Lust for a Vampire
Where did it all go wrong for poor old Hammer, eh? Given Christopher Lee was a superstar in the 2000’s, they could maybe have kept going for quite a while. And they were making great movies right up until the end - The Devil Rides Out is one of my all time favourite horrors. But something happened to the Hammer name; they went from being well-regarded tellers of classic horror stories to a punchline for silliness, unoriginality, and nonsense.
Now, I lay the blame for this sad decay at the feet of one man. Of course, your time marches on and all the rest of it, people change and what sells change, but you only have to look at something like ‘Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde’ to know Hammer were not only capable of keeping up with the times but they could still make damn fun movies too. So, quite frankly, this idea that they just wheezed and stumbled through the seventies grabbing onto tits for support like a paralytic bishop in a brothel is utter piffle. No, there is one man to blame for the Hammer name becoming synonymous with terrible tat: Tudor Gates. Tudor bloody Gates.
I refuse to believe this is his real name by the way. I can find no evidence that it isn’t, but come on. What I can tell you for sure is that he wrote The Karnstein Trilogy for Hammer, and that he is a terrible, terrible, terrible writer. I mean, you have to ask yourself how could anyone make a film about a murderous lesbian vampire dull? How is that even possible? I’ll tell you how - Tudor flipping Gates.
The sad thing is that it’s not a bad idea at all from the chaps at the top of Hammer; to take a less well-known, but still classic, vampire story about a lesbian temptress named Carmilla and do a whole bunch of films about her. If the people want boobs, then have we got the vampire story for you! But then they inexplicably hired some total berk who had never written for them before, who then turned in a steaming pile of tosh for the first of the trilogy - The Vampire Lovers. But because it did well (correction, ‘Ooh! Boobs!’ did well) they asked him to write them another one. And as a reward for this idiotic decision they were given Lust for a Vampire, a film that I honestly think murdered Hammer, even though it took it years to die.
You see, it’s not that Lust for a Vampire is stupid, nonsensical, badly acted, badly written balderdash from stupid start to awful finish - although by God it is that and so much less - it’s something far, far worse; it’s corrosive to the Hammer name. After all, they had made terrible films before and survived. No, this movie is Hammer’s murderer because it renders every familiar trope of their films ridiculous and laughable. In one fail swoop it takes all of the things that make a film a Hammer film and does each and every one of them so wretchedly that you can never take them seriously again, its stink so strong that it escapes this movie and infects all their others.
You know, Hammer had a reputation for being silly, almost laughable, films when I grew up. But they weren’t at all when they started. They were stylish and scary and atmospheric and great. They were classic British b-movies, well-loved and successful for a reason. But how can you take any of them seriously after a buffoon like Gates steals everything that makes them good, feeds them through the shit-sausage factory of his mind, and watches them come out the other side these laughable, empty cliches? Because he ends up replicating their calling cards in such a one-dimensional, crappy, lazy, clueless way it means you can’t ever watch a Hammer film again without finding the whole exercise faintly ridiculous for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on.
But you can put your finger on it in this one, don’t you worry about that. There’s things like not being able to persuade Christopher Lee to be involved (what a surprise) and so going out and hiring a local radio DJ to dress up and act like Christopher Lee, and then overdub him with some ridiculous phony deep voice. They even go as far as stealing a close-up of Lee’s eyes from another movie! It’s so patently ridiculous it’s almost parody. Or how about hiring some supposedly charming rake to be the lead, but instead stumbling across a man with perhaps the least amount of acting talent in England. In fact, everyone in the entire movie is a character you’ve seen before in Hammer films but then they’ve inexplicably hired absolutely the worst actors they could possibly have hired. I REFUSE to believe these were the best available, not unless the auditions were held on the ‘every single decent actor society’s annual day trip to Blackpool’.
And the things that happen are just… daft! I mean, the lead dullard at one point picks up books that his professor mate has been studying and looks at the spine. And instead of that mounting dread the audience should get when he realises that what his mate has been looking into proves his true love is a vampire, instead we get a voice-over where the bloke intones very seriously the name of the book that we can see quite clearly written on the spine! Presumably, Tudor is afraid that because the books don’t have nipples there’s no reason for the audience to be looking at them. And anyway, by this point he already knows she’s a vampire so there’s no bloody point in the damn scene! Frankly, I don’t even want to get into how the strong lesbian vampire capable of seducing anyone she pleases falls in love with the sleazy dullard, as if only a man can free her from.. From what? Being an effing vampire?! Being dark and destructive, sure, but at least single-minded and powerful. But, oh no, Tudor knows all lesbians are just waiting for the right blow-dried blowhard to ignore the fact that they are re-incarnated PURE EVIL to get all weepy and roll around in the grass with the wooden idiot while a 1970’s pop song sloshes all over the soundtrack like traffic-jam forced piss in a coke can.
The boobs aren’t even any good! It’s just a bunch of birds getting ready for bed about ten minutes in and… that’s your lot pretty much. What is the bleeding point in this weeping zit of a movie if it doesn’t even use its rank terribleness to deliver good boobs?
Look, I normally don’t get too upset about bad Hammer films, there’s usually something to like even in the not great ones. But there is nothing, nothing at all, in this one that even comes close to being a bit good. And more than that, much more, is that I really do believe that by telling its tawdry dirge of a story in the language, imagery, atmosphere and character of a Hammer movie that it forever condemned all those things to the perpetual damnation of silliness. You couldn’t ever take Hammer seriously again after this. It’s such a god-damned shame, that’s all I can say.
But you know what sums this movie up perfectly? They have the fearful Landlord warn the witless wonder not to go up to the Castle in an exact copy of all the times that’s happened in other Hammers, but then use it as nothing more than the set-up to an execrable and utterly worthless gag. It’s almost a post-modern joke at Hammer’s expense made by a sleazy, no-talent hack who isn’t fit to lick the boots of the greats who came before him.
Tudor Gates. Tudor effing gates. I need a drink just thinking about it. Speaking of which…