"Can't a woman wreak a little havoc without there being a man involved?" - Darla (Buffy the Vampire
When I re-watched Interview with the Vampire for our recent podcast episode and did some further research into Anne Rice’s saddest vampires in the world, I felt that the most sympathetic character of the film was not Louis but Claudia and her life as a vampire. She was a vampire forced to continue to mature into womanhood, but never get an opportunity to experience the full physical changes, due to her everlasting life in the body of a 12 year old. Her sexuality had been repressed and thus resulted in her violent and vindictive nature as her only means to channel these desires. Her love for Louis was twisted for as a child she views him as her father, but as a maturing woman, she sees him as a lover. Her final death by sunlight is heartbreaking. From the time of her creation she was treated like a doll by Louis and Lestat with her burgeoning maturity ignored or dismissed as lunacy by the one who claimed to have loved her. As her feelings matured, she was no longer seen as a beautiful doll that can be dressed up and paraded around, but a vicious monster whose lust for blood scared her ‘parental’ figures. Hmmmm, sound familiar? A teenager becoming a woman?
As I thought about Claude’s plight as a vampire I began to think fully about the representation of women as vampires in movies. While it may be getting better in the recent years due to the increase of female involvement in the horror genre with challenging and transforming old narratives such as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night ( 2014, Ana Amirpour), I still feel we have a ways to go. Especially after I revisited my vampire collection to re-watch some of my favorites and started to critically think about the female vampires portrayed in each film.
Take Bram Stoker’s Dracula for an example. I love the film, from the story, set design, costuming, music, and Gary Oldman, I love it all. They keep to the image of Dracula’s Brides as monstrous succubi who are used to keep Harker at bay while Dracula works on his plan to seduce Mina. Dracula then opens up the sexuality of both Lucy and Mina by seducing them away from their partners by transforming them both into creatures of the night and as members of his harem. Maybe Mina was really his “great love” but ultimately he was using her as a tool to capture and weaken his enemies. As Kelly and I both discussed in the podcast, Dracula’s Brides have always been a means for him to penetrate the male patriarchal world by using his sexual appeal to overpower and transform the women into dark servants for him. Honestly, while the appeal of having Dracula’s kiss in the dark of the night is all well and good, I don’t want to be turned into a vampire to end up being a tool and dominated by another male figure -even if he is the undead Prince of Darkness. We see this occur in Fright Night when Jerry Dandridge turns Amy and he uses her to protect himself and fight against Charlie. In The Lost Boys, Star, an almost turned vampire, is used to seduce other young men to join the group. Female vampires are used as pawns or bait for other vampires and that is all due to the unbridled lust that is unleashed when they become vampire.
Now, I am not saying that this is always the case as at times we do get female lead vampires who are femme fatales who are forces to be reckoned with however, there always seems to be two trends; 1. If you are a powerful female vampire, then you must be a lesbian and thus a sexual deviant using your power for immoral means. Or 2. You are strong, independent but once they fall in ‘love’ or have a ‘vampiric’ child then they soften and priorities change. (as apparently society believes this should always happen for women - right… happy life is a happy wife with child….*cough* Bullshit *cough*).
I say these things because in a few of the vampire films I have seen, any type of lead female vampire who has homosexual tendencies has been shown in a problematic light. Her queerness is seen as predatory and she is portrayed as imposing herself on her victim without consent. She is a hypersexualized being who never seems to survive to the end. She is often defeated by the male hero or her victim that she tried to impose her “queer” ways on. Sadly, as much as I love The Hunger, we see this happen to Miriam Blaylock.
While her and Sarah are seen flirting together and engage in same-sex union, during an act of passion they exchange blood. This then begins Sarah’s transformation in which she accuses Miriam of taking advantage of her and making their act as lovers deviant and wrong. This falls along the line that female vampires will abuse their power to seduce other female victims into an immortal life of deviancy.
The second portrayal of female vampires that I find problematic is the transformation from being a hardass, strong independent female vampiric lead to almost a soft supporting character after she falls in love and has a child. With this I am referencing the Underworld series. Don’t get me wrong, when I first saw Kate Beckinsale arrive in that latex suit as Selene and kicking werewolf ass, I was so excited. Here was an image of a female vampire who was not a ‘Bride’ or a hypersexualized monstrous creature, but a Death Dealer, a smart strong lead who lead a group of vampires to protect their coven from the werewolf threat. It was great. I enjoyed it so much… until she fell in love with Michael.
She began to soften, but it wasn’t completely noticeable and still tolerable. Then as the franchise continued on, she has a child with Michael and that was when I became disappointed. Why is this a continued storyline. Why does a woman have to “soften” at all? Why do we continuously see story arcs involving love and children? Why must a female lead have her become soft when she falls in love and then she bears a child and that is all she becomes concerned about? I am not against stories that have this angle, but it just seems to happen so regularly and I find it disappointing. I know that people will argue that when a woman finds a mate and has a child she finds within herself a new source of strength. But how does that sound to a woman who does not choose to center their lives around a man or having children? Do we not possess the same constitution and fortitude? Why couldn’t Selene have stayed the bad-ass female lead who did not fall in love with Michael but still saw the error of her coven ways and strove to forge peace between to two supernatural clans?
I will admit this blog post went through many iterations and rewrites and even then I feel like I haven’t fully touched upon the issues I brought up today. There are still a slew of vampire films that I wish to see and my hope is that those films assist in elevating the image of the female vampire as more than just a mire Bride but really as an element of the darkness that can rival the mythos of Dracula.