Sexy Beasts: I Vant to Suck Your...
By Desmond Reddick
25 June 2007 — I'd be a fool to write a column explaining how vampires are sexual metaphors. Everybody knows who Dracula is and all of the imagery found therein. Even if they haven't read the novel or seen one of the many adaptations of the story, they know. People who have seen The Simpsons with any regularity will be able to tell you a basic plot summary and even point out some iconic imagery. What I will be doing in this column is outlining the ways in which the vampire is used as a sexual metaphor.
The dominator is the most historically prevalent representation of the vampire as a sexual metaphor in cinema. Since Bela Lugosi's hypnotic eyes turned women into mindless slaves, vampires have dominated over the opposite sex. The Coppola film, Bram Stoker's Dracula has a very earthly pursuit over the Mina character where he essentially hypnotizes her through her environment by chasing her through a shadow puppet theatre. The hypnotic aspect of the vampire can represent several things, but I look at it as an outdated phallocentric view of the male / female sociological dynamic. The woman is portrayed as a weak-minded, frail victim who easily falls prey to any advances put on by her vampiric master.
This cliché has been dispelled in recent times by using the male dominator against other males (as in The Lost Boys) and by pitting a female succubus in the same hypnotic league as the fabled Count. Interesting as The Lost Boys is, even before the first vampiric seduction, there are a lot of homosexual overtones in the film. But Michael is overcome with David's coolness and eventually swayed by one of the female members of the cool vampire punks. The female seduction is still a very large part of the cinematic mythos of the vampire. The bedroom scene in the aforementioned Coppola film has Jonathan Harker and Dracula's three brides partake in what can only be described as softcore porn. This both strengthens and calls into question the role of the female seductress: Dracula's brides are under the control of Dracula himself and we can thusly consider this a male / male seduction with the three brides as vessels for that seduction. Whoa! Still, in From Dusk 'til Dawn, a man being hypnotized by a half-naked Salma Hayek pouring tequila all the way down her leg into his waiting mouth is a stretch to call the man's reaction hypnotism; call it the most obvious reaction. But it brings to mind the suave member of Eastern European royalty whose very presence is enough to enthrall impressionable young women. The lovely Latina vampire stripper then takes on this role previously held by Dracula. Radical feminists will call it exploitation, but I call it sexual equality of the highest order.
Of course, there's always the other end of the dominator role, and in that sense it is the overtly sexual representation. This is reminiscent of Salma Hayek's character in From Dusk 'til Dawn, but probably best represented as the werewolf rape scene in Coppola's film. While Dracula gentlemanly pursues Mina, he mentally dominates and then simply ravages her friend Lucy's body after drawing her out of her safe bedroom and into the open yard. He takes on the wolf-like form and uses that animalistic sexuality to dominate the nubile young redhead. The vampire rapist, or savage beast in the night, is surprisingly underused but it is seeing a reprisal with the female vampire as the dominator role. The upcoming Lucy Liu vehicle, Rise: Blood Hunter, is a perfect example of this. The Hammer films of the 1970s were very prolific in their male and female dominator roles. However, their British sensibility had them straddling the fence between hypnotic and physical domination while occasionally only hinting at the physical. Of course, the females were much more overt in the physicality as anyone knows, Hammer films have boobs.
A recent innovation in vampiric sexuality is the portrayal of vampirism as a disease. While this is reminiscent of zombies and werewolves, it actually has its roots at the very beginning. Vampire legend itself had family members of those who died mysteriously decapitating and burning their bodies. The unexplained illness could only be explained as vampirism, just like any odd behavior could be explained as witchcraft. One could also draw a line to Nosferatu, the German Expressionist film based on the Dracula story. In Nosferatu, Count Orlok is a rodent-like monstrosity who is even pictured in the cargo bay of a ship. It isn't a blatant reference, but it's no secret that plague rats spread by traveling in the hulls of trading ships. And in the case of this film and the Dracula story in general, this is how vampirism is spread.
Vampirism throughout cinematic history has often been portrayed as a man passing the curse to women by penetrating their flesh and consuming their bodily fluids. How could it get more sexual than that? It can't. This, of course, gathered steam after the AIDS scare went public in films like the near-perfect Near Dark and continues today in films like the Blade series. There is always a serum or some other cure. While it too is becoming a bit of a cliché, it is a more engaging end scenario to me than killing the head vampire (which has always been a bit ludicrous).
Though not vampire films per se, Cronenberg's films Rabid and Shivers depict the spreading of sexuality as a disease. In the case of Rabid, it is even spread by being pricked by the thorny tongue of Marilyn Chambers' character. Cronenberg's films have always been classified as "body horror" that tap into a more primal fear of our health getting out of control, but in these cases there is an obvious tie to the vampire mythos.
Following this, we can look at vampire films as morality tales warning us against promiscuous sex and the sexual predator (like in the case of werewolves). The biting of the neck is a clear allusion to a sexual act and, taking into account the hypnosis, we can not deny that aspect of vampirism. Add in the fact that the vampire often comes in through an open bedroom window, and we have much more than a theory — we have an obvious conclusion.
Furthermore, the vanquishing of the vampire by the method of staking the heart is another issue altogether. If biting the neck is an allusion to sex, how can driving a sharp piece of wood through the chest not also be an allusion? In some way it almost comes across as a rape revenge fantasy. It's almost like piercing the heart of a vampire effectively castrates him, thus disallowing him from further sexual assault.
There you have it! Seduction, rape, AIDS, orgiastic reverie, feminist theory and Freudian psychoanalysis all in one column about vampires. Until next time, lock your windows and wear a turtleneck. You don't want to make it look like you had it coming.