Tag Archives: monster

Link Dump: #81

This week’s spooooky kitty is from Michele Soavi’s Cemetery Man, which also blessed us with this image of Rupert Everett. And now, some links for early October…

Some spooooky search terms: “10 kid pussy,” “man and women rectum,” and the wonderful Yahoo! Answers fodder (or maybe rejected Macbeth dialogue?) “does wanking make a black spot under nipple appear.”

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Link Dump: #68

Oh my god, it’s Peter Lorre with two kitties on him! That’s just like the cutest thing ever. Pussy Goes Grrr’s been fairly quiet this past week, but lots of goodies soon to come: some list-tastic posts, some reviews, and of course the Queer Film Blogathon on the horizon. But for now, a few links:

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Link Dump: #50

Courtesy of Jasmine’s pet tiger Rajah, we’re easing ourselves into the post-Halloween season—that bizarre holiday interregnum known as “November.” So finish noshing on that discounted candy and join us for these (still pretty Halloween-centric) links:

Since this is the 50th-ever Link Dump (wow! 50!), we decided to celebrate through search terms. Here’s the deal: every single day, we receive countless hits through searches like “[actress’s name] pussy.” This happens with a lot of actresses. So, as our gift to you, here’s a list of a few dozen actresses (and other, sometimes fictional people) whose names have been repeatedly searched for alongside “pussy” (or “cunt,” or “twat”):

  • Winona Ryder, Sarah Polley, Faye Dunaway, P.J. Soles, Hermione Granger, Carrie-Anne Moss, Rita Hayworth, Melanie Lynskey, Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter, Julianne Moore, Catherine Keener, Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock, Abigail Breslin, Isabella Rossellini, Teri Garr, Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Vivien Leigh, Amanda Seyfried, Emma Stone, Katherine Hepburn, Anna Faris, Jesse Eisenberg, Agnes Moorhead, Janet Leigh, Lily Tomlin.

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A last-minute Halloween treat

Here’s a fun fact: I sometimes watch movies, but don’t write about them online. Right now, however, I’d like to correct that discrepancy. As October inches closer and closer to its official end (although really, October is just a state of mind), here are a few horror movies I saw during the past month that have yet to be discussed on Pussy Goes Grrr.

  • The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006): I’m a sucker for giant monster movies, having suckled at the teat of Godzilla, so I was naturally inclined to like this skewed take on the subgenre. It gets a little saccharine and manipulative every once in a while, but that’s more than made up for by the film’s warmth, humor, and political satire.
  • Psychomania (Don Sharp, 1971): I previously knew it only as George Sanders’ last movie. Turns out it’s also totally ridiculous, almost impossible to follow, and batshit insane. Sanders plays a butler; for convoluted reasons, his employer’s son commits suicide and comes back the same… only invulnerable. WTF! It’s amusing, but also really bad.
  • Red Eye (Wes Craven, 2005): This is less of a horror movie and more a standard psychological thriller. Assassin Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) plays mind games with a hotel manager (Rachel McAdams), his seatmate on a Dallas-Miami flight. Much of the screenplay is laughable – especially as the film approaches its finale – but Murphy and McAdams are professionals, and their back-and-forth achieves Hitchcockian levels of suspense.
  • Fright Night (Tom Holland, 1985): Chris Sarandon is a sleazy vampire who moves to the suburbs with his lover?/henchman; William Ragsdale is the teenage neighbor who pledges to defeat him; Roddy McDowall is the over-the-hill TV vampire hunter who helps him. It’s such a good-natured, fun-loving movie that I couldn’t help but love it. Kind of like John Hughes meets Goosebumps, but so much better than both.
  • Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009): Raimi finally returned to Evil Dead territory with fantastic results. Alison Lohman is a banker suffering from a gypsy curse who does a lot of bad, bad things in her effort to get rid of it. Unsurprisingly, it’s comically gory and self-consciously pokes fun at EC Comics-style morality tales; a very worthwhile return to form from an old master.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Jack Sholder, 1985): Like entries 2 and 3 on this list, its storyline makes virtually no sense. Still, the underlying teen angst (and repressed but white-hot homoeroticism) make this sequel stand out, as does the Cronenbergian scenes of extreme body horror.
  • Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987): Holy shit, Clive Barker! What the fuck is your problem?! But seriously, this is a very different, very kinky kind of horror movie, maybe like a mix of Little Shop of Horrors, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Salò. Yeah, let’s go with that. It has a slasher plot about an undead sociopath manipulating his brother’s wife, but it’s all wrapped up in a bizarre, ultra-violent mythology about a race of hellbound beings who clean the doors of perception for their human clients. The film also has Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), who’s a very convincing final girl.

