That’s Why The Vampire Is A Vamp

To belabour a point I’ve made before, erotic horror is a label that always gives me cause for concern with its oxymoron status. Erotic implies sexually arousing, but surely for most of us that impulse is nipped in the bud by the linking with horror, or as I expressed myself in a somewhat less eoloquent moment, do even sad little horror wankers get hard ons when they know their willies are going to be chopped off?

I guess it depends for its effect on our inability to suspend disbelief, the knowledge that what is happening is not real. In a similar way we can watch horror films and regard them as entertainment, whereas if the same events occurred in our own lives we would want nothing to do with them. And perhaps, in the case of erotica and its less house trained cousin porn, its the ludicrous nature of the beast that enables its appeal, which could be why most erotic horror films, and porn in general, use such flimsy narrative devices.

We digress.

Certainly, in the case of vampirism with its necessary adjuncts of biting and sucking, and general air of seduction, I can appreciate that there is an erotic potential. And of course, unlike most other forms of cinema, there is a yardstick by which we can judge how fully that potential has transferred to the screen (sorry, that joke only works if you’re male and about twelve).

Vampire Killer Barbys (1996)

Bog standard horror plot in a film by Eurotrash favourite Jesse Franco. Rock band the Killer Barbys are travelling between gigs when their van breaks down within the vicinity of a castle that looks more like an apartment block you might have found in Soviet Russia. It’s the home of the Countess, who needs fresh blood to rejuvenate and has henchmen prepared to help her attain that end courtesy of the Barbys. It’s a perfect piece of nonsense, the story only a pretext for some designer deshabille set pieces complete with nudity and lashings of blood. There are moments that border on the bizarre but ultimately don’t amount to much more than just plain silly, such as when a couple of the Barbys fuck in the back of the van and are so into each other that they don’t notice a) the hunchback peering in the window and masturbating b) the two dwarves who come into the van and remove the dangling ornaments from over the dashboard replacing them with stuffed lizards. The big sex scene with the Countess would probably only work if you are into low end S&M, while the scene where the blonde chick runs naked through the woods is somewhat undercut by the guy chasing her with a scythe. Lead singer, and our heroine for the duration, Flavia was rather nice, and I have to admit finding it more of a turn on when the band perform than at any other time. There’s something about a pounding, pulsing rock beat that gets the juices flowing, and as the Barbys are/were an actual bona fide rock band this film has a decent soundtrack. Not so bad as to be good, but neither so trashy as to be unwatchable.

Embrace of the Vampire (1995) 

This one was described by the cultural pundits of The Sport as ‘The sexiest vampire movie ever made’, and while I haven’t seen enough vampire movies to make that call, I’m happy to name it the sexiest of the bunch under discussion today. Unlike the others it has a half decent budget, and it also has the delightful Alyssa Milano. But sadly the plot is not particularly impressive or original (think Bram Stoker’s Dracula without Dracula). Martin Kemp is a centuries old vampire, who now has only three nights left to him unless he can bring over his ancient, true love. Unfortunately for him she’s been reincarnated as a rather straitlaced college girl, who’s totally in love with her fiance and determined to remain a virgin until her wedding night. Kemp sets about seducing her through sexy dreams, and Milano finds herself doubting her boyfriend and opening up to new experiences, such as an encounter with a lesbian photographer and a vivid fantasy about an orgy. The subtext I guess is about teenage hormones running wild and temptations of the flesh, though they don’t do much with it and in the end conservative values are reaffirmed through the victory of true love, with Milano realising that she needs to give it up to the boyfriend. Overall I’d say the plot is just a pretext to get Milano out of her clothes as often as possible without being too obvious about it, and on that score it only half succeeds. Intellectually, I want to guffaw, but using another yardstick the ‘getting Milano naked’ ploy worked rather well, and I can almost justify such a prurient interest by pointing out the fact that her character has a dreadful fashion sense and badly needed some form of intervention.

