Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating
Lesbian vampires became an optimal choice for exploitation and low budget filmmakers trying to make a quick buck, while avoiding the nuances of shooting and distributing a porn flick.
A promotional photograph from Revenge of the Creature (Jack Arnold, 1955) proves to be a revealing example of the homosocial anxieties addressed by these films. This picture features the creature chained to a wall and attacking an unconscious Joe Hayes (John Bromfield), the second male lead, dressed in a swimming suit. In the film, Hayes and Clete Ferguson (John Agar) are competing for the attention of Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson). The evident homoeroticism in this image suggests the monster as an embodiment of subdued homosocial desires.
But nevertheless, truth be told, any type of homosexual tendencies in these films is strictly metaphoric and open to interpretation and analysis. As the 1960s progressed, however, three main factors contributed to a profound transformation of the way non-heteronormative sexual identities were constructed in horror cinema. First of all, the deep paranoia of the McCarthyism era finally began to relax. Second, along with the success of popular civil rights leaders fighting racism and discrimination, these years also witnessed the emergence of militant gay and lesbian movements opposing sexual discrimination and intolerance. Finally, the production code that regulated the sex and violence content of Hollywood productions weakened and eventually collapsed.
As a consequence, during the '60s and '70s, a large number of horror films had a rather explicit presentation of issues regarding non-heteronormative sexual identities. In particular, the lesbian vampire subgenre became extremely fashionable in those years. Blatantly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s Victorian vampire novel Camilla (1872), films such as Blood and Roses (Roger Vadim, 1961), The Rape of the Vampire (Jean Rollin, 1967), The Naked Vampire (Jean Rollin, 1969), Vampyros Lesbos (Jesus Franco, 1970), The Vampire Lovers (Roy Ward Baker, 1970), Lust for a Vampire (Jimmy Sangster, 1970), Twins of Evil (John Hough, 1971), Daughters of Darkness (Joseph Larraz, 1975), and The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983), featured sensual female bloodsuckers engaged in overt lesbian relationships.
However, in spite of the attributed sexual orientation of the bloodsuckers, these movies were specifically made to satisfy male sexual fantasies. Indeed, gorgeous and feminine young women – the kind who might most appeal to a heterosexual male -- invariably portrayed the lesbian characters. It is equally important to note that, by showcasing a number of soft-core steaming sexual situations, these subversive and sleazy films constantly defied distributors, critics, and censors to reevaluate what was acceptable for popular consumption.
In this regard it is perhaps ironic that sexuality and lesbianism appeared to be more acceptable if it was showcased within the context of a supernatural horror narrative. As a consequence, lesbian vampires became an optimal choice for exploitation and low budget filmmakers trying to make a quick buck, while avoiding the nuances of shooting and distributing a porn flick. The success and popularity of these films is undeniable: to date, outside the pornographic genre, lesbian vampires remain the most popular representation of lesbianism in the big screen.
Let us also remark that, in spite of being more explicit in their presentation of non-normative sexual identities, '60s and '70s lesbian vampire films had a very rigid moralistic narrative structure. Indeed, most of these movies presented an evil lesbian vampire trying to seduce a young and innocent girl. On the other hand, the girl’s noble boyfriend always stood for traditional values and the forces of good. Towards the film’s end, this sexual triangle is invariably resolved with the destruction of the vampire at the hands of the boyfriend. As such, these movies remain extremely conventional in their representation of homosexuality and bisexuality as monstrous.
Interestingly, the lesbian vampire formula was reversed in the '70s and '80s when Anne Rice published a series of five books, collectively known as The Vampire Chronicles, that featured the adventures and escapades of Lestat, an overtly gay vampire. The most popular of these, Interview with the Vampire, was adapted to the big screen in 1994 under the directorial helm of Neil Jordan. Quite surprisingly if you think about it, this film starred two of the most hyper-masculine leading men in Hollywood, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, portraying a child-molesting, homosexual couple.
In a similar vein, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975) was explicit in its presentation of an amiable and sympathetic Doctor Frankenstein (Tim Curry) who is overtly gay and transvestite. Even though Rocky Horror is in the fringe between a comedy, a musical, and a horror flick, it quickly achieved cult status. An enduring film by any means, it continues to have a strong following from all over the world. But nevertheless, as we will see in the next installment of Dread Reckoning, this movie was an exception to the rule, as most horror films continued to present non-heteronormative sexual identities as aberrant, disgusting, dangerous, and monstrous.
From Van Helsing (2004)