Queerly Digital: Lesbian vampires to usher in the Halloween season

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The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Director: Roy Ward Baker
89 minutes
Hammer Films


"The Vampire Lovers" was an attempt by Hammer Films, then the premiere home for old fashioned, Gothic horror movies, to update their image. Since 1957 the company had produced lush, color remakes (and sequels) to classic horror tales like "Dracula," "Frankenstein" and "The Mummy." By 1970 the formula had begun to grown stale--the company was badly in need of "fresh blood."

They found what they were looking for in J. Sheridan LeFanu's 1872 novel "Carmilla," a book that was considered quite shocking when it was first published.

"Carmilla" recounted the tale of Countess Carmilla Karnstein, a buxom and horny female vampire who had a taste for young ladies. Polish born Holocaust survivor Ingrid Pitt enjoyed a brief brush with movie stardom when she was cast as Carmilla in "The Vampire Lovers," Hammer's adaptation of LeFanu's book—the film was a huge hit in its day and was faithful to LeFanu's story.

As the "The Vampire Lovers" unfolds, Carmilla ingratiates herself into the homes of several wealthy families and promptly feasts upon the breasts of her teenaged victims. The telltale scars of the vampire's bite are found not on the girls' necks, but above their nipples.

Pitt dives into her role with gusto. Though she wasn't a lesbian in real life, she had no qualms about shedding her clothes for the camera so she could seduce her young, nubile targets. Though not a porn film, "The Vampire Lovers" makes it clear that Carmilla and the young ladies are making love.

The character's lesbianism notwithstanding, "The Vampire Lovers" is a traditional and straightforward chiller. Like most Hammer horror films, it's set in the past--the film's screenplay establishes the time frame as the 1790s.

The costumes and settings are lush and beautiful. When a group of bereaved family members go in search of Carmilla's grave to exact their revenge, they find themselves in an ancient, fog shrouded cemetery--these scenes are genuinely eerie.

If you enjoy old fashioned spook shows, then "The Vampire Lovers" is the film for you. The film's lesbian content is the icing on the cake, proving that LGBT people are indeed everywhere--even in the Crypt of the Living Dead.

 

Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Director: Harry Kumel
100 minutes
Blue Underground

One of the most unusual vampire films ever produced, "Daughters of Darkness" was filmed at a desolately creepy seaside hotel in Belgium. John Karlen ("Dark Shadows") and Danielle Ouimet co-star as Stefan and Valerie--they're a bisexual couple travelling across Europe on their honeymoon. They check into the hotel on the same night as a lesbian couple, both of whom are vampires. The two women immediately set their sights on the newlyweds as a game of sexual cat and mouse ensues.

The older and more dominant of the lesbian couple turns out to be Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a 17th century noblewoman who bathed in virgin blood in order to stay young--Ingrid Pitt ironically played this same role in a 1972 Hammer film titled "Countess Dracula." In "Daughters of Darkness," Bathory is played by Delphine Seyrig, who was then a huge star in Europe. Seyrig plays Bathory as a sensual seductress, giving the film a mesmerizing erotic edge. She's wonderful in the role as she asserts control not only over her co-stars but over the audience. It's impossible to look away from her eyes, from her ruby red lips or from her flaming red nail polish.

A vampire film unlike any other, "Daughters of Darkness" will pull you into its bizarre and haunting world.

 


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