Vampyres (1975)

Also known as Daughters of Dracula, this exploitation flick capably demonstrates my earlier argument about the contradictory nature of erotic horror. First up they grab my attention with two very attractive women naked on a bed and having fun, and then just when I’m starting to go with the flow in walks a man with a gun and the next thing I know I’m staring at a couple of bullet riddled corpses. It’s obviously part of a conspiracy by some extreme feminist group to eliminate the male erection response using Pavlovian methods. Anyway, next thing the ladies are vampires (it’s a little known fact that gay people come back as vampires) yomping round the English countryside and luring men back to an unoccupied manor house for refreshments, then leaving their empties by the roadside in crashed cars for the police to find next morning. Apparently the police don’t twig that there are an awful lot of accidents on this stretch of road, and the coroner doesn’t notice that the bodies are drained of blood. I blame budget cuts. But let’s not forget that there are a couple parked in a caravan nearby and watching some of this take place, until they too become snacks for the femme fatales, after which the vampires lose track of time and writhe off into the sunrise together. THE END. I’m trying to think of something good to say about this. Oh yeah, stars Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska are gorgeous women and commended for their attention to personal hygiene (i.e. they spend a lot of time in the shower, together and singly). Other than that, it’s pretty much uncompromising trash. In fact, even with that, it’s uncompromising trash.

Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

Another film by Jess Franco and an art house classic according to some. The basics of the plot come from Dracula, recycled with the gender of the lead characters switched and a lesbian slant. Countess Nadine summons Linda Westinghouse to her island home to help with an inheritance, and then sets about seducing her, while elsewhere there’s a woman in a lunatic asylum who appears to have been a past victim of the Countess. Intercut with all this are scenes in a Turkish night club where Nadine appears to be performing a striptease routine, removing her clothes and placing them on another woman, who stands still all the time like a dummy. When I first watched this film I vaguely recall being impressed with the dreamlike quality of the narrative and Franco’s use of imagery, but now, all these years later, while I still feel some of that I’m more irritated by the vagueness of the plot, the way in which so little of it makes sense, not least the climax where Nadine just seems to give up without a fight. A further irritation is provided by the psychedelic soundtrack, which according to the back cover of the DVD, ‘has been elevated to cult status’. I thought it an abomination, totally distracting from anything on the screen and about as unerotic as it’s possible for any sound made by human ingenuity to be. Plus points? Well star Soledad Miranda is a luminously beautiful woman and held me spellbound whenever she was on screen, psychedelic soundtrack and all, especially in the overtly sensual night club scenes. So yeah, I guess as erotic horror it works and works rather well. It just falls down as filmmaking.

I wouldn’t put any of these films on my Vampire Top Ten, or even in a Top Twenty. I’m wondering what else is out there in the erotic vampire stakes. Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy, certainly. Anyone have other suggestions?


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2 Responses to That’s Why The Vampire Is A Vamp

  1. Hi Pete,

    For a lot of us growing up in the fifties and early sixties, when eroticism was still pretty much muffled in major media (on TV, a husband and wife could not sit on the same bed unless both had a foot still on the carpet), I suspect most of our erotic thrills came from horror movies, since they were just about the only reasonably available form where boys could watch “scantily-clad” women. Given the context of the horror film (the women were not only half-naked but often half-dead, attacked, tortured and frequently murdered), associating sexual arousal with violence, it’s surprising we still grew up normal (more or less.) I have to believe the thrill of seeing real breasts outdid the thrill of fake blood on those breasts.

    (The sex drive has amazing filtering properties. I remember a comedian saying that he saw a photograph of a plane crash once, body parts strewn all over the landscape, and his first thought was, That woman’s leg over there by the bushes is really shapely.)

    Speaking of erotic horror, the fourth season of True Blood starts in the States this Sunday.

  2. petertennant says:

    Hi Rob
    Back when I was a child my ‘sexual awakening’ was tied up with Emma Peel in “The Avengers”, which probably explains why in adulthood I have a thing for domineering upper class women such as The Imaginary Girlfriend, albeit no interest in being dominated. On UK TV back in the 60s horror was represented mostly by the old Universal/RKO features. The ‘sexier’ Hammers didn’t hit the box until the end of that era, if I recall correctly. My most treasured possession was a copy of Health & Efficiency (naturist) magazine.
    I remember reading a story about the Comics Code in the US, which forbade the portrayal of sexual activity. When an unmarried couple were shown having a nightcap at the end of one issue and sharing breakfast at the start of another, the Code nabobs disapproved. The publisher’s answer was, ‘We’re not responsible for what our characters get up to between issues.’

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