Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a monthly column dedicated to horror films and TV shows, past and present.
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's novella "Carmilla" was first published in 1871 in The Dark Blue
, a publication of the period. The following year it appeared in Le Fanu's collection of short stories: In A Glass Darkly
. "Carmilla" was a tale of terror that no doubt raised many eyebrows in its day: Countess Carmilla Karnstein was a vampire with a particular taste for the blood of young ladies.
Though not as well known as Bram Stoker's Dracula
, which was published 26 years later, "Carmilla" remains a horror classic in its own right. Some could argue that Stoker in fact borrowed from Le Fanu's "Carmilla" — vampire hunter Baron Vordenburg has more than a passing resemblance to Dracula's arch-enemy Van Helsing.
"Dracula's Guest," a Stoker short story published two years after the author's death in 1914, was thought to be to a deleted chapter from Dracula
. The 1936 Universal Studios film Dracula's Daughter
claimed to be an adaptation of "Dracula's Guest," though the film told an entirely different story than what was initially published. But it did retain what may have been borrowed form LeFanu — a (at the time) shocking lesbian seduction scene in which the Count's thirsty daughter (Gloria Holden), posing as an artist, feasted upon the throat of a female model (Nan Gray) after asking the terrified young woman to remove her top.
The most famous, and faithful, screen take on Carmilla was Hammer Films' The Vampire Lovers
, (1970). Polish-born Holocaust survivor Ingrid Pitt had a field day, and a brief brush with movie stardom, with her no-holds-barred performance as a lusty and sometimes nude Carmilla. Though she went to great pains to hide her vampirism, Pitt's Countess flirts openly with women, shocking behavior during the film's 18th century setting. Lesbian content was still considered daring, and titillating, at the time of the film's release. Shots of beautiful young ladies with bite marks on their breasts helped to fill theaters to capacity and made The Vampire Lovers
one of Hammer's biggest hits from the studio's latter day period. It remains a fan favorite.