Color, 1971, 94 mins. / Directed by Jimmy Sangster / Starring Ralph Bates, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh, Yutte Stensgaard, Michael Johnson, Helen Christie, Pippa Steel / Written by Tudor Gates / Music by Harry Robertson / Cinematography by David Muir

Format: DVD - Anchor Bay (MSRP $29.99) / Letterboxed (1.78:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono

Easily the dippiest of Hammer's three vampire films based on J. Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla, this extended Playboy spread masquerading as a horror film was closely sandwiched between the classier The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil. However, this mongrel entry has earned a reputation as a Hammer fan's guilty pleasure thanks to its unabashed celebration of all the erotic vampire cliches, from women in flowing gowns wandering through mist to extended love scenes replete with bared fangs. Thirty years later it still isn't really all that good, but at least now the film's visual luster has been restored and its cheesecake quotient remains undiminished.

Picking up the role from Ingrid Pitt, lovely Danish actress Yutte Stensgaard stars as Mircalla, the conflicted vampiress who preys upon the countryside. Here she's joined by the less important Count Karnstein (Mike Raven), seemingly afflicted with the same case of redeye as Christopher Lee's Dracula, and together they arrange rampant (but decidedly cut rate) sacrifices and orgies in their remote castle. Their latest target is a nearby girl's school, where jittery teacher Giles (Ralph Bates) takes the girls on educational strolls through the woods. Mircalla gradually insinuates herself into this distaff community, dabbling in moonlight skinnydipping and light lesbian foreplay. However, her plans are disrupted when she runs into superstud Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnson), who tries to make her an honest woman despite her need to ravage people's throats. Not surprisingly, it all ends badly... and bloodily.

Released by MGM-EMI back in the early '70s, Lust for a Vampire met the same fate of its predecessor -- namely, an attack of the censor's scissors. The truncated U.S. version (usually shown as To Love a Vampire) turned up most often on television and even more inexplicably was released on VHS by Republic, following an uncut presentation by HBO on videotape and, coupled with Die Monster Die, on laserdisc from Image. Production values are still admirable for a later period Hammer title, and the decision to retain the period gothic setting is admirable; however, the ramping up of sex and violence results in some unintentional guffaws, the most infamous being Mircalla's cross-eyed rapture accompanied by the film's theme song, "Strange Love." (Actually the music by Harry Robinson is excellent as always, but the film never fails to misuse it.) Bates is mostly wasted in a role that basically serves no function at all, but Stensgaard is passable considering the fact that she's dubbed and usually unclothed. When people trash Hammer films for focusing entirely on women's cleavage and melodramatics at the expense of substance, this is usually the title they have in mind -- but really, is there anything wrong with that?

The aforementioned video versions of Lust for a Vampire have been abysmal, in keeping with HBO's early treatment of its other catalog titles. The difference here is night and day as the film now erupts with riotous colors of every scheme; the blood (of which there is plenty) looks blindingly red, and the night schemes are now appropriately drenched in those blue day for night lighting gels. Most importantly this is the full, uncut version back in circulation at last. The mono soundtrack is more full bodied than the laserdisc by several yards, and the music is no longer shrill and distorted. The disc also includes the British theatrical trailer (no U.S. one, alas), as well as a photo and poster gallery, but the big plus here is a commentary track with Sangster and actress Suzanna Leigh. They spend most of the time going over production details (clothing, sets, etc.) but offer some good yarns, including a detailed account of Terence Fisher's slated involvement. A must for Hammer fans, obviously.

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