“[D]igitisation is encouraging the growth of small magazines, fostering a new burst of creativity, and traditional publishers can print on demand. Schemes such as Faber Finds, an exceptional archaeology of lost books, haul up genuine treasures – for you, the individual reader. In other words, the demand does exist, and what’s being supplied is, if anything, a rather traditional bespoke service…”
Evidently Gaby has a strong feeling for printed books and a wish for their endurance, as do I. The familiar distinctive pleasures of page-turning, shelf-referencing etc she makes an eloquent case for, though not stinting on all the useful tricks and modern conveniences that come with the Kindle. Here at Finds Towers, where ebook and POD are our current delivery modes, we take no sides on the matter, our concern being only that people in appreciable numbers continue to seek out and read the very best kinds of writing, and that they encounter no unnecessary cost or obstacle to that great and common pursuit.
Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith in 'The Vampire Lovers' (1970), after Le Fanu
The library that is Faber Finds contains many panelled sub-chambers, nooks and corner cabinets, and within one moody recess you will find our range of offerings in the genre of the supernatural – ‘tales of mystery and imagination’, to borrow a phrase from a master. One title of this dark shading that we cherish especially is our edition of Sheridan Le Fanu’s collection In a Glass Darkly (which revives a 1929 printing with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, one of the best and most distinctive illustrators of the twentieth century) and which includes the justly famous and oft-filmed yarn Carmilla (1872) – a delicate, rather touching, sensuous and deeply sinister fairytale about a young girl who makes a lovely but disconcerting female friend of her own age, one who takes to visiting her by night…
Surely the most adored of Carmilla’s film adaptations is The Vampire Lovers, a 1970 offering from the UK’s mighty Hammer Film Productions. Hammer is, of course, one of the great brand-names of British cinema, and you don’t even need to be a horror fan to feel your heart gladdened by its recent resurrection of theatrical releases, much noted last year with Wakewood and Let Me In, and now bolstered by a smash hit in the shape of the just-released The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Yes, once again rich red blood is coursing through Hammer’s quivering veins…
This month a glorious opportunity has arisen for us all to be reminded of Hammer’s past and present glories through a collaboration between Hammer, the Vault Festival at the Old Vic Tunnels, and The Flicker Club, an ingenious outfit who mount screenings of movies adapted from novels or short stories, and bring to the party surprise guests from stage, screen and literature to read from the literary source material in advance of the movie-show. In February Flicker Club’s offering is a season of Hammer at the Vault: Hammer treasures old and new, with appetisers in the form of introductions and readings from writers and actors. For a full calendar of films and to buy tickets, you can visit the Vault website. Hammer’s own site lists the schedule plus the various guests. In celebration of this thrilling endeavour, over at the main Faber site you can WIN a copy of our Finds edition of LeFanu’s In a Glass Darkly and tickets to the Flicker Club/Vault screening of Hammer’s The Witches, preceded by a reading from Helen Dunmore of passages from her much-acclaimed new offering, The Greatcoat, published by Hammer’s own new imprint through Random House.
Elsewhere in the season I’m happy to recommend the screening of The Vampire Lovers on Friday February 17, an event which will also be blessed by a reading from Le Fanu by one of the film’s stars, Madeline Smith. Hammer horror was a source of exquisite chills for me all through my childhood, including their productions of the early 1970s, when the studio was generally reckoned to be trying to incorporate more ‘adult’, blood-boltered and distinctly risqué flavours from American and European cinema into their more familiar concoctions. Hence The Vampire Lovers, a deathless testament to the screen presence of its leading lady, the late Ingrid Pitt (1937-2010), whose life story was more extraordinary than any supernatural yarn. (Born Ingoushka Petrov in Warsaw, 1937, she was a childhood survivor of Stutthof concentration camp and an alumnus of the Berliner Ensemble before she and Hammer made their bloodily marvellous marriage of talents.) The Vampire Lovers was considered highly racy at the time of its release, and it remains a souvenir of Pitt’s lustrous good looks. It is reasonably faithful to Le Fanu, too, in serving up the story of a beautiful stranger (Pitt) who insinuates herself into a respectable Styrian household so as to prey upon the young mistress (Smith). But from its ripping first reel the movie – unlike the stealthily insinuating Le Fanu – leaves us in no doubt that this is a full-blooded tale of vampiric evil.
Pitt is a wholly persuasive incarnation of the creature described by Le Fanu’s narrator Laura (‘She was slender, and wonderfully graceful. Except that her movements were languid — very languid… Her complexion was rich and brilliant… her eyes large, dark, and lustrous; her hair was quite wonderful, I never saw hair so magnificently thick and long…’) Relations between the two young females soon turn physical, very darkly so; but if you think Hammer made matters a little over-steamy then consider how unrestrained Le Fanu was for his time in limning the Sapphic tendency (Laura speaks of her ‘strange and beautiful companion… 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… 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”…’) This stuff is a fair bit easier to write than it is to act; but then there’s a good reason why Ingrid Pitt so swiftly became one of cinema’s foremost ‘Queens of Scream’, and it’s all there in The Vampire Lovers: she gives a truly physical performance, not just by dint of the low-cut gowns and unabashed carnality but in the quite startling violence of her assaults both on female prey and on any man feckless enough to try to get in her way. The trailer below gives a very good account of all these elements… But you can witness all the charm and menace of Pitt’s Carmilla at the Hamer/Flicker/Vault screening February 17.
J. Sheridan Le Fanu is one leading figure in the Irish contribution to the Gothic and another is of course Bram Stoker, who unquestionably borrowed a trick or two from the pages of Carmilla for his later Dracula (1897). As part of the Hammer/Flicker/Vault season there will be a world premiere of the definitive version of Terence Fisher’s 1958 Hammer Dracula on Saturday 18th February at 3.00pm. I daresay in critical terms this remains the quintessential Hammer production, not least because Martin Scorsese has been such an outspoken fan of its rich reds and blacks. By the time of its fiftieth anniversary it was sufficiently august for the BFI to re-release it, and construct the splendid trailer (below) that puts an elegant frame around its enduring – undead – charms.
Oh, and trailer-wise, shall we have a butcher’s at Hammer’s The Woman in Black, screening tonight? Yes, I rather think we shall…