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Queer Horror

Ingrid Pitt seduces Madeline Smith in the Vampire Lovers

Vampire Lovers (1970) - Roy Ward Baker [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


It is remarkable that the lesbian vampire movie has developed into a distinctive subgenre while the gay vampire movie has not.

Queer horror

After decades of being devalued by lousy prints on video and television, Universal's classic '30s horror films have been resurrected, refurbished, and unleashed on the big screen as part of a traveling repertory show opening at San Francisco's Castro Theater. The first thing sensitive audiences will notice about the series, after the obligatory bow to the superb quality of the new 35mm prints, is the all-pervasive, barely disguised, downright queerness of classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Old Dark House, The Black Cat, and Dracula's Daughter. It's no news that lesbians have long claimed Lambert Hillyer's Dracula's Daughter for their own. After all, Gloria Holden in the title role almost singlehandedly redefined the '20s movie vamp as an impressive Euro-butch dyke bloodsucker. But other key works, particularly those directed by certified homo James Whale, have robust, inescapable gay content. Think of The Bride of Frankenstein's literally screaming queens Colin Clive and Ernest Thesiger, with fag hag Elsa Lanchester thrown in for good measure. The Old Dark House's key relationship is between its two male outsiders; when one is killed, the other goes berserk, in a queer motif that presages a similar event in a much different film, The Road Warrior, decades later. The title character in The Invisible Man makes campy assaults on all the boring normals around him, punctuated by Claude Rains's uncharacteristic high-pitched cackle that's filled with wit and menace. --Gary Morris http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/23/universalhorror.html

Lesbian vampires [...]

List of films

  1. Vampire Lovers (1970) - Roy Ward Baker [Amazon US]
    The first and the best of Hammer's erotic vampire films

    "The Vampire Lovers," directed by Roy Ward Baker in 1970, is the first in the Karnstein trilogy of Hammer films, all based quite loosely on Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's story "Carmilla." The Karnsteins are a clan of vampires, represented in this version by a bunch of scantily clad women. Ingrid Pitt stars as Carmilla, who also goes under the anagram names of Mircalla and Marcilla at various points in the story (yes, there is a story). The last of her clan, Carmilla is trying to rebuild, turning first to Laura (Pippa Steele), the daughter of General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) and then Emma (Madeleine Smith), the daughter of Roger Morton (George Cole). Along the way she turns Mademoiselle Perrodon (Kate O'Mara) into a sexual slave. In the great tradition of Dracula and most other vampire films, Laura dies before anyone recognizes the marks of the vampire and then the goal is to save poor Emma from the same fate.

    There is a lot in "The Vampire Lovers" that never makes much sense. Who is the countess (Dawn Addams) who travels with Mircalla? What is up with the black-clad vampire (John Forbes Robertson) who keeps hanging around? Supposedly Mircalla is the last of her clan, but maybe not. Mircalla keeps saying she loves her victims, but they all end up dead, which certainly does not help out her clan much. In the end it is clear that Hammer, aided and abetted by American International in this instance, was making a flat-out lesbian vampire film. As such, I can honestly say that you are not going to find a better one out there. Ironically, "The Vampire Lovers" ends up being more erotic than the vast majority of films featuring heterosexual relationships between the undead and their victims. --Lawrance M. Bernabo, amazon.com

  2. Countess Dracula (1970) - Peter Sasdy [Amazon US]
    Polish-born actress Ingrid Pitt's erotically supercharged presence is the highlight of this double bill of vampire chills from Hammer Films. In Countess Dracula, Pitt stars as an aging noblewoman (inspired by the real-life Erzebeth Bathory) who discovers the secret to eternal youth in the veins of young virgins, while in The Vampire Lovers (based on J. Sheridan LeFanu's "Carmilla"), Pitt's sensuous bloodsucker seduces Hammer starlets Madeleine Smith and Kate O'Mara and incurs the vengeful wrath of Peter Cushing. Countess is the more sober of the two films, with Jeremy Paul's script and Peter Sadsy's direction playing out more like an Old Dark House mystery than Hammer horror, while Lovers' aims for comic-book thrills with plenty of nudity and violence (much of which was trimmed from the American version, but reinstated here); in both cases, Pitt's sexy/scary performances make this DVD a memorably viewing experience for vintage and new-school horror fans alike. --Paul Gaita

