Vampire lesbians, is there any creature more seductive, hypnotic or seductively sinful? Jesus Christ himself had to come back in the 2001 film Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter to protect Canadian lesbians from the most provocative of predators.
Saphic sanguinarians started staking their claim in Joseph Sheridan le Fanu’s novella Carmilla (1872). From Gloria Holden’s magnetic eyes in Dracula’s Daughter (1936) through Ingrid Pitt’s sultry invitation in The Vampire Lovers (1970) to the revivalist Lesbian Vampire Killers, the irresistible sirens have held an almost fetishistic fascination over moviegoers.
Charles Busch lightly spoofed them in the downtown stage play Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. Jesús Franco exploited them in the 1971 West German-Spanish horror film Vampyros Lesbos, starring Soledad Miranda as the Countess Nadine Carody.
Here are ten reasons why horror fans of all sexual appetites would offer their throats to these ferocious femme fatales.
10. Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
This is the direct sequel to Universal’s classic Dracula and follows up immediately where its predecessor left off. We see a dodgy Lugosi lookalike in a coffin and Van Helsing being arrested for his murder. The focus in this production is on Dracula’s eponymous daughter, Hungarian Countess Maja Zaleska, played by stunningly melancholic Gloria Holden. How it came about that she could claim that title above all other vampire girls he sired is left unanswered, but she gets to repeat the classic “I don’t drink. Wine.”
Though she is ultimately after psychiatrist Dr Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), she also approaches two possible female victims. That lesbian angle, not unsurprising for the time this was filmed in, is only ever so subtle, but clear enough to warrant an inclusion in this list. Dracula’s Daughter may be the first Lesbian Vampire on film, but she is also more importantly the first Neurotic Vampire as she seeks a psychological cure for what she considers a compulsive obsession for human blood.
9. Blood and Roses (1960)
If Dracula’s Daughter was the first cinematic lesbian vampire, Blood and Roses deserves the accolade for being the first truly sexual vampire movie. This is also the first time that Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel Carmilla was transferred to the silver screen, though in a modernised adaptation. From then on the name Carmilla Karnstein (or any of its variations such Mircalla or Marcilla) should soon become synonymous with female vampires in the same way that Dracula is still the prototype for all male blood suckers.
Directed by Roger Vadim, who always had to marry his leading ladies, Blood and Roses stars his then-wife Annette Vadim as Carmilla. Drenched in absolutely stunning, beautiful colors and imagery, and with a delightful musical score, this is a feast for the eyes and also features some haunting black and white dream sequences with splashes of red a la The Tingler.
Unusual for a film of this vintage, this production also displays some short scenes of nudity. Although Carmilla does go for the ladies, her ultimate aim is to take over the body of Mel Ferrer’s character’s fiancée (Elsa Martinelli), so though there are clearly lesbian elements in this film, this isn’t such a clear cut victory for the sisterhood.
8. Any Jean Rollin film
French Director Jean Rollin practically made an entire career out of the Lesbian Vampire sub-genre. With titles such as Rape of the Vampire (1969), The Naked Vampire (1970), The Shiver of the Vampires (1971), or Lips of Blood (1975) he managed to transform a one-track obsession into a lucrative cinematic career.
With his sense for mixing eroticism with art-house, his productions are stunning to look at; but at the same time, his fixation on foregoing conventional narrative structures and focusing often entirely on silent, dialogue-free surreal imagery and slow, languid dreamlike sequences can also make his films exercises in boredom. For every dedicated Jean Rollin fan we will also have a dozen others who consider his oeuvre to be the cinematic equivalent of a sleeping pill – if you can sleep through that many nude women.
7. Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
Some would argue the case that a Top 10 of best lesbian vampire movies could easily be filled entirely with Jess Franco films and others would say that the terms “best” and “Franco” are mutually exclusive. Still, at least one of the Spanish director’s productions warrants a place in this list, and none more so than Vampyros Lesbos.
One other possible contender could be his Female Vampire (1973), but with a title like this, how could I not include Vampyros Lesbos? And whereas the Female Vampire stars Lina Romay, this entry features Franco’s stunningly beautiful, but ultimately tragic muse Soledad Miranda, who passed away far too young in a car accident not too long after the film was finished.
She plays the otherwordly figure who lures Ewa Strömberg’s character away from her mundane existence in a series of ever more surreal (bit of a trend here) sequences. Looks like I am quite comfortably in touch with my inner female, but am I the only one who feels that Franco is a better costume designer than film maker? Some of the fetishistic clothes on display alone warrant at least a cursory viewing.
6. Lust for a Vampire (1971)
Remember this is not a Top 10 of the Most Intelligent Movies Of All Time and, yes, that final song is embarrassing, but when you immerse yourself in a movie marathon with scores of films featuring beautifully shot – but often slow moving – dream scenes, then every once in a while you need a stupid but entertaining Hammer production to keep you awake. And realistically: When you think of Lust for a Vampire, is the first thing that comes to your mind the song or the image of a blood-drenched Yutte Stensgaard arising from her tomb? ‘Nuff said.
