The Rise of the Female Vampire
Blog Post by Jessica
In the third month of I Spit on Your Podcast, I wrote a blog post about the role of female vampires in such films as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Interview with the Vampire (1994), The Hunger (1983) and The Underworld (2003) series. I talked about how in these films women were secondary to the male vampiric figures, in both protagonists and antagonists alike. Female vampires are often used as tools to obtain food, as bait by the Master to either capture his enemies or used against him by his enemies to capture him, and most importantly, they are expected to die while protecting him. Our Brides, vampire anti-heroes and daughters of darkness, are merely there to support the male vampire’s narrative and uphold his power. They are seen as monsters that can be easily destroyed when they give in to their basic sexual urges and hunger. And even as vampires, these women are denied their agency.
Whenever we read or watch stories related to Dracula, we see a dark and sauve figure surrounded by his Brides; scantily clothed women who coil around him, with their fangs, bared ready to strike anyone who would dare harm him. They are HIS brides and he controls when they sleep, hunt, or feed. This is how we are first introduced to women as vampires in film, and it is a trope that continues on; vampiric women dominated by a male vampire to do his bidding - the dark husband holding domain over his monstrous brides.
However, when Ana Lily Amirpour’s film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) was released, it was hailed as the rise of feminism in horror in vampiric tales. And while this film is beautiful and displays an incredible story of our anti-hero, The Girl, I can argue that we started to see the rise of feminism in vampiric ladies of the night in the film Byzantium (2012). During that time as well, we had to deal with the very anti-feminist themes in the Twilight series, yet thankfully, we have returned to empowering themes in vampire films with more recent releases such as Bit (2019). And while Byzantium inspired me to look at the rise of the female vampire in film, it was BIT that compelled me to write about it. BIT was written and directed by Brad Michael Elmore and he takes the vampiric Bride trope and turns it on its head.
BIT is a vampire tale surrounding transgender teen Laurel (Nicole Maines) as she moves to live with her brother Mark in LA; she becomes the newest vampire recruit in a gang of intersectional feminist vampires. This supernatural film hits on some major themes, such as the lack of representation in horror (with a transgender actor playing a transgender character), racial and cultural representation, lesbianism and women’s rights, all while building an interesting new story for female vampires. Duke (Diane Hopper), the leader of the all-female vampire gang, was once a former Bride to a master vampire. While finding herself and coming out in the 80s as a lesbian, Duke was glamoured by Vlad, the Master, and made into one of his Brides. After years of surviving New York as a sex worker, Vlad uses his power to take away her identity and freedom, to become a mindless slave to indulge her Master’s desires and protect him. When an opportunity presents itself, the Brides embrace the monstrousness power within them and turn on their master. With Duke leading them, the Brides retake their freedom and independence.
Duke uses the heart of the master to strengthen her own vampiric abilities, but also as a means to protect the female vampires from vampire hunters and her Master’s former familiars. She owns her monstrosity -- both as a lesbian vampire (because apparently only sexual deviants can be monsters) and her sexual allure -- which she uses to hunt and kill men who have wronged or hurt other women. Her vision is for a world where all women can be vampires and not fear going for a jog at night. But she feels that for women to do that, they need to literally become the monsters that society has made them out to be. When she meets Laurel (our transgendered teen), she doesn’t question her decision to recruit her. She feels that Laurel understands the horrors of what it is like to live as a woman in this world, as well as being different. Duke validates Laurel’s transformation; that once she may have been a man but she has the heart and soul of a woman.
In her efforts to protect the group, and keep the power of vampirism from men, Duke has everyone follow a set of rules which outlines that they are to never turn a man into a vampire. She feels strongly that men only use this power to subjugate others to their will. Duke becomes militant in this rule and even locks away the First Bride in a hole after she turns a man she loves into a vampire. Duke fears that men will only continue to destroy women -- and the world -- and that the best way to protect herself and the other female vampires is to keep this dark power away from them. However, her dogmatic approach alienates the group and when Laurel accidentally turns her brother into a vampire, Duke insinuates that despite him being family he is male and a threat that needs to be eliminated. While Duke is strongly against men becoming vampires, Laurel is about seeing the potential in both vampiric men and women working together. She believes that ultimately men’s power can be controlled and that neither gender needs to be subordinate to each other, vampiric or not.
While the ending to BIT can be viewed as an about the struggle for power between the genders, the film is a refreshing take on the Brides trope in vampire films. We saw female vampires take back power over their Master and forge a new path for themselves. They revelled in their darkness and not only used it to run the underground of LA but to protect other vulnerable women who would be hurt by men’s abuses of power. The women rise up and embrace their monstrosity to create a new world. But, we are reminded that even women can let power go to their heads and alienate others in the fight for equality and curbing patriarchal power. That at the end of the day, while the monstrousness is needed, we can’t let it make the same decision for everyone, no matter how good-intentioned it is.