The Ingrid Pitt Column: The Vampire Lovers

Ingrid Pitt talks about starring in The Vampire Lovers, and the perks of appearing nude on screen

Ingrid as Carmilla Karnstein in The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Every so often I get emails asking me for advice about getting into films. Some of the letters are so elegant that I can’t resist changing the name of the sender and forwarding it to people I think might be interested in giving me a job. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. Most of the jobs I have got have been by sheer luck or lying. I got into the Berliner Ensemble by lying, double lied myself into the Pasadena Playhouse, made my first Spanish film, Los Duendes de Andalucia, by being photographed at a corrida crying for the bull, found myself in the Philipines making The Omegans because I had gone to Hollywood with false hopes and finished up serving in a diner, and was put up for Where Eagles Dare because I had a bad cold and an even worse attitude. Vampire Lovers was more of the same.

I was well into my Premiere Queen phase. It’s what an actress goes through when she has been lucky enough to get a reasonably high profile job and is waiting for the follow-up which will lead her to fame and fortune. I was quite good at it and got the reputation for turning up at the opening of an envelope. In 1969 I was doing my bit for my economy at the premiere of Alfred the Great.

Having strutted my piece, I moved on to the reception at the Savoy. I was a bit disappointed to be seated next to a man I had never heard of. He introduced himself as James Carreras and we chatted amicably while I kept a roving eye on the room in case there was anybody there I could impress. My attention was drawn back to Mr. Carreras when he started saying nice things about my part in Eagles. I am always susceptible to a little flattery. I agreed with him and asked him what he did. He told me that he was a film producer. That got my attention and by the time we left the party I had an appointment to meet him in his office the following morning to talk about a film he was about to produce.

I had heard it all before. The next morning turned out to be about as dire as it gets. The pavements were covered in slush and the wind was howling along Wardorf Street. I was glad I had decided to wear my maxicoat and wide brimmed fedora. The door into Hammer House looked impressive and the receptionist enthusiastic. She took me through to Carreras’s secretary who showed me into his office immediately. It was getting better and better.

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I had seen Bridgit Bardot in La Parisienne and decided to take a leaf out of her repertoire. I shook hands with Carreras, snapped to attention and said something naff like, “Reporting for duty, Colonel Carreras.” Took my hat off, shook out my hair, shed my maxicoat to reveal my mini skirt, tight sweater and knee length patent leather boots and sunk elegantly onto the arm of the sofa. Carreras didn’t so much as blink. The secretary asked pragmatically if I would like a cup of coffee and that allowed me the opportunity to slide onto the seat of the sofa to recover from the embarrassing position in which I had put myself.

Jimmy, he told me to call him Jimmy, came up with the goods and when I left I had a script under my arm and the lead in Vampire Lovers. Suddenly Wardorf Street was all butterflies fluttering by and nightingales singing in nearby Berkeley Square.

A few weeks later I was at Elstree Studios preparing to go on location at Moore Park, a golf club near Watford. It was easy settling into the Hammer routine. Everyone there seemed to have worked with each other for years but they were friendly and willing to welcome an interloper.

I was having my hair tarted up in make-up when one of the girls came back from the set. “You should see what Peter Cushing is doing to you on set,” she said enigmatically. I took her at her word and went straight to the set. They were doing the scene where General von Spielsdorf lops off my head. Peter was standing by the coffin, sword in hand. He reached into the coffin and picked something up. I’m told it was a cabbage. Swoosh and my head was off. It appears that cutting through a cabbage makes the same sound as cutting off a head. If anyone has any first hand experience of this, I would like to know their thoughts on the subject.

Peter saw me and came across and said how sorry he was to have witnessed such a distressing scene. I’m afraid I said something naff like, “Yes, I feel a bit cut up about it.” Or maybe that was what I would liked to have said when I thought about it later. It is a long time ago.

Roy Ward Baker, the director, was wonderful. He discussed every scene beforehand and then did it the way he wanted. He was invariably right, but it did give the actors a feeling that they were more than just cattle – as, I believe, Hitchcock claimed. When it came to the nude scenes he asked us if we wanted a closed set. It didn’t bother me one way or the other. Maddy Smith, being very British, was a little more nervous about prancing around in the nude. So we had a closed set. Producers Harry Fine and Michael Style were a bit peeved about this. They thought it was producer’s perks to watch what was going on. I was walking to the set with just a dressing gown on when I saw them coming in the opposite direction wearing a doleful look. As I went past them I open my dressing gown and said, “Wheeeee!” There was a spring in their step as they went on their way. Well at least it wasn’t a gaberdine raincoat.

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There are extra perks in appearing nude on screen. Everybody gets very solicitous. In the bath scene the crew keep checking that the water is the right temperature. Are the lights too bright, are you comfortable with the people on set, would you like a cognac? They are all terrified that you are going to throw a wobbly and walk off. Jimmy had left a case of champagne on set and it was enough for Maddy and I to forget any misgivings we might have about prancing about with nothing on.

When it came to killing Kate O’Mara, who refused to recognise my Vampiric tendencies, I slung her on the floor, sprouted the teeth and moved in. The teeth promptly dived into Kate’s cleavage. We all fell about laughing and went for another take. It happened again. Kate started to giggle. Again the teeth took the dive. Now Kate and most of the crew were corpsing all over the place. I wanted to get it over. One of the grips was chewing gum. I made him give me a piece and stuck the teeth in firmly for the next take. But every time I moved in Kate started giggling again. In the end, I had to warn her of the dire outcome of continuing to deny me. That got it done.

Peter Cushing was wonderful. Everybody says that about him – because it’s true. I was feeling a bit down one day and Peter asked me what the problem was. I told him it was the anniversary of my father’s birthday. That evening, when the scene was in the can, Peter asked me to dinner with his wife at the nearby Thatched Barn restaurant. After dinner a cake arrived at the table, complete with candles and ‘For Ingrid’s Papa’ written on it.

Vampire Lovers did very well at the box office and a follow-up, Lust For A Vampire, was scheduled. I wasn’t too keen on the script and was happy when I was cast as the bloody Countess Barthori in Countess Dracula. Even that was a case of happenstance. I have heard that Vampire Lovers is up for a remake. Hope it is more successful than the remake of The Wicker Man. Not!

Read Ingrid’s column every Tuesday at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.

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20 January 2009