I have to give the folks at MGM credit for finally bringing Hammer classic THE VAMPIRE LOVERS to DVD and throwing in COUNTESS DRACULA as a bonus- then pricing the disc at a bargain basement $14.98. Since I tend to think of COUNTESS DRACULA as a bonus feature, it should be pretty obvious that I consider it as the lesser of the two evils offered on the DVD, and not quite up to the classic status of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. Of course, Hammer fans will find COUNTESS DRACULA to be a fairly enjoyable little horror offering, notable for the presence of the lovely Ingrid Pitt (well, at least part of the time anyway).
Loosely adapted from the exploits of Sixteenth Century Hungarian Countess Elizabeth BŠthory, COUNTESS DRACULA tells the story of Countess Elisabeth Nodosheen (Pitt), an elderly widowed noblewoman who discovers that bathing in the blood of young virgins restores her youth and beauty. In pursuit of a handsome young officer she wants to bed, the countess begins slaughtering the local peasantry. While the premise is promising, the actual film is too slow moving for its own good, plus COUNTESS DRACULA falls short in oneís expectations for blood and female nudity. The cast of COUNTESS DRACULA also includes Nigel Green, Sandor ElŤs, Maurice Denham, Patience Collier, Peter Jeffrey and Lesley-Anne Down.
MGM Home Entertainment has made COUNTESS DRACULA in a 1.66:1 wide screen presentation that has NOT been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. While the 1.66:1 transfer looks respectable enough on a 4:3 display, digitally expanding the image to fill a 16:9 display softens the picture and introduces artifacts. Still, viewing the film on large screen 16:9 display, one will find that the picture provides decent sharpness and definition. Colors arenít wholly consistent, but usually offer good saturation and no signs of bleeding- except for the occasional virgin. Blacks seem accurate and the whites are clean. The film element used for the transfer displays a mild grain structure and some blemishes, but is in pretty good shape. Digital compression artifacts remain out of sight. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is free from distortion and excessive hiss, as well are producing clean crisp dialogue. Subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish.
Now we get to the real meat of this DVDÖ THE VAMPIRE LOVERS is the first chapter of Hammerís "Lesbian Vampire Trilogy" adapted from Sheridan Le Fanuís Carmilla. In THE VAMPIRE LOVERS Ingrid Pitt portrays Marcilla, a mysterious young woman who becomes a houseguest in the home of General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), when her mother is called away on an emergency. Soon after Marcillaís arrival, the Generalís niece Laura (Pippa Steele) is taken ill with a strange malady, which slowly drains her life away. Upon Lauraís death, Marcilla suddenly vanishes and then reappears in the guise of Mircalla, who starts the cycle all over again by becoming a houseguest in the home of Roger Morton (George Cole) and his lovely daughter Emma (Madeline Smith). THE VAMPIRE LOVERS is a highly enjoyable Hammer offering that has become a minor genre classic because it really delivers the goods in terms of blood, gore, lesbian eroticism and female nudity. The cast also features Kate O'Mara, Ferdy Mayne, Douglas Wilmer, Dawn Addams, Jon Finch and John Forbes-Robertson.
THE VAMPIRE LOVERS comes in a truly marvelous looking 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The image on the DVD appears nicely sharp and rather well detailed, with only an occasional shot that looks mildly soft. Colors are well saturated, completely solid and without evidence of chroma noise or smearing. Blacks appear inky and the whites are completely stable. Contrast is very good and the picture produces a nice level of shadow detail for a movie that is more than three decades old. The film elements used for the transfer are in great shape, displaying only an occasional blemish or flaw. There is a bit of noticeable film grain here and there, but nothing excessive. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed. THE VAMPIRE LOVERS has a pretty solid Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack that is free from audio anomalies and background hiss. Dialogue is always cleanly rendered and completely understandable. English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included with the feature.
Both films are on opposite sides of the disc and have basic interactive menus, which provide one with access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some supplements. Each feature contains a running audio commentary track. Ingrid Pitt, director Roy Ward Baker and screenwriter Tudor Gates are featured on THE VAMPIRE LOVERS commentary, while Ingrid Pitt, director Peter Sasdy and screenwriter Jeremy Paul turn up to talk about COUNTESS DRACULA. Both tracks have their interesting points, which will hold the interest of Hammer fans. Also included are theatrical trailers for THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and COUNTESS DRACULA, plus Ingrid Pitt is back reading excerpts from Carmilla.
THE VAMPIRE LOVERS is a minor Hammer horror classic that has been given a fine DVD release by the folks at MGM. The film looks better than I expected, plus the DVD offers the bonus of COUNTESS DRACULA and audio commentaries for both films. Considering the bargain price, Hammer fans will want to add the DVD to their must have list.
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