  3. The Hunger (1983) - Tony Scott [Amazon US]
    Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie are rich, beautiful, and oh-so chic as denizens of the night. Dressed in sleek outfits and stylish sunglasses, they haunt rock & roll clubs on the prowl for young blood, whom they bring home to their impossibly luxurious mansion for a late-night snack. Being a vampire never looked more sexy, but there's a price: Bowie starts to age so fast he wrinkles up in the waiting room of a doctor's (Susan Sarandon) office. The agelessly elegant Deneuve, evoking Delphine Seyrig's Countess Bathory from Daughters of Darkness, is perfectly cast as a millenniums-old bloodsucker who seeks a new mate in Sarandon and seduces her in a sunlight-bathed afternoon of smooth, silky sex. Tony Scott's (Ridley's brother) directorial debut, adapted from the Whitley Strieber novel, revises the vampire myth with Egyptian inflections and removes all references to garlic and crosses and wooden stakes--these bloodsuckers can even walk around in the daylight--but the ties between blood and sex are as strong as ever. Scott's background as an award-winning commercial director is evident in every richly textured frame and his densely interwoven editing, but the moody atmosphere comes at the expense of dramatic urgency. At times the film is so languid it becomes mired in its hazy, impeccably designed visual style. In its own way, The Hunger is the perfect vampire film for the '80s, all poise and attitude and surface beauty. Sarandon talks candidly about the film in the documentary The Celluloid Closet. --Sean Axmaker

  4. Vampyres (1974) - José Ramón Larraz [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    "Naked girls and lots of blood, that's what Vampyres is about," says Joseph Larraz in the notes to the film. He rewrites the vampire myth to make his bloodsucking lovelies the restless ghosts of lesbian lovers murdered while making love in their shadowy castle. Reappearing nightly in the twilight forest, they lure men to their castle for blood feasts until the brunette vampire, Fran (Marianne Morris), falls for her latest victim (Murray Brown) and decides to keep him alive, a sex slave she slowly drains dry. "You're playing a dangerous game," warns blonde Miriam (Anulka), perhaps just a tad jealous. As the local cops watch a veritable wrecking yard of car crashes fill up the sleepy back roads (all with naked dead men behind the wheels), you have to wonder if anyone finds this a bit suspicious. It's a slim story filled with misty forests, candlelit castle interiors, and the above-mentioned blood and naked flesh. Larraz adds a few poetic flourishes--blood dripping down pale faces, clouds crawling past a castle--but, more important, gives the living dead girls a genuinely passionate relationship and a zest for nightlife. The DVD features commentary by Larraz and producer Brian Smedley-Ashton. --Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com

  5. Daughters of Darkness (1971) - Harry Kümel [DVD, Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Art-movie goddess Delphine Seyrig (Last Year at Marienbad) slinks through the plush Eurotrash settings as the deathless Elizabeth Bathory, Vampire Countess, in Harry Kümel's minor Dutch classic of lesbian erotic-gothic. Blood mingles with water during the languorous shower scenes. Set at an upper-crust seaside resort, the 1971 film recounts Bathory's plot to replace her current consort (Andrea Rau) with a fresher specimen, an abused newlywed whose brutal young husband is an inconvenience waiting to be eliminated. Although both the bi-sex and the neck-biting violence are tame by today's standards, the film has a graceful, gliding sense of pace that gets under your skin; something unspeakably kinky always seems to be just about to happen. It never quite does, but the mood lingers. See it with someone you love--or would like to. --David Chute for Amazon.com [...]

  6. Dracula's Daughter/Son of Dracula (1936) [Amazon US]
    Dracula's Daughter This cut-rate sequel to Dracula, sans Bela Lugosi, turns out to be an unexpectedly sleek and stylish movie. Gloria Holden, tall, dark, and continental, is the aristocratic title character fighting her nature and seeking a cure for her affliction. A sympathetic psychiatrist, Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger), encourages her to "face her fears," but when she lures a pretty young streetwalker to her room to model for a painting, the temptation of her fleshy offering proves too much to overcome. Edward Van Sloan reprises his role as Van Helsing, held by the police for the murder of Count Dracula (the film opens on the final scene from Dracula) but released in the nick of time to help Garth, now at the mercy of the bitter and vindictive vampire. Director Lambert Hillyer makes the most of his low budget, with austere, angular sets and an almost abstract sense of the foggy city night. Holden's mysterious face and tall, willowy body make her an even more striking vampire than Lugosi, and Irving Pichel's offbeat servant is like an American gangster with the breeding of a European aristocrat: thick and thuggish, but always proper. The script falls into the usual rut of Universal's later horror films, losing the mood in the busy plot, but the smooth style and Holden's dignified performance lift Dracula's Daughter above most Universal sequels. --Sean Axmaker Amazon.com

