The lesbian vampire genre is one of the oldest and most cult-induced film genres. Lesbians relate to vampirism because they are both forbidden sexualities not understood by society. According to Andrea Weiss in Vampires and Violets, the lesbian vampire “dramatizes men’s fear, anxieties, and hatred of women.” This is an interesting observation considering that the lesbian films made by Hammer Studios exploded at the same time as the feminist movement. Many lesbian vampire movies exploit the “pornographic value of the relationship between the vampire and her victim.” While the latter half of film history has turned to exploitation of their lesbian vampires, it started out much differently.
The film Dracula's Daughter (1936) is highly suggestive but relatively tame and is remembered mostly today for its implied lesbianism. While it is never said in the movie, it is obviously implied that Countess Zaleska is a lesbian. The movie had difficulty with the Production Code Administration because of those implications of homosexualuity. The scene of her attacking Lili is played out as a sort of seduction scene with Zaleska approaching Lili (who at first declines but then is hypnotized into compliance) in predator sort of way. Zaleska does not only want to drink Lili’s blood, but she wants to sleep with her as well. The scene makes it clear that lesbianism is equivalently dangerous to vampirism; a deadly disease that cannot be cured. Lesbians are just as scary as vampires. While today the scene is known for the hidden homoeroticism, it was more ambiguous when it was released, and more likely that most viewers did not catch on. Hiding the sinful secret of vampirism is metaphorical for the secret of lesbianism, especially in the earlier films such as Dracula’s Daughter. In the film, her vampirism is hidden from those around her (and, if you read into it, her lesbianism is as well). This is quite different from modern day lesbian vampire films which push the boundaries of appropriate.
In the early 1970’s Hammer Studios released The Karnstein Trilogy, three films about lesbian vampires (1970’s The Vampire Lovers, 1971’s Lust for a Vampire, and 1971’s Twins of Evil). Unlike the films of early days, these made it quite clear that the blood-sucking fiends were lesbians. In fact, these films pushed the envelope of camp and sex. Very attractive women stalk their prey (even in the day time) and seduce them as well. These films are are considered by some to be “soft-core erotica” even. The 1970’s was a time of sexual exploration and this is clearly mirrored in the lesbian vampire genre films of the time. While the lesbian vampire characters may be sexualized to the max, they still retain a somewhat villainous role, we still have bit of respect for them being powerful demons of the night. Not so much with 2009’s Lesbian Vampire Killers.
Where Dracula’s Daughter subtly hinted at lesbianism, Lesbian Vampire Killers throws it in your face. Lesbians are over-exploited in such a way that it becomes a comedic parody of lesbian pornography. All of the lesbian vampires are extremely attractive and always passionately embracing each other. The sacred sword that is the only weapon which can kill Carmilla has a handle shaped like a penis. Whether or not the symbolism is ironic, it’s implying that the power of the penis (aka of a man) is stronger than the power of lesbians.
Camp humor is a way of exposing cultural myths. Lesbian Vampire Killers is nothing if not campy. Its oversexualization of lesbians may indeed be perceived as being in bad taste or as a spoof of various lesbian-centric vampire films of the past. The film presents such a ridiculous menagerie of scenes that it can only be determined that it is making fun of itself. The campy exaggeration of lesbianism is a parody of how lesbians are viewed in today’s society as objects of men’s desires. After years of making lesbian vampire movies, it seems we have reached the point where they are popular enough to be mocked.The lesbian vampire genre has evolved over time with changing movements and production codes alike. From subtly hinted at sexual attacks, to over-sexualized she-devils of the night, to the obvious exploitation and mockery of society’s fascination with lesbians, the films that feature these characters are an expression of society’s attitudes towards lesbians in general, and especially men’s fear of them.