So there’s a taste of the other stuff I watched this month. Exciting! And with that, I say happy October and happy Halloween.

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Better late than never: Of Gods and Monsters

[Note: I started writing this several nights ago, but time constraints and festivities prevented publishing it till now, when it’s not really still relevant. Enjoy!]

It’s almost Halloween again. I’ve been blogging pretty rarely lately – and with a good reason, which is “real life” – but something about this season (and who I am) makes me want to watch, read, and write about horror. So I think I’ll spend a little time discussing the horror genre, especially as it’s represented in film. As I came to WordPress, I saw this post, “Quelles Horreurs!” by titirangistoryteller, listed among the “Freshly Pressed.” I’m always up for someone else’s insights into a genre I love, so I clicked and read the post… and immediately went, WTF? Granted, I’ve read way more inane commentary on horror. This is just kind of mediocre. But still, it’s full of what frustrates me about shoddy, poorly-researched film discussions: it’s full of generalizations, broad leaps of logic, and takes tiny samples as being representative of a much broader whole.

For example: “The sixties had an outpouring of B-grade horror flicks, most of which starred Vincent Price, Christopher Lee or Boris Karloff…” The first clause here isn’t so bad, although the usage of “B-grade” is dubious, and maybe they should be penalized for use of the word “flicks,” but claiming that most 1960s B-movies had either Price, Lee, or Karloff? Man, those guys must’ve been working overtime! They were all prolific actors, and they were in some of the best-remembered B-movies of the ’60s (though I would want to explore further what that term, B-movie, actually means), but please just think about what you write and do some fucking research. The fact is that hyperbole-based writing is rarely genuinely informative, nor does it get across much about the actual content or meaning of the films. And beyond that, it pisses me off.

That said, let’s actually talk about horror. Price, Lee, and Karloff are legends within the genre, though it’s totally meaningless to declare them emblematic of an entire decade’s B-movies. Why not look at their legacies? Karloff was born William Henry Pratt – switched from a very English name to a mysterious, vaguely Russian one. After countless supporting roles, he was called “?” in the opening credits of James Whale’s Frankenstein. And Karloff’s career began in earnest, lumbering and moaning as he traversed the European countryside, an ugly patchwork of dead tissue revived by lightning, gentle at heart but brutal in body. If you want to explore Karloff’s legacy, I recommend another B-movie of sorts, Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets. It’s not so much straight horror as the kind of horror movie Bogdanovich, fresh from writing about film for Esquire and now a student of Roger Corman, would make, doubling back on its artistic antecedents and contrasting them with the horrific present-day. At the center of it all is an aged Karloff in a quasi-autobiographical role, close to death and ready to set aside a career as a movie monster.

Thank God for Jack Pierce's talent with makeup

What is a monster, anyway? Is it the mad scientist or his creation? Do they each share in the monstrosity? Is a vampire a human being, or something else altogether? It’s so fun to ponder these questions within the fictitious constraints given to us by a body of films. What do you remember about Karloff’s Monster? His hulking gait, his way of going, “Ehhhh!”, his dislike of fire, or was it the neck bolts? Another cinematic reference pont is Victor Erice’s magical 1973 film about childhood, The Spirit of the Beehive. Ana Torrent stars as a little girl in Franco’s Spain who sees a screening of the original Frankenstein and begins seeing the monster all around her. When children see horror movies, it can affect them, for better or worse (in my case, I’d say “for better”).