  7. Dracula (1931) - Tod Browning [Amazon US]
    When Universal Pictures picked up the movie rights to a Broadway adaptation of Dracula, they felt secure in handing the property over to the sinister team of actor Lon Chaney and director Tod Browning. But Chaney died of cancer, and Universal hired the Hungarian who had scored a success in the stage play: Béla Lugosi. The resulting film launched both Lugosi's baroque career and the horror-movie cycle of the 1930s. It gets off to an atmospheric start, as we meet Count Dracula in his shadowy castle in Transylvania, superbly captured by the great cinematographer Karl Freund. Eventually Dracula and his blood-sucking devotee (Dwight Frye, in one of the cinema's truly mad performances) meet their match in a vampire-hunter called Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan). If the later sections of the film are undeniably stage bound and a tad creaky, Dracula nevertheless casts a spell, thanks to Lugosi's creepily lugubrious manner and the eerie silences of Browning's directing style. (After a mood-enhancing snippet of Swan Lake under the opening titles, there is no music in the film.) Frankenstein, which was released a few months later, confirmed the horror craze, and Universal has been making money (and countless spin-off projects) from its twin titans of terror ever since. Certainly the role left a lasting impression on the increasingly addled and drug-addicted Lugosi, who was never quite able to distance himself from the part that made him a star. He was buried, at his request, in his black vampire cape. --Robert Horton

  8. Vampyros Lesbos (1970) - Jess Franco [DVD, Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Countess Nadine Carody, a vampire with an insatiable thirst for female blood, lures women to her isolated island to love and then kill her victims! Linda Westinghouse comes to the island and falls under the vampire's seductive spell, only to find a living nightmare she may never be able to escape. A tripped out mixture of nudity, soft-core lesbianism, vampires, outrageous sets and a world famous soundtrack, Vampyros Lesbos is now available for the first time ever on home video in the United States. Recently resurfacing as a cult classic after almost thirty years, Vampyros Lesbos has restarted a dance craze phenomenon across the globe with its psychedelic musical score! So, be sure to watch Jess Franco's Vampyros Lesbos today for Countess Carody just might SUCK YOU DRY!! --amazon.com


  1. Carmilla (1872)- J. Sheridan Lefanu, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    I first became acquainted with Carmilla from the Hammer Studios Karstein Trilogy of The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil. The Vampire Lovers is the only one that draws from this book. The book starts getting into the movie from about the fifth chapter. I recognised dialog and descriptions in the plots of both. It's quite a liberal adaption, but the essence of the story remains intact. For example, the dialog isn't verbatim. The single line from The Vampire Lovers, of "You must die, everybody must die" is about a paragraph's length of dialog in the book. It's a fantastic tale. Most of the lesbian is implied, and I caught gratuitous nudity added to the movie, which does add to the movie's appeal. I love the short length of about 150 pages. It never drags, and the chapters are no more than 10 pages each, making for easy reading. I put Carmilla above Bram Stoker's Dracula. Carmilla is a must-have for people with more than a passing interest of the vampire myth. I highly recommend this book. It's excellent. --amazon.com

  2. Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Stories - Pam Keesey (Editor) [Amazon US]
    Although this collection is probably for a fairly specialized market, there are some excellent stories here--including works by Jewelle Gomez, Kathryn Forrest, and Robbi Sommers--which, as editor Keesey points out, are hard to find elsewhere. Before Dracula, much vampire lore in fact centered around female vampires, and Keesey is bringing to light some of that tradition. By combining the ideas of women as vampires and women as seductive lesbians, Keesey doubles the force of images that have historically crystallized society's fear of powerful women. This book will be particularly at home in collections of feminist fiction, folklore, and popular culture; the explicit eroticism may limit its use in popular fiction collections. --From Library Journal

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