Some of horror's finest scream queens were born from the Hammer Films' legacy of the 1950's to the 1970's. These voluptuous vixens smoldered across the big screen, giving vampires and vampire hunters alike a run for their money. Their contribution to Hammer's popularity is undeniable and unforgettable, helping to earn the studio an international reputation for stylish, erotic and atmospheric gems.

Titan Books recently released Hammer Glamour, which highlights 50 of Hammer's finest leading ladies in full-color glory--complete with stories, where are they now tidbits and candid photos from the Hammer archives. This attractive hardcover book is a wonderful addition to any fan's library. You can read my full review of the book for more information.

In honor of Hammer's glamour girls and the films they helped make famous, here is part one of my weekly countdown to six of the sexiest in Hammer history.

Known for her role as the seductive vampire in films like Countess Dracula and The Vampire Lovers, Ingrid Pitt remains Hammer's most recognizable face. When the company was reestablished in 2007, they chose Ingrid to feature in their first production, Beyond the Rave.

In 1969 Ingrid was approached to star in the The Vampire Lovers and was warned about the film's nude, lesbian scenes, but she was unfazed. Her role as the predatory Marcilla/Carmilla Karnstein oozed with sexual confidence as she seduced the wide-eyed, young girls in a small village--killing some and transforming others. The Vampire Lovers is part of the Karnstein Trilogy, which also includes the films Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil. The cast included Peter Cushing as General von Spielsdorf and other Hammer hotties Madeline Smith, Kate O'Mara, Kirsten Betts and Pippa Steele.

The story begins with a mysterious woman who leaves her beautiful daughter, Marcilla (Pitt), in the care of General von Spielsdorf (Cushing). His daughter, Laura (Steele), quickly takes a liking to Marcilla and as their friendship develops she starts to suffer from horrible nightmares of a cat attacking her. Eventually her health deteriorates, she dies and Marcilla disappears without a trace.

Later on, in another part of the village, the mysterious woman returns, this time staging a carriage accident. She's with her 'daughter' who she now calls Carmilla (Pitt) and convinces a passerby to take Carmilla in while she attends to other matters. Lucky for Carmilla he has a daughter, Emma (Smith), whom Carmilla befriends and falls in love with. Soon, Emma is having the same dreams of a large cat visiting her nightly. She recounts her "lifelike" dream to Carmilla in horror: "...The [cat] lies across me, warm and heavy, and I feel its fur in my mouth, and I retch with fear, and then. . .it turns into you, Carmilla!" don't say. Emma's governess (O'Mara) and Butler also fall prey to Carmilla's charms. A hot bathtub scene, girl-on-girl nibbling and several dead bodies later, Carmilla's true identity is revealed.

The film's gorgeous sets, costumes and location (shot in Hertfordshire, England) nicely complement the characters and erotic-goings on. One of the most interesting things about the film is its depiction of high society threatened by the 'outside' influence of the voraciously sexual woman. The fact that she also happens to be a vampire seems secondary throughout much of the film. Throw in the lesbian twist and we have ourselves a whole new metaphor. Is this story really about the sexual taboos of the time (lesbian or not) or is it a warning to girls that they shouldn't go against their moral and social upbringing? No matter how you slice it, The Vampire Lovers is good stuff. The film is based on the novella, Carmilla, by Irish writer J. Sheridan Le Fanu and influenced generations of filmmakers, writers and aritsts in their portrayal of the iconic female vampire. Ingrid Pitt certainly led the way for other starlets in this role and remains one of horror's most beloved Hammer women.
categories Features, Reviews, Horror