A short history of lesbian vampires on screen

With The Carmilla Movie set to wow audiences at this year’s BFI Flare we take a look at the most iconic lesbian vampires depicted on both the big and small screens.

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Emma Smart

The Carmila Movie (2017)

The Carmila Movie (2017)

Sexy, seductive, dangerous, the lesbian vampire is one of the most prolific images of lesbian desire you’ll find in cinema history. There is much pleasure to be derived from seeing this subversive projection of lesbianism, in spite of the sometimes negative connotations of these representations on our screens.

A game-changing lesbian vampire movie is headed our way from Canada, which queers the narrative even further and presents the first positive role model for lesbian vampires everywhere.

The feature-length sequel to the hit web series Carmilla, a modern re-telling of the 19th-century Sheridan Le Fanu novel of the same name, The Carmilla Movie is a fun-filled, action-packed feminist riposte to the traditional lesbian vampire movie. It aces the Bechdel test and offers strong, nuanced roles for every gender, refusing to put labels on anyone, even the vampires. It’s sexy and seductive, just like a lesbian vampire movie should be, only this time around, it’s the lesbians in charge of the narrative.

Inspired by this new take on the lesbian vampire, here’s five of the best screen representations of that deadliest, yet sexiest of demons. And although the lesbian vampire is often punished, whether for her vampirism or her lesbianism, she is always the agent of her own desires. And this is how I like it.  

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Director Lambert Hillyer

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Part of the crop of horror films that would define Universal Studios’ early years, Dracula’s Daughter is a stylish and atmospheric horror story, seducing the audience as easily as the Countess Marya Zaleska (the beautiful Gloria Holden) seduces her, mostly, female victims.

What’s remarkable about Dracula’s Daughter is the quite open depiction of lesbianism on screen at a time when the Hays Code strictly forbid it. In the most sexually evocative scene in the film, the countess lures a young woman to her home under the pretence of wanting to use her as a model for her painting. Once inside, she wastes no time in getting the young woman to strip to her silk slip, and by the time the would-be model figures out she might be in a bit of trouble the countess is stalking towards her. The scene fades to black, this is 1936 after all, but I think we all know what happened next. 

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Director Roy Ward Baker

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

The first (and arguably the best) in a trilogy of lesbian vampire films from Hammer Studios, The Vampire Lovers stars the enigmatic Ingrid Pitt as Carmilla Karnstein in a more direct telling of the Sheridan Le Fanu novella. This is when lesbian vampire movies start to focus more on the sex than the Satanism, it’s all heaving bosoms and low-cut dresses, and for its time includes some quite risky scenes of lesbian sexuality, which helped make it a commercial success on release. Pitt went on to play a vampire several more times on screen in the 1970s, but none were quite as seductive or quite as Sapphic as here.

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Director Harry Kümel

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Gothic horror meets Belgian surrealism in this take on the legend of Elizabeth Báthory, a real-life Hungarian noblewoman who murdered hundreds of young virgins and bathed in their blood to keep her young. Here the mesmerising Delphine Seyrig is Countess Báthory, who with her female companion (read lesbian lover) arrives at a luxurious hotel in the seaside resort of Ostend, on the Belgian coast, at the very same time as three mysterious and bloody murders of young women in nearby Bruges is discovered. What a coincidence. At the hotel are a young honeymooning couple whom the countess sets her sights on, eventually seducing both and paving the way for more murder as the victims turn into the hunters. 

The Hunger (1983)

Director Tony Scott

Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie in The Hunger (1983)

Possibly the most iconic lesbian vampire film of all time, The Hunger brought the character of the lesbian vampire back from the exploitation cinema of the 1970s and placed her firmly in a mainstream setting. Catherine Deneuve makes for the perfect centuries old vampire, exuding the kind of irresistible charm all lesbian vampires are known and one Susan Sarandon’s cynical gerontologist cannot help falling for. But then, who wouldn’t? It is Catherine Deneuve after all.

True Blood (2008-14)

Director Alan Ball

True Blood (2008-14)

Based on the best-selling Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris, the HBO-produced series True Blood boasted several lesbian vampires over the seven seasons it aired, or more accurately several lesbian vampire relationships over the years, as sexuality on True Blood is as fluid as it is in real life.

Because this is a world of humans and vampires existing alongside each other, where a synthetic blood (the True Blood of the title) means that vampires don’t have to prey on humans to survive, the usual tropes of the lesbian vampire character don’t necessarily apply here. Yes, she’s still sexy as hell, but now she seduces women not to kill them but to enjoy them in other more pleasurable ways, and in no way is she punished for these Sapphic desires. 

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