At the start of the 1970’s Hammer decided to up their game with more sex and violence than they previously had featured in their films. The reason was that the industry had changed and while the studio was the forerunner of horror and gore in the late 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s they were now seen as old fashioned costumed dramas. Films like Rosemary’s Baby had started changing the game.
When Hammer adapted Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu (which had previously been adapted as Vampyr in 1932 and Blood and Roses in 1960) it would kick start a lesbian vampire trend that overtook the start of the ’70s. This would be the last time Hammer would be “innovating” the horror genre.
Ingrid Pitt stars as Marcilla/Carmilla, the last of the Karnstein family and a vampire. The movie starts with Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) trying to destroy the Karnstein family for murdering his sister but one of them escapes. General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) is holding a party when a Countess and her daughter Marcilla arrive. The Countess has to leave suddenly and the General offers shelter to Marcilla and introduces her to his niece Laura (Pippa Steel). Marcilla soon becomes more than just a friend to Laura and then Laura ends up dead, drained of blood.
Marcilla, now calling herself Carmilla, moves on to the next wealthy estate and the next young victim. Young Emma (Madeline Smith) soon falls under Carmilla spell but the Baron Hartog and General Spielsdorf are hot on her trail.
The Vampire Lovers would spawn two sequels, the terrible Lust of the Vampire and Twins of Evil. While other filmmakers started amping up the sex and lesbianism with knock-offs like Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos, Daughters of Darkness and Vampyres, the rest of the Karnstein trilogy downplayed the lesbianism. Ingrid Pitt would only make one more Hammer movie, Countess Dracula which was based on the Elizabeth Báthory legend. Hammer’s glory days were behind them and the studio would only last a few more years.