Erice’s film also connects to a tendency in horror film which I was discussing on a little radio show last Wednesday: transmuting trauma and familial dysfunction into the strange or supernatural. This isn’t a new observation by any means, but it’s something I frequently find interesting. In horror, you don’t have to talk about emotional, psychological, and sexual issues directly; you can turn them into another form. Consider David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979): early on, a young man’s resentment of his father is manifested in a tumor on his neck. Later on, a woman’s antipathy toward her husband and protectiveness toward her son… well, it’s better to watch the movie and be disgusted.

The point is that when we don’t have to follow normal physical and biological laws (e.g., they’re being transgressed by agents of the paranormal), we can have different kinds of tension and pain exhibited in unusual ways. In The Exorcist (1973), for example, the complexities of a mother/daughter relationship troubled by divorce, dating, and the onset of adolescence are blown up (in all senses of the phrase) via the horrors of demonic possession. Sure, a lion’s share of the horror comes from the explicit, nearly X-rated gore (whether we’re talking crucifix masturbation, spider walking, or just pea soup), but it’s contextualized and given emotional heft by the pre-existing difficulties between Chris and Regan MacNeil.

Father Merrin (the apparently ageless Max von Sydow) approaches the MacNeil house

Unfortunately, at this juncture, it’s been so long since I started writing this post that I’ve lost track of what my argument was. But that aside, horror films serve many important roles in our common culture, and they’ve often turned out to be masterpieces – whether low-budget art horror films like Carnival of Souls, auteur triumphs like The Shining, or classical Hollywood productions like Dracula. The scope of horror is so wonderfully broad, perhaps because people can be scared in so many ways, and for so many reasons. You can indulge in the self-aware excess of The Evil Dead, or in the measured blood-letting and psychological brutality of Cries and Whispers. Hopefully I can get my mind back on track and write more along these lines in the near future. Till then, pleasant nightmares.

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My Favorite Movies: Night of the Living Dead

The ghouls march together in George Romero's influential classic

I first saw George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968, viewable here) on Halloween morning during my freshman year of college, but the gruesome image you see above had already been in my head for years, since it adorned the empty VHS case my family once possessed. This illustrates the staying power and the measured gore of Romero’s imagery: shot in grainy black and white, it’s not shocking enough to make you jump (at least, not most of the time). But it can creep into the back of your head like a zombie encroaching on your personal space, until next thing you know you’re waking up in a cold sweat from nightmares of those infected teeth clamping down on your naked shoulder. The lasting fear its visuals create is but one side of this scary, clever film.

The plot of Night of the Living Dead is as simple and as bold as its title: the dead rise to eat the living. News reports peppered throughout the film (giving the crisis an air of authenticity) suggest that the problem is regional and spreading; however, the movie’s own little microcosm is a house in rural Pennsylvania whose occupants (seven, and dwindling) are besieged by a ghoulish horde – at first only one lumbering cannibal, but more and more as night falls upon them, growing into a hungry swarm. Under this set-up, Romero tells of human altruism (and selfishness) under extreme pressures, and the horrors of facing an enemy with a human face who doesn’t think or feel.

The first 5-10 minutes of Night focus on two characters, Barbra and Johnny, a brother and sister who visit their father’s grave site out in the country once a year to lay down flowers. The reason, then, for the film’s first action is death, and its remembrance. This theme continues throughout the film – while Johnny speaks dismissively of his father’s memory, it’s the memory of Johnny that paralyzes Barbra through the remaining hour and a half. And inherent in the film’s governing conceit is the fact that the dead are not buried and forgotten; they’re up and about, ready to terrorize the still-living. This casts some irony on Johnny’s arrogance toward the dead, as well as toward his sister’s (vindicated) fear.

The silent figure of destruction looming over Barbra

The opening scene, right up to the introduction of the film’s driving conflict (who appears as a tiny figure stumbling through the background), also goes from a mundane family outing full of sibling patter – albeit an outing to a cemetery, a location marked for horror – to a scene of sudden, blunt danger, where the normal world is intruded upon by violence and chaos.

It’s especially effective because all extraneous elements are discarded until we’re down to brother, sister, graveyard, ghoul. After some brief foreshadowing – Johnny’s oft-repeated line “They’re coming to get you, Barbra!”, delivered in a haunting voice worthy of Karloff – the ghoul attacks, Barbra flees, Johnny is killed, and it all happens quickly and unmomentously, an initial volley out of nowhere in a war that will expand over the course of the film.

