[13 November 2012]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Well, we’ve finally reached the end of it. Our long international night terror as proposed nascent neckbiter romance is finally coming to a conclusion, and for many in fright fandom, the close of Twilight could not come quicker. Having already sullied the famed monster with its mushy love junk, Stephanie Meyer’s multimillion dollar juggernaut limps into theaters this weekend with the second installment of the already unnecessary double finale—Breaking Dawn. In this Bella Swan-song, our heroine has become a member of the Cullen Clan, both matrimonially and undead-like, and her newborn child may be a threat to all bloodsuckers around the world. Thus, the Volturi get involved and we get more eerie Goth Eurotrash types gadding about the big screen. Enough already. Yeesh.
Anyway, the impending box office bonanza got us thinking about our favorite female Vlads. While some sort of miss the boat—Geena Davis in Transylvania 6-5000—others have tried to expand on the mythos without making mincemeat of the entire creature category (like the androgynous Eli of Let the Right One In). One such example arrives on DVD and Blu-ray today (13 November) in the form of Vamps, a comedy from Amy Heckerling (Clueless) that tries to turn the whole Dracula dynamic on its Sex and the City stake. While it’s only slightly successful, it illustrates the main way movies portray girl ghouls—as supernatural cheesecake. As a result, we have decided to dig deep into the vaults of movies mainstream and obscure and come up with our own list of Ten Awesome Female Vampires. While their particular motion pictures may be mediocre, these gals really know how to deliver the sultry shivers, beginning with:
As goofy guilty pleasures go, this preposterous science fiction film from Kurt Wimmer wins for having the chutzpah to turn the vampires into the good guys. You see, in the not too distant future, a disease is raging through the world, giving ordinary people superhuman powers and turning them into quasi-vampires. Into this dystopian mess comes our heroine, a sword wielding badass out to protect her genetically modified “people” from a despotic government. While she uses more stunt bravado than neckbiting, her intense skills are the direct result of being among the infected. The movie’s quite loopy. Milla Jovovich is her usual butt kicking self.
Before you start arguing about this selection (and assume it’s inclusion revolves around a certain actress’s readily viewable birthday suit accessories), one only has to remember the source material from which director Tobe Hooper drew inspiration—Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires. Indeed, instead of feeding on blood, these creatures suck the lifeforce out of their victims, reducing them to mere human shells who, upon reanimation, demand the same. The special effects involved make for a frightening descent into apocalyptic chaos. As for the characterization within? Well, let’s just say that our naked girl is best known for her breasts—and that’s all.
Okay, so maybe she’s not “technically” a vampire. Perhaps, instead, she’s a demonic high priestess who worships an ancient snake god and only grows incredibly tooth appendages when she is trying appease her Goth ghoul blood lust. Whatever the case, there is no denying that Amanda Donohoe makes a very fetching and frightening fiend. Part catwalk creep-out, part Skinamax siren, the character fits perfectly into the late, great Ken Russell’s psycho-surrealistic stunt. Her scenes with costar Hugh Grant are engaging, an even the character’s obligatory spit curl seems to suggest something that the movie will never mention, or feels its unimportant to explore.
Was she really a vampire, or just a figment of Nicolas Cage’s unhinged insane Method actor imagination and madness? That’s the question offered up in this unusual attempt at a horror comedy. As usual, the actor who would eventually become a pure paycheck casher goes gonzo, trying to convince us that his one night stand with a club bunny actually resulted in a supernatural transformation. Still, with Ms. Flashdance herself, Jennifer Beals, as the slinky pick-up who keeps returning to “feed” finds the right balance between babe and bad. If only Cage weren’t acting the fool, munching on cockroaches and wearing plastic fangs.
Many remember this film as a pre-In Living Color Jim Carrey’s first stab at movie stardom (around the time of The Duck Factory—remember that?). Anyway, the future funnyman phenom was relatively subdued here, leaving the door open for someone else to walk away with this middling movie. Enter supermodel Lauren Hutton, playing the perfect cosmopolitan claret drinker. While the attempted humor was half-baked, the May-December element to the Countess’s seduction of Carrey ads intrigue. Besides, Blazing Saddles’ Cleavon Little played her assistant. To that, all we can say is “Danke Schoen, baby.”
Pale, fragile, and beyond vulnerable, when we first see this wandering waif of a girl, we can see how readily a man could fall under her spell. When we learn that she is a vampire looking to make the rest of her monster clan “happy” by picking a necessary human victim, things become more complicated. This brilliant deconstruction of the mythos, offered by a pre-Hurt Locker Oscar Katherine Bigelow, does for the vampire myth what George Romero did for the zombie—takes the tired ideas and electrifies them with pure post-modern menace… and meaning. Not only is Mae a great creature, but she is part of one of the best horror films of all time.
For the most part, Hollywood limits what a female vampire can and cannot be. Either she’s an unwitting creature who craves blood and gore, or she’s a misunderstood sophisticate who must surreptitiously seduce and slaughter to avoid the unnerving aging process. Guess which approach the late director Tony Scott took with this tale? As his viable vamp, the filmmaker tagged the great Catherine Deneuve—and then threw in David Bowie and Susan Sarandon for good measure. The result is like a commercial for supernatural spray cologne, Chanel No. 5 channeled through a minor genre mode. As a fashion plate, Miriam rocks. As a fright icon… well…
Yes, we are cheating a bit, but when you have a movie that concentrates on two female vampire lesbians who lure unsuspecting men to their gloomy Victorian home for sex and slaughter, it’s hard to pick just one creepshow concubine. In this case, the duo are so diabolic, and so divine, that they are almost like one supernatural seductress. Of course, as the movie progresses, an unwitting couple stumble upon the pair, and all manner of paranormal peccadilloes are produced. On a side note, both of our leading ladies were famous nude models, so perhaps that’s why they seem so “comfortable” onscreen.
It’s all about Salma Hayek and her undeniable “assets.” Before she went mainstream, this curvy Mexican leading lady was Robert Rodriguez’s go-to gal. He cast her in Desperado, and then asked her to play this minor role in this Quentin Tarantino horror/crime mash-up. Of course, the minute she arrived on screen as a stripper with a secret (the secret being that she and her dancing divas are all blood thirsty monsters), she confirmed her place in the female vampire hierarchy. The image of her in a splashy bikini, massive snake draped around her has become a part of post-modern macabre iconography.
Here’s all you need to know… two simple words: Ingrid Pitt. While only involved in two Hammer-style spook shows (this, and Countess Dracula) her physical and performance presence cements her legacy as the best female vampire ever. Not only could Ms. Pitt evoke sexuality, she could command terror and potential dread as well. The Vampire Lovers is a perfect example of what she brings to the screen—smoldering lust and legitimate bloodletting. Others may think they are more fetching or fearful, but no one surpasses Ms. Pitt. She is the female Dracula personified, and this is one of her best films.