Thursday, December 10, 2009

LUST FOR A VAMPIRE

DVD Review
LUST FOR A VAMPIRE
The filmic equivalent of LIVE! NUDE! VAMPIRES!

Byline: JASON HENDERSON

LUST FOR A VAMPIRE
Reviewed Format: DVD
Rated: R
Stars: Michael Johnson, Suzanna Leigh, Ralph Bates, Yutte Stensgaard
Writer: Tudor Gates
Director: Jimmy Sangster
Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Original Year of Release: 1971
Retail Price: $24.98
Extras: anamorphic widescreen; audio commentary; trailers; bios; gallery of posters and stills
Movie Grade: B- Disc Grade: B-

The best image in LUST FOR A VAMPIRE comes right up front, as a red-and-black-cloaked vampire cuts a peasant girl's throat and pours the blood out on a skeleton while he chants in Latin in order to bring a hot naked female vampire to life.

Lurid and absurd, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE lies as far from the lush power of HORROR OF DRACULA as a vampire film from the same studio can get. But unlike its handsomely snooty sister release BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE is never dull. LUST FOR A VAMPIRE is the kind of bad film that never seems to even dream it could be a good one. We could argue that all works should strive for greater heights, but that's another discussion.

I like this strange, randy movie, where a vaguely promising plot is occasionally interrupted by LIVE! NUDE! VAMPIRES! The story tells of the square-jawed freelance writer Richard LeStrange, a man far less interesting than his name, who travels across the Hammerscape in 1831 to research vampires and ghosts, topics in which he has no belief. When LeStrange discovers a school for girls in the shadow of a famous ruined castle, he insinuates himself into a job as an English teacher, chiefly so he can chase the girls at the school.

You have to love a movie where not only do professors brazenly chase students, but in fact it's the reason they become professors. We can't blame him-- this is a school where the students spend much of the day giggling, playing on the lawn, and doing weird isometric exercises in chiffon robes. These exercises, shown when LeStrange first arrives, feel as if the schoolmarm is training some sort of scarf-wielding Kung Fu Army, and promise a much weirder film than LUST FOR A VAMPIRE actually is.

At the school, LeStrange falls immediately in love with Yutte Stensgaard as Mircalla, a blank-expressioned but buxomy new student. Mircalla and the professor start a secret affair, calling for LeStrange to cover for Mircalla, who is also a lesbian vampire with a knack for killing locals and fellow students. But if there's any reason to see LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, it's not the Stensgaard skinny-dipping or the lesbian kissing or the extreme nippular content of the film. The reason to see LUST FOR A VAMPIRE is "Strange Love," a slow pop song (not unlike "To Sir With Love") that plays over LeStrange and Mircalla's moonlight love scene. The warbly 1970 song jars the movie with such absurdity that the viewer is left utterly thrilled that he saw such a travesty.

Chasing after LeStrange is fellow professor Janet Playfair (!), Suzanna Leigh, for whom prospects must be quite limited. Janet wants to turn Mircalla in, but LeStrange, in love with the student, tries to stop her. By the end of the film, when Mircalla's vampire act is discovered and suddenly an Act III mob chase is upon us, Miss Playfair seems to win the day. Sadly, she remains covered.

Jimmy Sangster, the man who actually wrote CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA, directs LUST FOR A VAMPIRE as if he hopes they all get out alive. Apparently he fell into the job when Terence Fisher broke a leg, and Sangster has never liked the film. For me it's a weirdly watchable mess: LUST FOR A VAMPIRE is a film that has studied every trapping of a decent Hammer film-- witness the weird colors-- and has bungled every one of them. It's a bad, bad film, but I could watch it ten times before sitting through more expensive mistakes like THE AVENGERS again.

It's worth noting that technically LUST FOR A VAMPIRE is the second film in a loose Hammer trilogy called the Karnstein Cycle, which dealt with characters based on Le Fanu's Carmilla. It would be interesting to watch the film with the other two, the superior VAMPIRE LOVERS and TWINS OF EVIL. But TWINS hasn't seen the light of day in years.

About the LUST FOR A VAMPIRE DVD. Once again we have an anamorphic widescreen presentation which can play havoc with some DVD players, rendering an elongated picture at times. Otherwise it's a decent enough DVD, with commentary once again moderated by writer Marcus Hearn. After the poor video I've seen of this film in the past, it's nice to see how clean it appears here. The colors really rip.

As always, though, I have questions-- why do the talent bios include Yutte Stensgaard, but not Suzanne Leigh, who actually provides commentary with Director Sangster? Why include Ralph Bates, who plays a supporting role, but not Michael Johnson, who plays the lead? And I can't stand the bio of Yutte Stensgaard, which is snobbish and mean to a woman who, though not much of an actress, most likely never meant any harm. (Bruce Wright in Nightwalkers points out that acting is relative, anyway, and compared to anyone in Ed Wood's films, Yutte Stensgaard is fantastic.)

Also, points off for no closed captioning.

All in all, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE is a big, lurid splash of red from Hammer, a permissive reel in yet another direction as the studio tried to find a new voice in the early seventies. It's as bad as everyone ever said-- no missing gem in the way I argued SCARS OF DRACULA was-- but it's enjoyable, amazingly bad for all that.

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