The Vampire Lovers
'Caution: Not for the Mentally Immature.'
The warning attached to the 1970 Hammer horror movie The Vampire Lovers should probably be taken with a grain of garlic salt.
Let's face it: The "mentally immature" likely constitutes this movie's prime target demographic.
That said, there is much to love in Scream Factory's new Blu-ray release of this tawdry gem.
The movie itself is a handsome period production in the Hammer tradition. Breaking with tradition, the movie was co-produced with American International Pictures with the understanding that the Yankee house would amp up the exploitation elements at a time when Hammer's comparatively restrained productions were losing audiences to more permissive fare.
Thus, the implicit lesbianism of early vampire movies such as, say, Dracula's Daughter, was rendered explicit in this adaptation of J. Sheridan La Fanu's girl vampire story Carmilla.
Ingrid Pitt is the movie's anti-heroine, who goes by the names of both Carmilla and Marcilla. She is a haunted, voluptuous succubus, blood-sucking her way through the lily-white throats and bosoms of any number of innocent virgins in 19th-century Styria.
But even Carmilla is arrested by the charms of Emma Morton (Madeline Smith), the innocent, peaches-and-cream lovely she seduces, but is loath to destroy. In the meantime, the General (Peter Cushing) is stalking Carmilla to avenge the murder of his own daughter.
This is the first of Hammer's so-called Karnstein trilogy (also including Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil), with moments of gothic inspiration courtesy of director Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember): the spectacle of Ingrid Pitt wandering a misty graveyard in a transparent peignoir is not soon forgotten.
The DVD extras on this disc are especially delightful, including a contemporary interview with the now grandmotherly Madeline Smith, who offers generous recollections of her co-stars and director, but self-effacingly mocks her own "gormless" presence in the movie. She also shares an anecdote about getting a call from a panicky producer before the shoot, sharing his worry that Smith may have been too skinny to hold her own among her more endowed co-stars.
Apparently, a week-long, yogurt-supplemented diet regimen did the trick. Three and a half stars
Silver Linings Playbook
One of the more over-praised movies of 2012, this multiple Oscar-contender from director-screenwriter David O. Russell (The Fighter) feels as unbalanced as its hero.
That would be Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano, a former schoolteacher obliged, owing to his bipolar disorder, to observe a restraining order keeping him from his workplace and his estranged wife.
Released from the mental institution where he has been committed following a violent encounter with his wife's lover, Pat is manically resolved to put his life together, with the ultimate goal of reuniting with the understandably fearful missus.
He's got the help of his supportive mom (Jacki Weaver) and his retired dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), a bookie with a neurosis of his own in the form of a persistent case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Accepting a friend's dinner invitation, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the widow of a dead cop who has made some regrettable choices of her own, including sleeping around with a multitude of co-workers in a desperate attempt to fill the emotional void left by her husband.
Something sparks between the two. Tiffany tells Pat she needs a partner for an upcoming ballroom dance competition. She makes a deal that she will deliver Pat's imploring letter to his ex in exchange for his dance services. A deal is struck.
Russell explored the blue-collar territory of romance and family dysfunction more effectively in The Fighter, which also had the benefit of a thematic connection to the world of boxing. Having the movie drive towards a climactic ballroom dance-competition seems a silly, out-of-left-field contrivance by comparison.
Cooper tries to prove his dramatic mettle and while not horribly miscast, he doesn't pass muster as dangerously unstable. He registers as a light comedy actor out of his element.
In fact, when it comes to projecting a sense of danger, he is rather forcefully blown off the screen by Jennifer Lawrence, whose laser-like gaze is far more suggestive of roiling inner turmoil. Her best-actress Oscar win is not begrudged. Two and a half stars