Twenty five years before Bram Stoker introduced Dracula to the world, the Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu published his gothic vampire novella “Carmilla”. First published in the magazine The Dark Blue and then in the author’s collection of short stories In a Glass Darkly the following year. It told the story of a young woman Laura who was particularly susceptible to the close attentions of a female vampire called Carmilla. Although, as you would expect from something written in the Victorian era, Carmilla’s sexuality is treated with the typical restrained manner of the time it’s obvious that it is a lesbian attraction between the vampire and Laura the narrator of the story.
Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever. (“Carmilla”, Chapter 4).
Although of course, as far as the film world is concerned, Carmilla was as never as popular and as famous as Bram Stoker’s vampire novel, there have been a series of gothic vampire films based on Le Fanu’s novella including Blood and Roses by Roger Vadim and Crypt of the Vampire by Camillo Mastrocinque (using his Thomas Miller alias). Notably, however, Carmilla influenced The Karnstein Trilogy of vampire films were produced by Hammer in the early seventies. All three movies were scripted by Tudor Gates (he co-wrote Barbarella). At the end of the sixties Hammer films were on the brink of bankruptcy and were in desperate need of a hit. Vampire Lovers starring Ingrid Pitt and featuring relatively subtle nudity and lesbianism was a worldwide success and it essentially saved the studio.