The History of Lesbian Vampires on Screen

Several years ago, I lost in a lesbian Halloween costume contest to a Sexy Vampire (and also a Sexy Dinosaur, which if you want to know how I feel about that is that I most definitely don’t think about it in an existential way on a monthly basis). Then again, the very combination of the words “sexy” and “vampire” is almost redundant.

Beginning during the Romantic Movement in the late eighteenth century, vampires have become synonymous with an illicit and sensuous sexuality. They represent, at least on the part of the female reader or viewer living vicariously through the “victims,” a willingness and even desire to be seduced; a secret craving to transgress sexual mores using victimhood as a fig leaf for sublimated desires. While technically framed in literature as “monsters” preying parasitically on virginal victims (as much to the titillation of readers of the 1700s as today), nowadays it seems like the average person would totally stick up a “Sparkly Vampires Come Here” sign in their yard if they could buy such a sign on Amazon. Or Etsy.

The (at least subtextually) lesbian vampire has been around since the beginning of the vampire craze, tracing its roots to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s late 18th-early 19th century long narrative poem “Christabel” and the 1872 novella “Carmilla” by Sheridan Le Fanu, both of which featured an exotic and mysterious bloodsucker targeting an innocent young virgin (at the time, the female vampire drew blood from the breast, not the neck, which when you think about it, is pretty much thinly veiled 1800s erotica).

With the dawn of the film age, the Sexy Lesbian Vampire character was a no-brainer, both for the titillation aspect and because of the embedded warnings about the dangers of lesbianism. In the advertising for “Dracula’s Daughter” (1936), for example, Universal used the tag line “Save the women of London from Dracula’s Daughter!”, which carried an intentional double meaning. The lesbian vampire returned in 1957’s “Blood of Dracula,” and then again in 1960 in a “Carmilla” adaptation titled “…Et Mourir de Plaisir” (“…And to Die of Pleasure,” literally, but rendered in English as “Blood and Roses”).

It’s Mrs. Steal Your Girl!

In the early 1970s, when the West decided the objectification of women was both awesome and desirable, the Sexy Lesbian Vampire became a staple trope for European sexploitation and horror movies (most of which were inspired by “Carmilla”). The Sexy Lesbian Vampire appeared in such melodramatically titled movies as “The Velvet Vampire,” “The Vampire Lovers,” “Lust for a Vampire,” “Twins of Evil,” “Vampyros Lesbos,” “Daughters of Darkness,” “The Blood Splattered Bride,” and “Countess Dracula.”

These movies implied that lesbians, in these movies literally vampires but metaphorically so in real life, were predatory and intent on converting hapless heterosexual women. Portrayed as poor and aberrant substitutes for male sexuality, they were permissible targets for men to attack and kill, symbolically reasserting their dominance over women. Of course, at the same time, their costuming and sexualized actions simultaneously offered gratuitous nudity for the heterosexual male gaze.

This week on Maury: “Vampires and the Women Who Love Them”

1983’s “The Hunger,” which starred Catherine Deneuve as an omnisexual female vampire who seduces and converts Susan Sarandon, attempted to make the vampire genre more classy again, although the film ultimately received highly mixed reviews. For the next two decades, sexually fluid female vampires were used by filmmakers in a variety of new situations, including in the Deadpan Noir genre (“Nadja,” 1994), as a metaphor for substance abuse and being closeted (“The Addiction,” 1995), and as satire (“Vampire Killers,” originally titled “Lesbian Vampire Killers,” 2009). Then, in the 2010s, the Sexy Lesbian Vampire returned to its roots with the sleek, hedonistic lesbians of “We Are the Night” (2011), bringing the trope full circle.

I feel like the lesbian vampire to the left looks shocked. Does she look shocked?

The lesbian vampire has also had recent exposure on TV, starting with a cameo by Evil Sexy Lesbian Vampire Willow in season three of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (which aired in 1998 and in which we receive the first inkling that Willow will later date women) and culminating with appearances on “True Blood” (2008-2014, whether you identify them as lesbian or sexually fluid, they include Pam, Tara, Nan, and Sophie-Anne) and “The Vampire Diaries” (Nora and Mary Louise in 2015/16).

Although the TV lesbian vampire today tends to still be “sexy,” she is no more objectified than the heterosexual female vampire (progress?), and the trope of a parasitic vixen intent on corrupting heterosexuals has been dropped. Instead, today she represents the romanticization of immortality and power. Put another way, power is sexy.

I want so much to like them. But GAWD those British accents. I can’t. Not to mention they don’t pass as lesbians.

Today, the Lesbian Vampire trope has largely co-opted and reclaimed the negative themes that formed the basis of its origins. The lesbian vampire is sexy because she is physically and emotionally powerful and chooses to be sexy (for example, Nora and Mary Louise’s Sexy Angel and Sexy Devil costumes). She encourages or allows her objectification as a manifestation of her own agency in the process, a paradoxical side effect of feminism, if you will. Her victim, if there is one, is largely willing, and the courtship between them is presented as valid love, not as a threat to masculinity.

Or at any rate, that’s an optimistic view of the direction of these historic trends. If we’re honest, we must admit there will always be a Sexy Lesbian Vampire on screen who wears skimpy clothing and leers at straight women, representing the male fear that lesbians are out to steal their women. And if we’re even more honest, we’ll admit that at some part of us wants to see that Sexy Lesbian Vampire. After all, there’s a reason Sexy Vampire beats Sexy Dinosaur every time.