This article touches on the theme of horror cinema and re-visits cult works and characters.
Before the rise of hardcore pornography in the mid-1970s, low-budget erotica-horror films were mainly aimed at a straight male audience, who were “lured” into the cinema by the promise of provocative themes, mild nudity, and soft-core scenes. Between 1968 and 1974, there was an extraordinary production of vampire films that mixed art, terror, and sensual fantasies, focusing on sensuous female characters.
Most of the female vampire movie plots were derived more or less loosely from either Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story Carmilla — detailing the love between the eponymous vampire and her young female victim Laura — or from the Countess Erzsébet Báthory, an aristocratic woman of unimaginable cruelty who believed the application of young women’s blood would grant eternal youthfulness.
The movie with the most commentary on the female, queer vampire topic is Dracula’s Daughter from 1936. The film centers on Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who we learn is Dracula’s daughter, and shares his curse -the necessity of drinking human blood. When Countess Zaleska goes into therapy with psychologist Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger) to cure her obsession, the therapy fails. She then lures Dr. Garth to her castle in Transylvania by kidnapping his assistant and love interest, Janet (Marguerite Churchill).
The story of Countess Zaleska reemerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it follows an uncanny repetitive formula: the monster arises, threatens, and feeds, and is eventually destroyed by patriarchal heroes (fathers, priests, boyfriends, etc.).
This formula certainly seems to be the case for all Hammer Studios female vampire films that constantly cater to straight male fantasy — movies such as The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire , and Twins of Evil .
For the most part, this model seems faulty, and the narrative “woman as a mannequin/woman as sensual vampire” looks hugely cliched.
Nevertheless, the films fail to provide a satisfactory alternative scenario for all sexes; they reinforce the connection between sexuality and vampirism and ultimately project negative attitudes toward love between women.
However, one female vampire film from 1971 changes the narrative as it also showcases that perverse male fantasies can be just as vampiric.
Director Jess Franco delivered one of his most celebrated movies Vampyros Lesbos, in 1971. The film is an excellent mixture of breathtaking camerawork, sleazy Horror suspense, sexy erotic scenes, and a brilliant soundtrack.
Soledad Miranda (the star of the movie) has a screen presence that radiates the vampire’s charm with extreme novelty. Her performance confirms that Franco’s female character functions to destabilize patriarchal structures and establishes a queer-positive symbolism.
A similar theme is also followed in two more films from 1971: “Requiem for a Vampire” and “Daughters of Darkness.”
Directed by Belgian academic and cinema scholar Harry Kümel, Daughters of Darkness has been referred to as a ‘queer vampire art film. Similarilarly to Vampyros Lesbos; the central female protagonist is caught in a love triangle between two vampires. Both are associated with ‘perverse’ sexuality — Countess Elisabeth (a descendant of Erzsébet Báthory) is attracted to beautiful young women, while Stefan's male character seems unable to perform without torture.
Although both the Countess (Delphine Seyrig) and Stefan (John Karlen) share an attraction to pain and death and both contend for Valerie (Danielle Ouimet), Stefan is represented as coarse, brutal and unsympathetic, while the Countess is ‘portrayed as being a sophisticated, intelligent, motherly, and fascinating woman. (Weinstock, 2009)
On the other hand, Jean Rollin’s film Requiem for a Vampire lacks gore. It focuses on the love between two young women (Marie-Pierre Castel, Mireille D’Argent) — that, after an accident, come across a dilapidated castle inhabited by a vampire (Philippe Gaste) and his followers.
The movie seems to run contrary to the conception that vampirism is a perversion because ‘sexual perversion’ is associated with the predatory humans of the film instead of the vampires.
I made a video about this topic. Watch it below:
Despite the fact that men created the 1970s female vampire movies for men, the “Vampire Queens” came out of their closet — even if they didn’t run into the most flattering light, and there was still a long way to go when it came to representation.