In this way, Night of the Living Dead is a horror movie that’s also kind of a rural war movie – a Battle of the Alamo or Custer’s Last Stand against an unexplained, inhuman Other. Humanity, embodied in three men, three women, and a sick young girl, is pitted against a remorseless, single-minded foe it does not understand, and its back is quite literally against the wall. Herein lies much of the situation’s horror: we have the fact that the monsters are superficially human, yet fundamentally different; they are unwilling to reason and seek only to destroy.

The iconically terrifying Karen Cooper: dehumanization and pubescent aggression

Then there’s the gradually implied apocalyptic scale of the disaster which, although somewhat remedied in the end, still throws a pall over hopes for escape by suggesting maybe there is no escape when our own dead can turn on us. It’s a surprisingly bleak movie that throws open the flood gates of mortality and doesn’t really leave a ray of hope, regardless of whether or not the ghouls are eventually exterminated.

This all-consuming fear and hopelessness is especially stark in light of the fact that Night was originally plotted to be a “horror comedy,” in addition to the satirical elements in Romero’s subsequent work, and the spoofs the film has inspired (including a whole series from co-writer John Russo).

But there’s no mistaking the lack of humor, the characters’ increasing levels of panic and anxiety, and the somber aftertaste left by the finale. This is a horror film that embraces the fundamentals of a nightmare: an internal world where agonizing changes can come swiftly and irrevocably, upheaving the previous sociocultural and even physical landscape.

Wartime disaster amidst supernatural horror

And so, like many great horror premises, Night‘s undead onslaught can be read on numerous levels. The film’s low budget and unrefined aesthetic have frequently led it to be compared to Vietnam War reportage, forming an analogy with the aggressive self-preservation and similarly brutal tactics (napalm, guerilla warfare?) present in the human/zombie conflict. And the beauty of the film is that this reading is pretty legitimate, but the viewer can also dip into several other moral and political cross-currents.

For example, while watching it tonight, I started pondering the zombie: driven but uncreative, ignorant of change, prioritizing its hunger over all logic or ethics, it demolishes whatever’s in its path and breaks down human constructions, but can be warded off through well-crafted barriers or especially crafty killing techniques, like Ben’s Molotov cocktails. The zombies do not appear to communicate, feel, or remember – they all simply share a common goal, namely to eat living humans. They’re an enemy without any real ideology, without any strategy, with nothing but an unstoppable desire to break into the house and kill those inside.

One question that repeatedly popped into my head was the relationship between zombies and fascism. They appear to be entropic creatures, with their bodies as well as any organizational structures around them perpetually falling apart. The zombie threat tears into any kinship between their human opponents, splintering what could have been a cooperative team into a group of (mostly) frightened individuals staring down the amorphous menace outside. But they move as one, with dozens of necrotic hands groping at Barbra through the window as if they belonged to one giant organism. In any case, perhaps this could be compared to my deep fear of swarming insects – locusts, flies, etc. – which are motivated more by biological pre-programming than by conscious solidarity.

A militia, humanity's televised organizational reaction to the epidemic

Regardless of how you view the zombies – as a politicized enemy or cultural/biological foreigner – they not only act as the obvious threat, but also instigate the pressures and anxieties within the human group. A majority of screen time, after all, is devoted not to the zombies, but to the humans. And while the zombies act as one, they are split across several axes: racially, Ben (the most proactive of them) is visibly different, although this tension goes entirely unspoken; in terms of gender, Judy and Helen are largely nonfactors (outside of Helen’s role as a mother), while Barbra’s presence is significant mostly due to her inaction and emotional collapse. Harry, the elder of the white males, asserts himself as the patriarch of the cellar, and is incensed by Tom’s (ultimately fatal) decision to follow Ben outside.

Maybe the easiest moral to draw from this situation is the absurdity of division along petty differences when a much more relevant difference (human vs. zombie) is available; this is akin to the Earth vs. the Flying Saucers-type science fiction films of the ’50s, where national boundaries grow blurry when an extraterrestrial threat appears. But the film is far from moralistic, couching its story in the morally ambiguous iconography of Vietnam-era current events (not just war footage, but school and religious protests, assassinations earlier in 1968, etc.).

