The Vampire Lovers (Roy Ward Baker / United Kingdom, 1970):

The gently swaying figure in vestal veils is uncloaked as a lambent maiden, with fangs sprouting as her bosom presses against the nobleman's crucifix -- she hisses, a saber is drawn as her head gets separated from her body, a hearty Hammer prologue. The goal is to grab Le Fanu back from Vadim, and the waltzing vampires back from Polanski, as well: "She's looking at you," corrects Pippa Steele's beau at the ball in regards to where Ingrid Pitt's lupine eyes are aimed. Her aunt, Countess Dawn Addams, is called away, so Pitt moves in with Steele, who grows paler and sicker; once the last drop of life is gone, Pitt disappears in the night, the General (Peter Cushing) bellowing behind her. Madeleine Smith is the next dimply ingénue, who yearns to be rescued by Jon Finch, the hairy knight of her dreams; Pitt has her own plans, stepping out of a bathtub in full-frontal opulence to get Smith to undo her bodice, their fun scored to harpsichord tinkling. Director Roy Ward Baker trades Terence Fisher's reds for dreamlike blues, though the monster is still suspended between predator and emancipator, a floating, lesbian subconscious loosening corsets and dodging phallic stakes. The bloodsucking heroine's nighttime raid on a nearby farm (a levitating POV approaching a window, victim tossing in bed, quick zoom on the mother's screaming face) provides the genre in miniature, yet Baker offers eroticism instead of gore, soaked with sapphic angst. Smith relates a reverie where she ends up with a mouth full of muff, Cushing waits in the shadows, Ferdy Mayne's vampirized doctor weirdly resembles Michel Piccoli's Le Marquis in The Milky Way -- the trouble, governess Kate O'Hara declares, lies in "too many fairytales," yet the realm of fables is where desire comes out to play, especially once embodied flesh and spirit, savage and lyrical, by Pitt's Carmilla, a 1970 tragedienne skulking poetically through 1800s graveyards. With George Cole, Douglas Wilmer, and Kirsten Lindholm.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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