There is something undeniably sexy about the lesbian vampire. She is about both death and desire, flirting with our morbid curiosity about the afterlife as well as our sexual fantasies. Yes, there is a problematic relationship between sexuality and violence in these movies, and many lesbian vampire flicks are nothing more than vehicles for the male desire to see hot women biting each other. Yes, the lesbian vampire is an expression of men's fears of women's sexuality and, ultimately, is often killed because she openly expresses this sexuality.
But beyond these straightforward feminist interpretations, the lesbian vampire is campy good fun for dykes, complete with plenty of heaving bosoms framed by low-cut gowns held up by, apparently, the sheer force of evil. Besides, for decades the lesbian vampire was the only way that lesbian characters could exist onscreen and display any sort of open sexual attraction to one another. No wonder lesbian viewers have a fondness for the sexually provocative, sophisticated lesbian vamp.
Most lesbian vampire movies are based on two stories: the legend of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, or J. Sheridan LeFanu's novella Carmilla (1871). Bathory was a 16th-century Hungarian noblewoman who reputedly murdered 650 virgins and bathed in their blood under the belief that it would preserve her youth. Carmilla, a 19th-century novella published 25 years before Bram Stoker's Dracula, is the tale of Countess Millarca Karnstein, who falls in love with her female victims.
The heyday of the lesbian vampire film was the 1970s; from 1970–74, more than 20 of these movies were released. Though the lesbian vampire continues to be a stock character in porn, she is far more rare these days on the big screen, though she made some memorable appearances on the small screen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess. It seems that the time is ripe for another filmic reinterpretation of Carmilla. After all, the lesbian vampire — who looks like a beautiful, innocent human woman but in reality is a terrifying killer who undermines the rule of men — is the perfect vehicle for America's post-9/11 terrorist fears.
According to Andrea Weiss, author of Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in Film, “outside of male pornography, the lesbian vampire is the most persistent lesbian image in the history of the cinema.” So turn down the lights, ladies, and settle in for some Gothic gloom this Halloween season. It's time to pay homage to our fair forebear (and the lesbian vampire is always irresistibly hot) by running down 10 of the best lesbian vampire flicks out there.
10. Eternal (2004): Set in Montreal and Venice, this film made the rounds at LGBT film festivals in 2004 despite the fact that it was clearly a film made by straight men for straight men. But it shows that the allure of the lesbian vampire still remains viable today, even though few lesbian vampire flicks are made anymore.
9. Lust for a Vampire (1971): This movie is the second in a trilogy of lesbian vampire films from England's Hammer Films, a company known for its horror flicks. (The third is called Twins of Evil and involves, one supposes, evil twins.) Lust for a Vampire combines a girls' boarding school with the tried-and-true narrative trick of author researching material for a book. One of the hallmarks of the film is the tendency of the schoolgirls' dresses to fall off their shoulders, and male voyeurs are ever-present in this movie, watching girls swimming and kissing, waiting behind the door to a room in which two women are engaged in, well, vamping with each other. It's not the best lesbian vampire flick out there, but its glee at depicting two girls in lust with each other (albeit a deadly lust involving blood-sucking) is at least mildly entertaining.
8. Vampyros Lesbos (1971): Directed by Jess Franco, who also wrote and directed the excellently titled Killer Barbys vs. Dracula, the schlocky film Vampyros Lesbos is the tale of young American lawyer Linda Westinghouse, who is working in Istanbul (because she'd have to be in Eastern Europe to be closer to potential lesbian vampires). She has provocative dreams about a brunette who first harasses then seduces her (in the typical violence-plus-sensuality trope of lesbian vampire films). When her job takes her to a small island off the coast of Turkey, her nightmares, of course, come true. Besides being one of the only (or possibly the only) lesbian vampire film to reference Lesbos in the title, this is unquestionably the only film with the colorful tagline, “A Psycho-Sexadelic Horror Freakout!”
7. Les Frissons des Vampires (1970): In this film from French horror director Jean Rollins, a young couple (typical characteristic of lesbian vampire films No. 1, check) on their honeymoon (No. 2, check) stops off at a gloomy castle (No. 3, check) which they discover is inhabited by evil vampires (you saw that coming, didn't you?). Also known as The Shiver of the Vampires or Strange Things Happen at Night, Les Frissons provides what scholar Bonnie Zimmerman describes as “a striking articulation of the male fantasy of the ‘butch' lesbian, complete with metal chains and black leather boots.” Leather dyke vampires seducing beautiful, innocent straight girls! Be forewarned: This film slides perilously close to the S/M dungeon scenarios of many a porn flick and is not for the faint of heart.
6. Vampyres (1974): Also known as Daughters of Dracula, this film features a lesbian vampire couple who draws unwitting passers-by (could they be young, honeymooning couples?) to their Gothic English mansion, where they become unwitting victims — until one of the vampires falls for one of her love-slave victims. Or, as the tagline shrieks, “They shared the pleasures of the flesh, and the horrors of the grave!”