So this is the genius of Romero’s film: on the surface, it’s just a cheap monster movie, but dig around and it becomes a multivalent hotbed of political and social discourses. And I think the cheapness contributes to its appeal and influence. With just over $100,000, a few guys with some experience making commercials managed to put together a very scary movie with a compelling story. The zombies don’t have Jack Pierce makeup or anything, but they’re nonetheless genuinely frightening, and their ripped shirts and pustule-ridden faces photograph well in black and white.

Race and systems of power in the face of a zombie apocalypse

Zombies (as a number of films have shown) innately lie on the edge between horror and comedy – the gaping faces and moaning probably contribute – but Romero places his securely in the domain of horror. He never studied under Roger Corman, and his lack of Hollywood roots do significantly differentiate his style from the Corman grads’ early films, but nonetheless there is a shared fondness for fear at minimal cost. In Romero, though, it’s married to a penchant for social observation which I think is lacking in Corman’s grandstanding, happily schlocky films (just compare the acting style of Vincent Price to Duane Jones to John Amplas).

In case my discussion has left any doubt, Night of the Living Dead is never really overtly political. It sticks to its title’s drive-in horror roots. But it’s never dumb, nor does it allow its conflict to overwhelm its characters or ideas. I see it as a great Halloween movie, potent at inspiring fear both from its monsters and from its ambiguities. So lie back, watch it, get sucked into the nervous tension, and remember: they’re coming to get you… Barbra. With its gritty, quasi-realistic style, its frightening end-of-days scenario, and its bottomless pool of ideas about humanity and violence, Night of the Living Dead is one of my favorite movies.

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In search of lesbian vampires

It’s a beautiful day. I don’t know if going outside and being overwhelmed by “Yellow! Green! Blue!” is objectively beautiful. But hell, it’s spring, it’s warm in a nonobjectionable and physically comfortable way – I’m happy! It’s May. Time for May Poles, maybes, and Ashley’s birthday. So what’s on the old mind today? Slept in, feeling sickish, got work in 2 hours. And by work I mean, I wander the library bringing books up and putting them back. I love helping to organize the knowledge of the world. And the fact that shelving allows me to go about, glancing at interesting books. Like when I shelved the entire selection of books about menstruation, a couple weeks ago. Fun stuff.

I’m hungry. Oh, hunger. Hunger, a novel by Norwegian Knut Hamsun. The Hunger Artist, a short story by Kafka. The Hunger, a 1983 sucky (no pun intended) vampire movie whose best part, as I was discussing the other day, is almost certainly the sex scene between a blood-drinking Catherine Deneuve and a naive Susan Sarandon. Maybe among the best scenes in lesbian vampire film history. Oh, the lesbian vampire – a topic which I am known in certain circles (i.e., quiz bowl) to be an expert on. Let’s explore it briefly, shall we? Antecedents to the subgenre (as in, horror -> vampire -> lesbian vampire) go back to Gothic literature: Coleridge’s poem “Christabel,” for example, as well as J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s landmark novella Carmilla, which served as a template for many future lesbian vampire works. So, you may ask, why vampire? Why lesbian? Vampires are an undyingly fascinating element of folklore.

One may even ask, why is horror such a big part of folklore in the first place? I think folklore’s great to dive into. It’s the collected tales, some codified and some more vague and flexible, that float around our culture, from ear to ear and mind to mind, and generally serve pretty well to give us ideas about our heritage, our history, and our identity. Lore. “Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.” Lore was also the name of Data’s evil doppelganger in Star Trek: TNG, but that’s another story. Folk – ein volk, one people, “your folks” as a term for “parents” that has always intrigued me. Folkish as an adjective for Will Rogers. Folk music harkens (after looking up and making sure “harkens” was the appropriate word and spelling, I come to the conclusion that it’s an absurd word, and once you double-check your usage of it, you can hardly look upon it without laughing) back to times past and brings people together, more or less. So we have these two words: folk and lore. Folks are people; it’s a very populist word. It suggests that we all share in something. We’re all the folks – folk is what Ma Joad meant in The Grapes of Wrath when she said, “Because we’re the people.” And then lore is stories. Like a Tome of Eldritch Lore. Like folk, it has implications of the past. You can’t just make folklore; it has to marinate. It has to age. Because we’re not the folk now; we’ve always been the folk. And some new novel can’t be lore. Lore needs time to collect dust. So with that… I was talking about vampires.