5. Vampyres (1974)
From the first scene of Vampyres it becomes very obvious that our two leading ladies, played by charismatic and gorgeous Marianne Morris and Anulka (who both, very surprisingly, never made much afterwards), like each other. A lot. They regularly waylay primarily male drivers to tempt and quickly dispose of them by sucking them dry. Rather than sport the usual fangs they do so by cutting their arms open with a knife. The wound on which they feast has a suspiciously vaginal look to it.
Filmed in the English countryside by Spanish director José Ramón Larraz, this is a very tittilating film that rightly became a cult production over the years. Ultimately all is not as it seems and, as quite often the case with those types of movies, you better be prepared to make up your own mind as to what you saw.
4. The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)
The Blood Spattered Bride is one unique gem of a movie, visually stunning, narratively surprising and truly erotic. Alexandra Bastedo (from TV’s The Champions) stars in this Spanish production by Vicente Aranda as yet another Karnstein lady who appears in bridal gown in front of newly wed Susan (Maribel Martin) and encourages her to top off her forever-nameless but utterly sadistic husband (Simon Andreu).
This can easily be read as a feminist pamphlet, yet sympathies with the characters gradually change; though the husband is portrayed as utterly despicable right from the start, we also end up feeling for him towards the end, when he becomes a deeply flawed character chased by mysterious forces beyond his control.
This film is quite often Lynchian in its assortment of scratching-your-head-what-on-Earth-is-going-on-moments, yet – as with David Lynch – Aranda manages to create a unique and compelling universe that works, despite often making little “sense” in the traditional meaning. Watch this movie and tell me your jaw didn’t drop when Bastedo’s character is seen buried in the sand revealing only her breasts and a weirdly out of place diver’s mask! And two girls in one coffin? Works for me!
3. The Hunger (1983)
Most of the movies in this list are European. For some reason lesbian vampire movies don’t seem to have made a tremendous impact on Hollywood. There may be a message in this somewhere that I have yet to find. So it is little surprise that one of the very few American entries in this sub-genre still has a very strong European presence, with English director Tony Scott at the helm and stars Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie only leaving room for one American, Susan Sarandon, as a main contributor.
The American influence of Whitley Streiber’s source novel, on the other hand, guarantees that for a change we have a movie outside of the usual Olde Worlde Karnstein league. The Hunger features modern day New York and a then-hip soundtrack that includes Bauhaus, amongst others. The vampires in this film are also far removed from the usual Eastern European kind, and are instead creatures feeding on the human lifeforce in general.
This is a highly original movie, and criticizing its emphasis on style over substance is hardly valid for a sub-genre so often dominated by stylish imagery masking a poorer story. A lot of the scenes are no longer as hip as the director intended, but embarrassingly naff reminders of the decade that was really abandoned by the style police. Still, none of that can detract from the class that The Hunger oozes.
2. Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness has the honor of being Belgium’s first – if not only – true horror film. The country not known for producing anything else, ahem, Stella other than beer has come up with a truly outstanding entry. Daughters is loosely based on the Bathory saga, and features Delphine Seyrig as the immortal Countess travelling with a beautiful female companion (Andrea Rau) to a deserted off-season hotel in Ostend.
Here they meet two newlyweds (John Karlen and Daniele Ouimet). Both couples are emotionally damaged: one of them has to face the wrath of a domineering and, errr, unusual groom’s mother; the other has to deal with the prospect of having one immortal member in constant need of new and ever-changing companionship.
In a lot of ways the two vampires even appear more caring and human than the conventionally married ones, if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re also currently embarking on a killing spree through the local girls.
While the film ignores some of the classic vampire clichés (no sign of fangs anywhere), it also playfully acknowledges the classic lore: As vampires are generally allergic to running water, a visit to a shower proves to have a tragic outcome. (Not a problem that the Vampyres ladies seem to share.) Similar to The Shining, the elegant, but empty hotel adds tremendous value to the painfully beautiful atmosphere.
1. The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers is an absolutely outstanding production on every level, featuring a pleasantly straightforward storyline that never descends to the forced plot-twists plaguing other entries in the sub-genre. Aside from expert direction and cinematography, Vampire Lovers boasts the best assortment of actors ever to be found in these movies.
A lot of care was taken in finding suitably attractive female leads in other lesbian vampire productions, but they often fell flat when it came to casting their male counterparts. Not so here, where fine actors like Peter Cushing, Ferdy Mayne, Douglas Wilmer, Jon Finch and John Forbes-Robertson complement the glamour on hand from the female stars.
Lovers features Ingrid Pitt, Kate O’Mara, Madeline Smith, Dawn Addams, Pippa Steele, and Kirsten Lindholm (who ended up having minor parts in all three Hammer ‘Karnstein’ movies). Ingrid Pitt is quite simply the quintessential Carmilla Karnstein and this movie proved to be the cornerstone on which she was able to build her subsequent cult career.
And lest we forget: Without The Vampire Lovers we also would never have had Steve Coogan’s Lesbian Vampire Lovers Of Lust from his Dr. Terrible’s House Of Horrible series.