STOP! HAMMER TIME. A Big Bad Bunch of Various Vicious Vamps

by Jake on October 31, 2012

While Hammer enjoyed great success with their Dracula series, they also made a whole slew of other vampire flicks. These varied in style and quality, but they did give Hammer the chance to make more vampire movies without having to rely on Christopher Lee all the time!

Kiss of the VampireThe first non-Dracula Hammer vamp film was ‘The Kiss of the Vampire’ (1963), which was originally intended as a Dracula sequel that, like ‘Brides of Dracula’, didnt actually have the Count in it. Since the final script makes no mention of Dracula whatsoever and since there is no other connection (at least ‘Brides’ had Van Helsing!), it’s really unrelated. The film does carry on the themes of vampirism as a cult and that a decadent lifestyle could lead to becoming a vampire.

The movie takes place in Bavaria, specifically that part of Bavaria where everyone sounds British. A young couple are on their honeymoon, and the wife is abducted by a vampire cult led by the evil Dr. Ravna. The Van Helsing job is handled by a character named Professor Zimmer, who has his own grudge against the vampires. The Prof and husband team up and defeat the vampires, and now the happy couple have a great story to tell their friends when they get home!

This movie is pretty good. Visually, it’s very striking, with the vampire cultists in their ceremonial robes and the like. The ending was actually intended for ‘Brides of Dracula’ – through the use of a magical ritual, a swarm of bats is summoned and they destroy the vampires. Peter Cushing objected, quite rightly pointing out that Van Helsing, a man of science and faith, would not use black magic. Fortunately, Professor Zimmer is okay with it, so they simply used the ending on this movie.

The rest of the films under discussion are from the 70′s, a period in which the standard Hammer formula of blood and heaving bosoms was slightly updated to blood and naked bosoms. Hammer needed to keep up with the times, so their movies got more violent and sexy.

Countess DraculaAnother movie that is not a Dracula sequel is 1971′s ‘Countess Dracula’. Obviously. Okay, misleading title aside, it’s also arguable whether this is even a vampire movie, but let’s just go with it.

The films stars Ingrid Pitt, who will also come up in the next entry. Ms. Pitt was absurdly good-looking and utterly fearless regarding nudity, which was convenient, since this flick has a lot of it.

‘Countess Dracula’ is based on the true story of the Blood Countess, Erzebet (Elizabeth) Bathory, who apparently believed that bathing in the blood of young women would keep her young and beautiful. The film treats thus as the literal truth, with Elizabeth an old woman who emerges from her literal bloodbath looking decades younger. The Countess has to pretend to be her own daughter, in fact! The only real downside is that the only source of a tubful of virgin blood is, well, virgins. So the Countess is really burning through the local virgin population. This is not well-received. Eventually, her crimes are discovered and she’s dealt with.

Vampire LoversThe lovely and talented Ms. Pitt also starred in a much more traditional vampire movie for the studio, ‘The Vampire Lovers’. This 1970 film was the first of the so-called “Karnstein Trilogy” based on ‘Carmilla’, an early vampire story by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.

This movie is, in fact, a loose adaptation of the book. Carmilla is an ancient vampire in Styria, a member of the long dead Karnstein family, who were all vampires, apparently. The story is the usual vampire stuff, except with the added twist of strong lesbian themes – Carmilla likes the ladies, and in fact falls in love with her victim over the course of the film, even while slowly draining the girl’s life away.

This movie was a huge success – at the time, the lesbian aspect was almost unheard of in motion pictures – and the inevitable sequels followed. Sadly, they did not have Ms. Pitt, which was a definite drawback.

‘Lust for a Vampire’ (1971) resurrects Carmilla, now called Millarca and played by Yutte Stensgaard, who you may be familiar with from . . . nothing in particular. This was her biggest role.

In this one, the vampiress enrolls in a finishing school, which is basically like a vampire buffet. She’s also a little more interested in the opposite sex in this movie, although beautiful young ladies still form the base of her food pyramid.

Twins of Evil‘Twins of Evil’ also came out in 1971. This movie is probably a prequel, because the Karnstein family is still alive and it kind of looks from the clothing and such like it’s set sometime in the 1600′s, especially considering the witchfinder group ‘The Brotherhood’.

The twins are in fact, played by actual twins: former Playmates Mary and Madeleine Collins.

In the movie, the twins, Maria and Frieda are sent to live with their uncle in the village of Karnstein. Maria is the good twin, while Frieda is, well, not so much. Frieda takes up with the mysterious Count Karnstein, who gets turned into a vampire and promptly returns the favor by vampirizing Frieda. A lot of mistaken identity shenanigans ensue, but in the end – say it with me – the vampires are destroyed.

The last two movies on this list are the least well-known but perhaps the most interesting. They are very different takes on the standard vampire formula and represent an attempt by Hammer to branch out and try new approaches.

Vampire Circus‘Vampire Circus’ (1972) is one nifty little movie. It starts off with villagers in Austria (the Britishy part of Austria) storming the castle of the vampire Count Mitterhouse, who makes David Bowie look macho. Seriously, the Count is one odd looking dude, even for a vampire! Mitterhouse puts a curse on the village and asks his lady friend to go find his cousin.

Cut ahead 15 years: the curse worked. The village is ravaged by the plague and no one is allowed in or out. Still, a gypsy circus shows up and delights the townsfolk. Except, as the title may have hinted, it’s actually a VAMPIRE CIRCUS led by Count Mitterhouse’s cousin, Emil. The vampires start snacking on the villagers while working to revive the Count. Which they do, just long enough for him to be killed again, along with the rest of the vampires.

Last, but certainly not least is 1974′s ‘Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter’, which was originally conceived as a pilot for a television series. Captain Kronos is a swashbuckling ex-soldier who travels around with the hunchbacked Professor Heironymous Grost, killing vampires. The idea is that there are many different kinds of vampires, with different rules for dealing with each. The vamps in this movie drain their victims of youth, not blood, causing them to wither and die. There’s a hilarious bit of extremely dark comedy where Kronos and Grost have to keep trying various different methods to dispatch their friend, Dr. Marcus, who has been turned into a vampire. Marcus is a willing participant in this process, because he doesn’t want to live as a vampire and the heroes need to learn which method is necessary to dispatch the local vamps. And this scene goes on and on and on, with poor Marcus strangled, stabbed, ET cetera – it’s like some twisted Monty Python sketch! The entire film is, in fact, filled with tongue-in-cheek humor, making it a lit if fun to watch. It also doesn’t hurt that Caroline Munro is around to provide the requisite feminine eye candy.

Captain Kronos, Vampire HunterSadly, ‘Vampire Circus’ and ‘Captain Kronos’ were among the last of the great Hammer movies.
The Dracula and Frankenstein series both petered out and their other films often didn’t get sequels. The studio limped along throughout the 70′s, but their later efforts were critical and box office failures. Hammer continued in television in the 80′s, but the era of Hammer Horror was over.

That being said, attempts are being made to revive the Hammer brand, with remakes of some of their films in various stages of scripting and preproduction. It could be that, like the monsters themselves, Hammer Films will rise again.

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