I’ve puzzled on many occasions over what vampires mean. And why I love them so. Vampires are not really human beings – they’re a whole other animal. But they’re kind of people. Let’s take an example: Prince Mamuwalde, aka Blacula, central character of his namesake 1973 film. He’s recognized by Tina and Juanita Jones and all the others as a human being. Vampires play the part of a still-living human being, go into the midst of real people, and insinuate themselves into their lives. Because, after all, if a vampire is revealed – as in, “Whoa, you cast no reflection! You hiss at the sight of crosses! Could you be some creature of folklore-?” – you can guess that either some would-be Van Helsing or an angry mob with pitchforks is going to storm into their castle and kill the shit out of them. Because people have a general antipathy toward undead things that drink their blood and turn them into undead things. God, vampires are the ultimate evangelists. Imagine if Jack Chick could just bite you and then voila, you’re a fundamentalist Christian. Or if Jehovah’s Witnesses marched up to your door and then as soon you opened it – well, you get the idea. Vampires are essentially rapists. But instead of (most of the time) violating their prey with genitalia, instead it’s the teeth. But at the same time, are vampires really in control? All these thoughts remind me that I need to watch Abel Ferrara’s vampire deconstruction The Addiction, which stars Valerie Solanas herself, Lili Taylor, as well as Christopher Walken as the head vampire. That’s about as great a recipe for awesome as I’ve ever heard. If only I could find a copy anywhere.

But anyway, the vampire is both a victim and villain. After all, nobody becomes a vampire without, well, being made one. This reminds me of a discussion I was having yesterday with Ashley: isn’t it bullshit to be able to get a transmissible disease without really having physical contact with someone? As I wrote in my Halloween CLAP article last October, “Vampirism is a venereal disease. Vampires are horny old syphilitics.” So that’s one viewpoint. It’s VD. It’s AIDS. You go to bed with someone whose genitalia are all covered in pustules, you wake up with a thirst for blood. One way or another, being vampirized requires intimate physical contact. Whether it’s Dracula going down a foggy street and approaching a streetwalker, gazing into her eyes until she’s petrified, then raping/biting her and running off, or if it’s Deneuve luring Sarandon into bed and in the midst of their passion, biting her. A vampire’s bite is like a mosquito sucking out the blood and spitting in some saliva, to make it coagulate, but also causing an itch. And sometimes handing over West Nile virus or meningitis or what have you. So in STIs and mosquitoes, we’ve got some origins; also, as some have claimed, vampire stories could have originated in experiences with the corpses of rabies victims – how they’d still have liquid blood, as this article points out. I’ve read some extensive, very plausible theories along these lines before. There’s cases like that of Peter Plogojowitz, a Serbian “vampire” of the early 18th century, the truth about whom is probably linked to rabies or something similar.

Really, at the heart of it, the vampire myth is a lot about being afraid of the dead coming back. We invest the dead with terrifying powers, because, well, we know no mortal, living made-of-flesh man would hypnotize you or walk through walls or bite into a human skull (like vampires, ghosts, and zombies). But who says there are such constraints on the dead? Ghost legends say that the dead are often pissed. “I was murdered? And my killer married my wife and controls my kingdom? Hamlet Senior is not happy with this…” And at the same time, it’s about more than not wanting the corpses of people we didn’t like it to come back – it’s also about being afraid of our own mortality. And for that matter, as with many such myths, these ones are ambiguous, and hence the immense appeal of the vampire. Why would we keep telling stories that terrified us – Holy shit, I thought he was dead but he’s gonna come back! – unless we wanted to hear them, too? After all: wouldn’t you want to know that when your body gives out and you finally die, you have a chance of coming back – with superpowers! – to get all the revenge you want? Just a possibility. There are all kinds of dense psychological motivations for telling these stories. That’s why we tell them over and over again, century to century, and though we’ll cover our eyes and ears – “No more, no more, it’s too scary!” – well, of course we’re going to be in line again for the next showing. That’s how it’s always been. The next night, the terrified children are pleading with their dad to tell them about the headless ghost who’s out for blood, all over again.

