James Clayton Column: Bloodsucker sex magic

James ponders the sex appeal of the undead. Some things might be worth damnation...


The existence of new British comic horror flick Lesbian Vampire Killers raises a number of questions. Firstly: the tricky title. Are we dealing with vampire killers who are lesbians or are the title protagonists people who kill lesbian vampires? Is this, in fact, a film about lesbian vampires who are killers and not actually people who seek to annihilate Sapphic supernatural entities?

I think we could do with a little clarity. Is the death of the vampires desired purely because they are lesbian or is the will to wipe out the undead non-discriminatory? There’s no humour in hate crime, so if the sole motivation for obliterating the monsters is homophobia then the film could find itself up in front of the European Court for Human Rights. I’m sure that there must be some red tape body or bureaucratic organisation acting as the EU’s watchdog on Political Correctness in Popular Culture Depictions of Paranormal Minorities. If so, I demand an inquiry. If not, it’d be fun to see James Corden and Matthew Horne – the stars of Lesbian Vampire Killers – having to flee for their lives from a carnival procession of Gay Pride marchers reinforced by airborne ranks of vampire bats. That’ll teach the bigots…

The second question is this: why are vampires so strongly connected with sexuality? The recent BBC TV drama Being Human provides a case in point as the swarthy Irish bloodsucker Mitchell was undoubtedly the slickest most traditionally ‘sexy’ character next to lovelorn ghost Annie and bumbling werewolf George. Even though he gets secret shameful kicks from watching distinctly un-erotic vampire porn, he’s the charismatic one who ranks as the coolest of the bunch. Looking to the big screen, Mitchell is a televisual continuation of a trend that’s played out in feature films for ages.

If you cast your mind back to the classic monsters of the Universal canon, the horrors of cinema have always acted as representations of the repressed sexuality lurking beneath the surface in society’s subconscious. Frankenstein, for example, elaborates on the homosexual male fantasy of reproduction that doesn’t require females. Werewolf movies are all about the anxieties and body horror felt by teenage boys going through the raging blood, blunder and bumfluff of puberty with Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People possibly serving as a feline feminine parallel. Adolescent girls also get their monstrous rage moment with Brian de Palma’s Carrie, except the character’s paranormal expression of puberty comes in psychokinesis instead of transformation into a panther.

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As predators of the flesh, vampires can also be looked to as expressions of sexuality on screen. It’s no surprise considering that the coffin-dwellers come sweeping into bedrooms at night looking to leave love bites on the necks of nubile young things. While it’s true that the earliest screen vampires aren’t exactly attractive (think of Max Schreck’s ugly, hook-nosed Count Orlok in Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s seminal, genre-spawning masterpiece) the fanged figures quite often stand out and are embraced as the sexiest terror of them all when compared with the other monsters in the pantheon. Actors like Bela Lugosi and Klaus Kinski, who’ve taken up the cloak of Count Dracula, may not necessarily be the definition of ‘dreamboat romantic lead’, but you can’t deny that there’s a certain suave charm in their gestures and that their performances put across a potent sexual tension as they make their moves on Mina Harker.

I’d say that the sexual associations are most strongly urged in movies where the bloodsuckers are based in the modern world. Recently, for instance, we’ve seen teenage girls go batty about Twilight – pheromones flying and hearts a flutter at the thought of Edward Cullen (played by young Brit heartthrob Robert Pattinson). If lonely schoolgirl crushes and romantic fantasies of being whisked away in the night by a dashing dark male don’t strike you as being ‘adult’ enough, a more ‘hardcore’ example comes from the crazed combined creativity of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. In the pair’s wild and warped movie From Dusk Till Dawn, über-erotic undead action is offered up in the Mexican desert trucker bar stop as The Titty Twister turns out to be the haunt of horny vampire strippers from Hell.

Vampirism is also conflated with insatiable sexual appetite in The Hunger, Tony Scott’s stylised 1983 film that is most memorable for the moment David Bowie ages several generations in the space of mere seconds. Once Bowie withers to a rotting corpse, Catherine Deneuve’s vampire lady starts stalking Susan Sarandon and captures her in a lesbian relationship consummated by blood. Poor Bowie – you were faithful and gave up everything yet she was bisexual all along. Or is she specifically a lesbian? Does this mean she qualifies for Corden and Horne’s Lesbian Vampire Killers death list?

Perhaps the sexualisation of vampires has gone too far – especially when the fanged ones are so often associated with the kinds of ‘deviant’ sexuality that demand the intervention of a mob of moral guardians or a cross-bearing, polemical priest. It’s not fair that vampires should always be cast as perverse pariahs and seen as an unceasingly erotic ‘other’ all the time. I’d say that to redress the imbalance, a representation of this reviled minority as just wholesome regular folk who just happen to have special dietary requirements and a dislike for summertime is due.

I had high hopes that widely-praised Swedish film Let The Right One In would provide a more innocent picture as it tells a story of childhood friendship between a 12-year-old boy named Oskar and a little vampire girl named Eli. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the movie will make much of an impact in offering an alternative seeing as it’s an extremely dark tale dealing with disturbing themes instead of a saccharine family-friendly flick about pre-teen companionship in the snowy Stockholm suburbs.

In terms of casting off the sexual clichés, things are further scuppered by the fact that Oskar and Eli fall in love (in the trailer we hear the little boy’s sweet inquiry: “Will you be my girlfriend?”). Tragically, biology is already beating down on the young ones and soon their clean childhood world will come crashing down under a deluge of hormonal despair. If the movies are right, Eli will rapidly become an erotically-charged abomination hellbent on sucking blood and having as much sex as possible. I can only hope, for Oskar’s sake, that sex education in Sweden is of a really high standard…

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James’ previous column can be found here.