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Lesbian Vampires

Lesbian Vampires

If you dare… taste the deadly passion of the blood-nymphs!

Tagline of The Vampire Lovers

Vampires, always the sexiest of horror movie monsters, have enjoyed something of a renaissance in contemporary pop culture thanks to the influence of some very well-known teen novel and HBO drama franchises. Whereas the former is notably unerotic in its conception of vampire mythology, the latter has exploited the bizarre sexual pull of the undead to great success, emphasizing what makes vampires so intriguing in the first place. But despite the popularity of both series they remain inhibited by conservative American mores. For cinema lovers, the vampire genre can be and has been considerably less conservative. That’s why, this Valentine’s Day, we are pleased to explore a sidebar of films about horror’s most paradoxically seductive creation: the lesbian vampire.

Why lesbian vampires? If you’re a young heterosexual male – and young heterosexual males are the target audience for horror movies – then a lesbian vampire is a triple threat. Not only will this ageless, beautiful creature be indifferent to you, she’ll probably also seduce your girlfriend into vampirism, right before the two of them join forces to kill you and suck out your life-force. If you’re lucky, your dying vision might be of some full frontal nudity, but that’s the best hope these films have to offer.

There have been lesbian vampires in pop culture for as long as there have been vampires. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmella scandalized readers with racy descriptions of forbidden vampire lust 25 years prior to the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and latent lesbianism was first captured in vampire films as early as the 1930s (Vampyr, Daughter of Dracula). But for a brief period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a few fearless European directors ushered in a minor golden age of lesbian vampire films, and those are the films we’ll be discussing this week. It seems the sexual revolution left its inevitable stamp on the vampire genre, though these films were unquestionably made by and for straight men.

Some of these directors, like Harry Kümel and José Ramón Larraz, dabbled briefly in the sub-genre before moving on to other workmanlike exploitation films. Only one, Vincente Aranda, ever saw much success outside of the world of B-movies. Then there are directors like Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, whose extensive catalogs of films on lesbian vampirism seem to indicate complicated erotic obsessions. (We’ve included one film from each of them here, but there are many more out there for the interested seeker.) And no lesbian vampire feature would be complete without Hammer’s notorious Karnstein Trilogy, which demonstrates the venerable horror studio’s evolution toward exploitation and away from the gothic films with which it secured its reputation.

All these directors worked with tiny budgets and boundless ambition. Though the camp factor is high here, there’s no denying the directors’ passion for the subject, nor the moments of real artistry that emerge almost against the odds. Like much European horror of the time, these films tend to traffic in mystery and surrealism, allowing the loose plots, horrific imagery, and titillating thrills to unfold through the language of dreams. The effect is sometimes bewildering and sometimes inspired, but always entertaining.

So this Valentine’s Day week, cuddle up with your sweetheart and taste the deadly passion of the blood-nymphs. Your relationship might never be the same.

Introduction by Megan Weireter

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