And this brings me to the lesbian vampire. A few months ago, Ashley and I watched a very interesting, informative, and analytical lecture from a 2004 Los Angeles Pride festival, called Queer for Fear. It does a good job of delving into the innate links between the horror film and supposedly “deviant” sexualities, or those who are sexual outsiders or minorities. This is another part of the ambiguous appeal of the monster story. It’s driven by a combination of fear and identification. Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula was one of my idols growing up. You’re simultaneously afraid of him – mind-controlling lord of a cobweb-ridden Transylvanian castle – and you sympathize with him, pity him, know what he’s going through. He’s got his lion’s share of pain, guilt, and suffering; it’s inherent in the vampire. Most vampires don’t go around happily, greedily draining innocent bystanders of their blood. Vampires can be sociopaths, but it’s not part of the definition. The best vampires are reticent. They’re addicted, and they know they have a problem, but they just can’t stop. In the end, monsters just want a hug. But, well, when you’re green and scaly and 8 feet tall, nobody realy wants to hug you, now do they? Anyway, the point is that sexuality is an inextricable aspect of the vampire. Neck-biting is an intimate act no matter how it’s done. And so a lot of vampires happen to be bisexual – or bi-neck-biting-ual – or however you want to describe it. As I noted earlier, there’s a metaphor here about sexually transmitted disease. Vampirism anticipated HIV by centuries. Just think about it: Count Dracula (already an unapologetic polygamist) lures in a vulnerable young man – stealing him from his poor wife! – and after licking his bleeding finger, turns him into the vampire’s unhesitating slave. Could there conceivably be some subtext here?

As you can see if you watch Queer for Fear, about the earliest lesbian vampire who can be identified on film is Countess Zaleska, the enigmatic, reluctant vampiress played by the little-known Gloria Holden in Dracula’s Daughter (1936), the first sequel to the original Dracula.

Dracula's Daugher (1936)

Zaleska isn’t a “vamp”; instead, she’s exotic and mysterious, constantly playing hard-to-get to the naive human who lusts after her, because she doesn’t want to see him get hurt. I watched the movie a few weeks ago and it really is full of interesting subtexts which, I think, are the primary reason for watching it – beyond the performances of Holden and future director Irving Pichel as her eunuch-like servant Sandor, it’s not an overly interesting or well-made film. But it’s short and serves its purpose as an attractive quickie sequel to a hit movie; after all, Universal in the 1930s was the place to be if you’re making a film about vampires. Of course, as it’s shortly after the Production Code was enforced, the lesbianism isn’t explicit – but here’s the deal. Zaleska is a vampire. A “deviant” sexuality is part of her character, as it was part of her father’s. It’s built into the core of the film, the concept, the myth (or is it? I really need to read Stoker’s novel, as well as Carmilla and Polidori’s The Vampire, written during that June of 1816 that also produced Frankenstein), and no amount of Hays censorship can take that away. The Code zipped up mouths about sexuality, so it was expressed through its own code, a beautiful code of nuances and double entendres. Yeah, it’s family friendly; all Zaleska wants is for that girl to pose for her. With her breasts exposed. And their bodies pressed together, her teeth in the girl’s soft, alluring neck. Nothing sexual about that! My point? She’s a lesbian vampire. Or at least a bisexual vampire. Because blood doesn’t have a gender. Renfield sucks the vital juices out of rats and flies. Is he into bestiality? You tell me. (Probably not, but it’s worth asking.)

