(director: John Hough; screenwriters: Tudor Gates/based on the novel Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu; cinematographer: Dick Bush; editor: Spencer Reeve; music: Harry Robertson; cast: Peter Cushing (Gustav Weil), Kathleen Bryon (Katy Weil), Dennis Price (Dietrich), Mary Collinson (Maria Gellhorn), Madeleine Collinson (Frieda Gellhorn), Damien Thomas (Count Karnstein), Isobel Black (Ingrid Hoffer), David Warbeck (Anton Hoffer), Alex Scott (Herman), Harvey Hall (Franz), Katya Wyeth (Countess Mircalla), Roy Stewart (Joachim), Maggie Wright (Alexa), Luan Peters (Gerta), Judy Matheson (Woodman’s Daughter); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Harry Fine ; Granada Ventures-PAL format; 1971-UK)

The lively and atmospheric but flawed horror pic might be routine and limited by its slack story, but it is entertaining and holds up better than most vampire pics.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brit filmmaker John Hough (“Escape from Witch Mountain”/”The Incubus”/”The Legend of Hell House”) directs with style and passion this third leg ofthe Karnstein trilogy, that included The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire. For the starring evil twins, the real twins, Mary and Madeleine Collinson, who in October of 1970 posed in a Playboy centerfold, were featured. The screenplay is by Tudor Gates, and it’s based on the classic horror story Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu.

The film is set in the 19th century in Central Europe. The 19-year-old Gellhorn identical twins, the obedient demure nice girl Maria (Mary Collinson) and the aggressive sensual attracted to evil sister Frieda (Madeleine Collinson), are orphaned in Vienna and sent to live with their guardians–the overbearing stern fanatical Puritan uncle Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) and their kind aunt Katy (Kathleen Bryon)– in the rural peasant forest village of Karnstein. Gustav is leader of the Puritan brotherhood, who are a sect of religious fanatics grimly protecting the morals of the area and burning witches at their discretion.

The pic opens with the burning at the stake in the woods by the vigilantes, dressed in their Puritan garb, of a woodman’s daughter (Judy Matheson), who was accused of being a witch but will turn out to be innocent. The evil Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) is supposedly responsible for the many recent corpses found with their blood drained vampire style, but the aristocrat is protected by the emperor and the Brotherhood openly expresses their displeasure at the decadent castle-dwelling libertine but fearing reprisals from the emperor leave him alone.

In the castle, the promoter Dietrich (Dennis Price), hired to entertain the vile count, conducts a black mass and prepares to sacrifice a peasant village virgin, to conjure up the devil. But this displeases the count, who calls them all charlatans. The count keeps the sacrificial victim and after giving the others the boot, performs the sacrifice himself. Her blood spills into the crypt holding a 16th century ancestral vampire named Countess Mircalla (Katya Wyeth), and the blood awakens her spirit and she kisses the count turning him into a vampire. Unfortunately this sequence creates the question of who was the vampire doing all the prior blood drainings in the village, if not Count Karnstein, and it seems odd or sloppy film-making that Mircalla never appears in the story again.

In this vampire story, they can appear during the day. Frieda sneaks out of her house to visit the castle and is promptly turned into a vampire, and as a treat the loathsome count lets her dine on a local buxom peasant girl–which goes as this pic’s obligatory lesbian scene.

The film’s hero, the Everyman voice of reason, is the bachelor village choirmaster and historian, Anton (David Warbeck), who lives with his sweet sister schoolteacher Ingrid (Isobel Black). Though calling the peasants superstitious for believing in vampires, he has read enough about vampires to inform the yokels you can’t kill vampires by burning them but only through decapitation or a stake through the heart.

When Frieda is caught red-handed by the Brotherhood with her fangs sticking out, after vamping at night in the woods her next vic, Gustav brings her to trial before the religious sect and she’s sentenced to burn at the stake. The cunning count kidnaps Maria and leaves Frieda back home with her guardians, but before the Brotherhood can burn the wrong twin, since no one can tell one from the other, Anton shows up with proof that they are about to burn the innocent God-fearing Maria and the Brotherhood goes after the count and the bad sister.

The lively and atmospheric but flawed horror pic might be routine and limited by its slack story, but it is entertaining and holds up better than most vampire pics.