Digi-Schlock: THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (Shout! Factory Blu-Ray)

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 ingenue 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.

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