I guess another aspect of this is the whole “predatory/insane homosexual” stereotype, too. When homosexuals aren’t busy being pansies or fruits or butch dykes or gender inversions, well, they’re often off being evil and crazy because, hey, they don’t respect sexual conventions, so why would they respect any morality? The logic here is kind of at the heart of a lot of horror movies, but it’s also undermined just as frequently, partially because of the identification factor I mentioned earlier. The norm is established as a two-person heterosexual relationship. Jonathan and Mina Harker. Or Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth. Or Brad and Janet. But something goes astray… hence the horror. Next thing you know, Count Orlok’s seducing both man and wife, Frankenstein’s off “creating life” with Dr. Pretorious – you get the drift. But after all, you don’t go to the movie to see the heteronormative happiness. You go there to see the perversion. No one’s interested in watching a couple be happy and unthreatened for 2 hours. But toss in a queer, unnatural monster, and there’s a threat I can get behind! Nobody watches Dracula and spends the whole time unambiguously praying for Lugosi to get killed. He’s the most charismatic, well-developed, and lovable character in the movie. So, while the monster may be sexually deviant, evil, crazy, and not care what gender his/her victims are, the monster’s still the one you love, who draws you in to the movie. Why did Universal make a bajillion sequels to their original 3-4 monster movies? Because people wanted to see the monsters. And yes, in the end, the monster must die a karmic death to pay for all the people he killed, and normalcy must be restored, and the heterosexual couple lives happily ever after, because that’s what society demands. But why is there a smile on your face as the credits roll? Because you got see the monster.

So, why lesbian vampires? Why not lesbian werewolves (oh my God I totally want to make that movie) or lesbian mummies (maybe not that one quite so much…)? I guess in the first place it’s easiest to represent a beautiful woman as a vampire; they don’t undergo gruesome transformations (becoming a bat is as easy as a puff of smoke) or have hideous bodily disfigurements. And OK, granted, there are female (maybe lesbian?) werewolves, see She-Wolf of London (1946) or the very similar concept behind one of my favorite horror movies, Cat People (1942), but that’s kind of barking up a different tree. Vampires are seductive. Just as you catch more flies with honey, it’s “the spider spinning his web for the unwary fly,” as Dracula puts it. Vampires, unlike werewolves, rarely maul unwary passers-by – unless you count the brilliant recent film Let the Right One In, which has a whole different, very fascinating take on the subject – but instead lie in wait in their dark castle for society ladies to keep private appointments. And this, I think, fits a little with the sometime-stereotype of the wealthy butch lesbian who entrances a protege who over time becomes her lover, like Frédérique in Claude Chabrol’s Les Biches (1968). Another possible reason for lesbian vampires: we have an inherently sexual, deviant, and voracious monster. How best to, dare I say, take away its teeth and make it palatable for mainstream male audiences? Make it a deviant woman. This brings up some interesting questions about, well, what gender do we make our monsters? For example, a natural step was going from Frankenstein to Bride of; have you ever heard of a horror movie called The Groom of…? I think the sexuality of monsters is an important area to explore; after all, monsters are there for us to fear. What, 9 out of 10 times, is our fear going to involve? Sexuality. Ashley and I watched Repulsion (1965) last night, and… that’s a whole other blog, twice as long as this one (believe it or not). But the point is, it’s sexually derived horror. We’re afraid of sex. Or afraid of rapists. Or else we’re afraid of homosexuals. Or we’re afraid of deformed sexual organs (cf. David Cronenberg’s entire career). Since sex is supposed to be the beautiful source of pleasure, and since so many varieties on it are possible, and since so many kinds of sex are widely condemned, and since so many things can go violently wrong in sex – is it any wonder that it’s the root of endless horror? And so, I return to where I began, with the mediocre horror movie The Hunger, a film most notable for its lesbian vampirism (or vampire lesbianism?). Of course the “hunger” of the title is one for blood, but it’s also the carnal hunger of Miriam for Sarah. At their core, I think, that’s a lot of what vampires are about: hunger. Vampires are like fire in their endless consumption – even after they’ve downed many pints of blood, they still need more. They’re an extreme version of endlessly consumptive human beings. But in the end, vampires would be OK with going thirsty (“To die, to be really dead…”) and really just want a hug. Or in the case of lesbian vampires, to fuck Susan Sarandon.

I hope you found this overlong analysis somewhat informative. I must be off to dinner (to consume!); feel free to leave any thoughts about lesbian vampires, monsters, horror in general, or anything at all.

The Hunger (1983)

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