DECEMBER 22, 2010
Is it possible to get so many things "wrong" when watching a movie? As Lust For A Vampire began, I noticed that there was a credit for "based on characters by", which is usually something you'd see in a sequel. "Is this a sequel?" I thought. Later, I learned that it WAS, which I assumed was why so much of the movie baffled me, so I looked it up on Netflix and was delighted to discover that the first film (The Vampire Lovers) was available on instant, so I made it my movie for tomorrow. THEN, I discover that the "based on" credit was actually for the author of the book that both films were based on. And, as you'll read about in that film's review, the films are about as connected as the average James Bond film (in other words, barely), and thus watching it didn't help much in understanding this one.
The biggest problem is that there are about 19 girls in the finishing school where most of it takes place, which is about 13 too many. Also, I had trouble telling some of them apart, so there was a lot of "I thought she was dead." "Maybe now she's a vampire?" "Oh wait no that's the other girl." type conversations going on in my head. And of course, listening to my own mental conversations (which, let's not beat around the bush here, also included random Meat Loaf lyrics, what achievements I could earn on my next round of Halo: Reach, whether or not I had left my computer on at work, etc) distracted me away from the nearly non-stop conversations in the film itself.
No Hammer movie is exactly an action-packed thrill ride, but even by their standards this is one dry, talky movie. Most of the kills are off-screen, with folks just finding a girl with two bite marks the next morning or whatever. And at times, the vampire plot threatens to be dwarfed by the "school covers up a girl's disappearance", which, needless to say, isn't quite as interesting. Yes, put the undead bloodsuckers away, I want to know how they explain one of their victims to a girl's dad (in the 3rd act of the film no less, long after I had forgotten the girl's name anyway). Now, combining Picnic At Hanging Rock with a vampire movie is actually a cool idea, but only if it's more about the events, not the talking about them.
It also looks cheap, which is a shame because usually even the weakest Hammer films can be enjoyed on a visual level. The women are beautiful, of course, but the backdrops are laughably fake, and the color is bland for the most part as well. Apparently, Terence Fisher dropped out at the last minute and was replaced by Jimmy Sangster, who wasn't given any time to prepare (and pretty much hates the film), so at least there's a good reason for it, but still - you have to be a die hard Hammer apologist to want to recommend this one for any real reason, I think.
There's also a guy called Count Karnstein who pops up from time to time, which just adds to the film's rather half-assed feel due to the fact that the actor (Mike Raven) looks like a Christopher Lee stunt double (in fact, I'm 99% positive they use Lee's actual eyes for a closeup at one point). No Ingrid Pitt, No Lee, no Fisher, no Cushing (he was in the first one as well, and dropped out of this one), no Oliver Reed... how is this even a Hammer movie?
Luckily it DOES have some good bits, such as the awesome reviving scene, with blood being poured on a skeleton, which magically becomes the lovely Yutte Stensgaard (replacing Pitt, who played the role in Vampire Lovers). She even rises and walks for a bit with a bloody sheet over her, which is like something out of Hellraiser or something. I also loved that the coach driver turned out to be a vampire! Every period vampire movie has a coach driver, and he's usually just cryptic or completely anonymous, so I like that this thankless role finally got mixed up a bit (plus the actor has a rather amusing face, so for a few seconds the movie's actually a lot of fun).
And, not to be crass, but if you enjoy lesbian overtones in your vampire movies, this should satisfy you to some degree, as Stensgaard makes moves on a few of the girls. Nothing as explicit as Black Swan or Devil's Nightmare (odd theme for the week here at HMAD), but you know, there it is. The finale also feels very Hammer-ish, as there is a fire, some peasants, and a quick denouement (though the Count is left standing, pointing out that fire doesn't hurt him - there's actually a third film called Twins Of Evil, with yet another cast overhaul and Cushing returning to play a different character than the one he played in Vampire Lovers). But it's just not enough to give this one a passing grade.
The commentary is a delight, however. Featuring Sangster and Suzanna Leigh (who plays one of the finishing school women, but is best known to me as the star of The Deadly Bees!), plus a Hammer expert as moderator (forgot the name, sorry), the trio (mostly Leigh) dish good-natured dirt on their dead co-stars and crew members, tell anecdotes that are in no way relevant to anyone but themselves, and mock the horridly awesome "theme song" called "Strange Love" that plays over one of the (straight) love scenes. Sangster doesn't say much, which I guess is a shame since he doesn't like the movie - might have been fun to hear him take the piss out of it more often. However at the end, when the moderator guy asks him if he has any final words, Sangster just says "No." and that's that, which is funnier than any overt mockery anyway. There are some better than average bios and radio spots as well, plus the trailer that makes it look a lot more exciting. Good extras for a bad movie = OK DVD, I guess?
What say you?