Slowly but sure­ly, the clas­sic Hammer films of yes­ter­year are creep­ing their way into high-def­i­n­i­tion.  Synapse led the way in the U.S. via releas­es like Vampire Circus and Twins Of Evil and now gen­re upstarts Scream Factory have thrown their hat into the ring with a blu-ray edi­tion of The Vampire Lovers.  The results build nice­ly upon the old MGM Midnite Movies DVD of this title, offer­ing an upgrade in A/V qual­i­ty as well as some new extras.

The video trans­fer does solid work by a dif­fi­cult title.  The MGM Midnite Movies disc restored footage lost in U.S. prints for the first time and that uncut ver­sion is pre­sent­ed in this new high-def­i­n­i­tion trans­fer.  There is some speck­ling on the source mate­ri­al, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the first half of the film, but the clar­i­ty and vivid nature of the col­ors are much improved in this new trans­fer.  Flesh tones are pret­ty nice, which is impor­tant for a fleshy film like this.  The mono sound­track is pre­sent­ed in a DTS loss­less ver­sion that sounds quite good, with crisp dia­logue and an appro­pri­ate­ly aggres­sive use of Harry Robinson’s lav­ish musi­cal score.

Fans will be hap­py to know that the extras from the Midnite Movies disc are pre­served here.  The main item is a com­men­tary track fea­tur­ing direc­tor Roy Ward Baker, screen­writer Tudor Gates, actress Ingrid Pitt, with Jonathan Sothcott act­ing as mod­er­a­tor.  The results cov­er a lot of ground, includ­ing affec­tionate mem­o­ries of Peter Cushing, the chal­lenges of doing such an “adult” pro­duc­tion for the first time at Hammer and Pitt’s thoughts on the source mate­ri­al and her character’s nature (inter­est­ing­ly, she emphat­i­cal­ly denies that Carmilla is a les­bian). Sothcott’s mod­er­at­ing is effec­tive but sub­tle, gen­tly guid­ing the con­ver­sa­tion with peri­od­ic ques­tions to keep it all on track.  Pitt’s voice is a lit­tle weak, as she was very ill at the time it was record­ed, so you might have to up the vol­ume a bit but this track is well worth the lis­ten for Hammer fans.

Also includ­ed from the MGM disc is a record­ing of Pitt read­ing excerpts from LeFanu’s “Carmilla,” with a mon­tage of appro­pri­ate moments from the film play­ing beneath it.  Interestingly, the voice issues that impact­ed Pitt’s con­tri­bu­tion to the com­men­tary track actu­al­ly aid her per­for­mance here, with her low, whis­pery style enhanc­ing the creepi­ness of the sto­ry.  The MGM extras are round­ed out by the A.I.P. the­atri­cal trail­er of the film, which gave the U.S. mar­ket an old-fash­ioned hard sell with lots of scream­ing sce­nes and a big red “V” for vam­pires.

Scream Factory has added a nifty pair of fea­turettes to enhance the extras sec­tion here.  “Feminine Fantastique” is a 10-min­ute short from Daniel Griffith about the his­to­ry of The Vampire Lovers that includes input from Hammer expert Ted Newsom, gen­re crit­ics David J. Skal and Kim Newman and more.  It packs a lot of info into ten tight­ly-paced min­utes, cov­er­ing pro­duc­tion info as well as its con­text in the his­to­ry of Hammer.  Surprisingly, the most inter­est­ing com­ments come from a new face: John-Paul Checkett offers a fas­ci­nat­ing read of both “Carmilla” and how this film adapts it.

The oth­er fea­turet­te is “Madeline Smith: Vampire Lover!”  As the title sug­gest, it’s an inter­view with for­mer ingénue who made her debut as Ingrid Pitt’s key tar­get in this film.  Smith offers a fond, sly­ly humor­ous com­men­tary on her mem­o­ries of the film, includ­ing how she dealt with the required nudi­ty (there’s a fun­ny anec­dote about how she “built up” her bust for the role), what it was like to work with Pitt and direc­tor Baker and her cri­tique of her own work.  She’s a delight to lis­ten to and fans will def­i­nite­ly enjoy hear­ing her thoughts.

The Scream Factory extras are round­ed out by a new ani­mat­ed gallery of images, also han­dled by Daniel Griffith, that includes stills, ads, behind-the-sce­nes pho­tos and pub­lic­i­ty images.  Fans of the film will be pleased by the inclu­sion of sev­er­al stun­ning images of Pitt in a diaphanous black gown.  There is also a radio ad from the film’s U.S. release that trum­pets the adults-only nature of its R-rat­ing, which was a bit of a nov­el­ty in 1970.

All in all, Scream Factory has done fine work here and Hammer fans will enjoy this addi­tion to the slow­ly but sure­ly grow­ing reper­toire of Hammer on blu-ray.