekers are in progress. The girls are prone to going missing, but owner Miss Simpson (Helen Christie) manages to cover things up by mailing their families death certificates provided by a tame doctor (Radio 1 DJ Mike Raven, voiced by Valentine Dyall). Miss Simpson turns out to be in thrall to vampire Countess Heritzen (Barbara Jefford), but star pupil Mircalla aka Carmilla Karnstein (Yutte Stensgard) seems to be falling for LeStrange via dream sequnces and strange anachronistic bursts of pop-music…Co-star Ralph Bates, who hams it up in the school-teacher role intended for Cushing, reckons Lust for a Vampire was one of the worst films ever made, but in comparison with his 1974 horror stinker Persecution, it’s a masterpiece. The script is literate; as the scrupulous DVD extras carefully point out, if a few scenes from Tudor Gates’s script could be re-instated, would offer an original story in a clever, meta way. Perhaps there’s one crash-zoom into neck-bites too many; there’s an exploitative sequence with the camera cycling through three separate female disrobings that may have quickened pulses at the time but might potentially tax the modern viewer’s patience. Sangster’s energetic direction, however, plus the unfamiliar cast and premise, make Lust for a Vampire a prospect to make the blood rush to the extremities of even the most jaded horror connoisseurs.

On DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK from Aug 12th 2019

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Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires 1974 ***

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Something of a shambles, but enjoyable enough, this hybrid from the Hammer and Shaw Brothers studios mixes vampire horror and kung-fu action; it’s hard to imagine what Peter Cushing made of it all. As Van Helsing, he’s back on the trail of Count Dracula (John Forbes Robertson) in rural China; Roy Ward Baker is a reliable director for hammer films, but the odd-make-up and lengthy fight-scenes seem to have pushed him well outside his comfort zone. Something of a novelty item for genre fans, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is a charmingly odd late-cycle offering.

Salem’s Lot 1979 ***

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While Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining proved to be a hugely influential horror film, there’s many who would argue that Tobe Hooper’s TV miniseries, released in Europe as a feature, had more scares to offer. The town of Salem’s Lot has a population of 2013, but not all of them are alive; novelist Ben Mears (David Soul) moves into town, and teams up with local boy Mark (Lance Kerwin) to fight against the vampires who are taking over. James Mason plays Richard Straker, whose Marsten House hides the secret. The sequence in which the vampires hover outside the windows of unwary teenagers is the stuff of pure nightmares; Reggie Nalder’s Kurt Barlow is an equally disturbing apparition to behold. Kenneth McMillian, Ed Flanders, Bonnie Bedelia and Fred Willard are amongst an accomplished cast.

Only Lovers Left Alive 2013 ***

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It’s always seems unlikely that the vampires featured in Twilight would chose to use their immortality for such dull purposes as matriculating in a remote high-school year after year; writer/director Jim Jarmusch suggests a more fanciful notion, with Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton) playing an un-dead couple who use their time more constructively, seeking it the finer things in life and enjoying them. Against a background of impoverished Detroit, they seek out the best in music and literature until the arrival of Eve’s disruptive sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska). Only Lovers Left Alive has an interesting conceit to explore, but Jarmusch’s sense of humour seems to have escaped him, and the drama feels dry and contrived; only Hiddlestone provides any juice as a vampire with a taste for vintage guitars.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992 ***

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Francis Ford Coppola scored a significant hit with his baroque version of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire tale, helped by a wonderfully over-the-top performance by Gary Oldman. Whether under an immense powdered wig or strutting around England in a top hat and shades, Oldman exudes menace while providing plenty of off-beat comedy. While the rest of the cast are somewhat mismatched in acting styles; Keanu Reeves is a stiff Jonathan Harker and his British accent has been the subject of much merriment, as has Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing. But Coppola pulls together a rich and sumptuous production design, from the shadow-play opening to the various silent movie in-camera tricks to capture the supernatural action. Winona Ryder looks great as Mina, and the romantic link between her and The Count is cleverly set up in a prologue that establishes their thwarted history. It’s more Coppola than Stoker, but with the likes of Tom Waits and Monica Bellucci in support, the result is consistently exciting to watch.

Shadow of the Vampire 2000 ***

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The appearance of actor Max Schreck in the original silent film Nosferatu is so bizarre that urban legend has it that he was actually a vampire, coaxed into appearing before the camera. This fanciful idea gets a playful treatment in director E Elias Merhige’s clever film, in which the controlling FW Murnau (John Malkovich) attempts to wrangle Schreck (Willem Dafoe) into his role, a battle of wills with Schreck holding a surprise in check. Gleeful in its take on cinema history, Shadow of the Vampire is an ingenious black comedy about the early days of cinema, and a smart, articulate horror film to boot, with Dafoe and Malkovich excellent, and Eddie Izzard, Cary Elwes and the perennially sinister Udo Kier in support.

Immoral Tales 1974 ***

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Poland’s Walerian Borowcyck was originally hailed as an art-house auteur, but his 1970’s output had a commercial success that was more in keeping with the idea that he was a master of erotica. Somewhere between Goto, Island of Love and The Beast comes 1974’s Immoral Tales, a quartet of short stories from the pen of André Pieyre de Mandiargues. The openers, The Tide and Therese Philosophe, are the weakest, although the former has a poetic sense of time and a modern-day setting. The concluding two, Erzsebet Bathory and Lucrezia Borgia are both visually stunning, the first dealing with the classic story of the countess who bathed in the blood, and the final a tale of religious debauchery. If you can accept the degree of sexual detail involved, Erzsebet Bathothy’s sumptuous locations and music are worth seeing in their own right; the mood and historical content are enough to give soft-core cinema a good name.