Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vampire Lesbians of '76-'67

Dress your wife like you do the women in the streets
believe me, you'll have a vampire too.
                               --Vamps of '28 (Whistler's Jug Band)

The phrase vampire from the song lyric above refers to the aggressive gold-diggers of the late 20s, far more common in the age of prohibition than now, thanks to moral repression and the economic changes of WW2. The "vamp" was also a silent film staple. Theda Bara (below left) was its ultimate expression. And then she was gone. And when she came back, she was gay. Men could now walk the streets in relative safety.

While the (straight) girl vampire in 1928 was a femme fatale in an age when sex was commodified on a much less simulacratic level than now, the vampire lesbian was/is different: A functional metaphor for the seductive magic of cinema itself, she is simulacarum squared! She doesn't even need the masculine gaze to exist, and that soothes the weary masculine gaze big time.

Her mystery cave beckoning victims to a Venus Flytrap-style blood draining, the vampire woman conjures an erection wherein the blood isn't kept inside the phallus, but drained, so eventually the man's whole life and soul is sucked up through his..."ahem". It's a literal reading of the mythic, long-heralded 'draining' power of the feminine that manifests even in just getting a man's attention. In the real of the post-orgasm bedroom, sex can leave men depressed, gasping for air; the whole horrible truth of the grand genetic bait and switch made bare; the wizard's curtain ripped back to expose the snarling, endlessly self-replicating human reproductive drive. What a drag!

Cinema carries a similar bait and switch: it beguiles us with its lurid posters promising all it can never give, always leaves us wanting more, keeping us mildly entranced until we feel we've got our money's worth, then dumping us to the curb. All we have left for our money is a little ticket stub, with her phone number on it, to call for the next available show times. The vampire woman got you again! So we realize we mustn't get too close to her and the safety of the film screen's relative distance lets us study her right up close, and when she's not with man, but with another woman, there's no jealousy. We can safely dissolve into the ether.

Dracula's Daughter (1936)
That so many vamp ladies are lesbians bespeaks volumes to humanity's problem of being unable to successfully civilize the basic act of animal copulation. Lesbianism can seem from an intellectual point of view to be more evolved than "straight" sex with its messy pregnancies, STDs and ejaculates. Orgasms leave you hopefully transported for a few minutes, and when you come back to reality you're more relaxed, but hey, it's still this vile reproductive cycle, this demon drive for life that's got you in its sway.

Vampire lesbians don't need none of that stuff; they're undead, beyond concerns of reproduction, and--even better-- they have only one particular use for men, as a drink. Our responsibility to them as protectors and caregivers is gone. As men in the audience or at home watching DVDs, we're free to cheer on our own coming irrelevance.

The vampire male meanwhile (presuming he's straight) has only one chance at keeping his cool in the face of such staggering chic, to just not put out... ever! It drives the Kristen Stewarts wild!! But at what cost?

If you're an artistic, deep vampire dude with perfectly mussed hair and have been having good sex for say 90 straight years--with partners living, straight, gay, and undead curious--then I can imagine you have moved on from caring much about it. There's nothing left to prove. Most spiritually evolved beings will tell you that after a certain age, sex falls away like a booster rocket. One may make love like a lesbian, i.e. more orally motivated, less genital/orgasm-centric... more giving, less intimidated by big black vibrators, but the sex drive will probably come back and throw you off your game. So for all intents and purposes, that makes you a eunuch, free from being anchored to the demanding phallus. But then... Kristen Stewart is so cute. So you have a big dilemma, don't you, Edward? Don't you wish you could be a vampire lesbian?

Though a certain train of feminist critical thought sees the appeal of lesbian erotica to men as a kind of a priori mastery/ownership--we see the mise en scene as waiting for us to step into the screen and supply the third wheel missing ingredient--I've always argued the opposite, that male identification often takes the form of rivalry or fraternal admiration or distrust via male characters on film. We want to admire the courage of men as if they were our older brothers; we don't want to see them spazzing out and embarrassing us, you know, like little brothers. Men want to see men they can learn from and respect, or ridicule, not identify with except in the most rudimentary narrative immersion kind of way.

The pure lesbian vampire scenario then actually frees us from all direct "identification" inside the narrative, including the fraternal, so we're free of having to 'compare' our size, if you get my drift, or worry about not fulfilling our responsibility to fret. If there is a guy character in the lesbian vampire scenario who's not a slimy sadist or English hippie deserving death for being so trusting then we eventually may come to like him, but generally without a man in the picture we can retire our narrative outsider status and dissolve: It's the death drive coming to a nice cul-de-sac! You can admire the sex and carnage but from a nice respectful distance, the distance of an unborn spirit that may now stay unborn, for there is no seed in the picture by which to sprout into tedious life.

Vampyres (1974)
That's why my interest in lesbians always pulls to a grinding halt when they get all mushy over adopting a child or getting their hands on some sperm either from a donor or a trusted friend (which is why I couldn't get five minutes into THE L WORD). Ladies, I wanted to scream at the TV, you just took the coolest thing about being lesbians and changed it, in order to be as cloying in your pro-family sentiments as the very behemoth we were rooting for you to destroy all this time.

The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Luckily,  being both a vampire and a lesbian is a double whammy of reproduction prevention, ensuring no last minute addition of an "Oliver" to your inner TV show once it gets within spitting distance of a shark and motorcycle ramp. Still, in case you're a novice, tread lightly (by which I do mean Jess Franco's VAMPYROS LESBOS and Jean Rollin's anything). Stick with Hammer's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), and now in Blu-ray, VAMPYRES (1974), and of course DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1973), and the gray-market only but Jeeze it's Vadim's best film, BLOOD AND ROSES (1960, top). Classic horror fans already know that DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936) is pretty cool but she never lets her hair down. If you're all out of other options, you could do worse than THE HUNGER (1983, below) but the hair is even worse (see below and cringe in pain for those doomed 1980s).

The source material for all this lesbian vampire chic is Le Fanu's CARMILLA, a French novella from the golden year of 1872. In other words, its very Gothic, very French, and  tres erotique. It's included in the Criterion set for VAMPYR (1932), which is presumably has a lesbian vampire somewhere in the story (I've never managed to stay awake to find out). You can also read the whole 1872 text for free here. Dig this passage, told in first person from the innocent young girl victim's point of view:
She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, "Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die, die, sweetly die into me. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit."

 And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek. (Chapter 4)

So next time you're alone in the night somewhere, try whispering in a sexy voice, "Carmillaaaaa" over and over, really slowly, and see what happens. If no one answers maybe you haven't even been born yet.  But I bet someone answers, and you learn the rapture of that cruelty which yet is love...and that you dress your wife like you do the women in the streets, and believe me, you'll have a vampire, too, lord lord. So for god's sakes, bring protection, the cross, the stake, the jimmy, and the will to run back to your wife, praise Whistler's Jugs! 

1 comment:

  1. I've been intrigued by Vampyres since stumbling across this post earlier this summer:

    (Does that count as porn spam? But - but he's got non-naked posts too! Like this one, which is awesome by the way:


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