Vampires selling unsafe sex?

This is the third part in a  four part series looking at the extraordinary popularity of the vampire  genre, Dracula being the subject of more films than any other fictional character.  The four parts are:

  1. One hundred years of vampire films looks at the longevity of the vampire genre, the box office takings of some of the recent major vampire movies, and the surge in interest in the vampire genre over the last 10 years.
  2. Vampire origins: the price of immortality examines how the vampire genre prods our sensitivities about death and aging, and builds on a wealth of known Christian religious symbolism.
  3. Vampires selling unsafe sex? looks at the thinly-veiled, yet Rated-M sexual metaphors of the vampire genre and the way it has tracked the sexual interests of various generations, from the Victorian period to the swinging Sixties, and the recent focus on adolescence and virginity.
  4. Vampirism ‘the bloodborne disease’ focuses on the recent medicalization of vampire stories and the zombie/vampire crossovers, paralleling popular fears of bloodborne diseases like hepatitis and AIDS.

Vampires selling unsafe sex?

TrueBlood on Amazon

What is it that has driven the increased interest in the vampire  genre over the last twenty years? An English university  professor I talked to even said she was seeing a lot of thesis ideas based  around the vampire genre, and there is even an online journal of vampire studies.

One obvious answer: s-e-x.

Getting around Victorian prudishness

The 1897 Bram Stoker novel that  started it all (in terms of contemporary Western culture’s obsession with  vampirism) came out during the age of repressed Victorian sexuality yet was  able to allude to issues that couldn’t be discussed except in fiction. Winona  Ryder as Mina, the heroine engaged to Jonathan Harker, is cast in Coppola’s 1992 film  as virginal compared to the more abandoned Lucy and  marriage will bring all those issues of sex and death (in those days  intimately linked by problems during childbirth) to the fore.

Vamp photo by Foto Ch on Flickr licensed under Creative CommonsMina drinks Count Dracula’s blood from his breast. Jonathan  Harker in turn is trapped by sexual abandonment with the vampire sisters in  the Count’s castle, and we watch Dracula sexually ravage Lucy as a  beast.    

Vampires in the swinging 60′s to 80′s

The sexual revolution in the ’60s  saw 32 vampire films made and in the ’70s this doubled to 61 films. A  number of the Hammer films were  particularly sexualized such as the 1960s ‘Brides of Dracula’ set at a girl’s  boarding school. 

More recently than the Hammer  films, adult sexuality and vampires has been explored in the mid 80s in the  R-rated The Hunger with  David Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie (Bowie’s always been a little ahead  of his time, beating Coppola by 9 years).

David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in 'The Hunger'

In The Hunger there  is also a very clear link between vampirism and the prevention of aging  and yet another love triangle. A nice touch that the female vampire in the  film negates men’s dominance and is stronger than they  are.  The sexuality angle is particularly emphasized in the  more recent post 2000 films and series like True Blood.

The term ‘vamp’, often traced  right back  to Theodora Bara in ‘A Fool There Was’ in 1915, is in  fact the sultry vampire seductress who preys on upright men. A  particular appeal of the genre is the way that it reflects the common  experience that sometimes personal relationships can  be  categorised as ‘predatory’ (or where one partner of any gender seems to  experience a transfer of  ‘energy’ from the other) if you chat to your  local relationship/family counsellor.

Titillation and the horror movie director

Sexuality is also a hugely  important part of the horror moviemaking toolkit as it is standardly used  just before a scary scene to disarm the audience.

We’re happy to let down our  guard that ‘this is only a movie’ when we’re being voyeurs and can  therefore be set up for the monster jumping out of the shadows.

Vampire movies with their  sexualized overtones are therefore much less forced than all those horror  movie scenes where you gratuitously insert two teenagers making out before  the big fright scene.    

Sexual risk for adolescents and vampires

The Lost Boys on AmazonBuffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), Twilight and The Lost Boys (1987)  all play to the promise and risks of sex for adolescents – in  The Lost Boys the  single mother of the two teenage boys even invites the head of the vampire  clan over to the house for a date.

The teenager interest in vampires  fits well with what they perhaps hear from contemporary parents: don’t do  drugs, don’t have sex, don’t get drunk because horrendous things will happen  to you that will ruin the rest of your lives. And, by the way as a friend of  mine says, just study as though the rest of your interests are  dead!    

Watching my youngest (Gen Y)  sister over Christmas sitting on the balcony smoking to general family  disapproval and reading Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy  series, you wonder whether the vampire genre is the Gen Y version of  rebellion. Forget about black leather jackets, I’m carrying a copy  of  Twilight; I’m  bad-bad-bad.


Twilight by Stephanie Meyer on AmazonVirginity is an important issue for Stephanie Meyer.  Bella  Swan (the ‘beautiful bird’!)  is able to experiment with sexuality and  desire for a long time (3 movies!) but without having to actually go through  with it. Perhaps it even remains better than it is in reality. The  penetration metaphor of biting or for that matter of ‘staking’ a female  vampire is hardly a coincidence. Just in case you’ve missed the  reference  Twilight  even gives you the forbidden apple from the garden of Eden on the  book’s cover: a nice melding of the religious and sexuality themes.

In the  Twilight series we  spend inordinate amounts of time waiting to see if Edward the vampire and  Bella will have sex (because when that happens he fears he  cannot  control himself). No question that there is a very thinly  veiled message here: ‘young  men can lose control when it comes to sex‘ (but hell maybe  with 57% of rapes occuring from  dates this is fair enough).

Love triangles

And to heighten the sexual tension why not throw in a Bram Stoker-like love triangle? This is somewhat  ponderously recreated in the  Twilight movies  in a series of set pieces e.g. Bella’s departure from school on  Jacob’s motorcycle or the somewhat unlikely scene in the tent  in Eclipse towards  the end (as a girl friend of mine says male characters  in the  Twilight series are even more unlikely than vampires themselves: men who talk  about their feelings). The Vampire Diaries also  uses the adolescent vampire love triangle device, and was  written 10 years before Twilight in 1993.

There’s no gay symbolism here – move along now

Eric from 'True Blood' and anonymous fan - photo from Ayleen Gaspar on Flickr licensed under Creative CommonsVampirism perhaps also provides a ‘safe’ exploration of gay  issues for heterosexual men. The  vampire as a male creature can ‘father’ a child and it  has been noted that there exists a rich vein of gay references as a result  as  when Dracula notes of Jonathan in Coppola’s film “this man belongs to me”  (two years before  the  publication of Dracula in 1897 Oscar Wilde stood trial for  sodomy).    More recently True Blood looks  more explicitly at homosexuality via the character of Lafayette and  perhaps the personal anguish of Eric about the death of his ‘maker’  Godric.

It will be interesting to see  which  fiction series will form the next vampire cinema blockbuster or  TV series. Place your bets below.

This article filed under the following 'Interest' categories (click category for more) Unanswerable questions

Like or dislike the work we're doing?   Please let us know by making a micro donation or just give us feedback by commenting. This blog implements a DOFOLLOW policy ('NoFollow Free') i.e. links are welcome in the text of the comment assuming they relate to the post (comments moderated).

Make Drivelry come to you. Email, RSS, Kindle and Twitter versions available on the right hand side HERE.

Article posted by @Drivelry on January 28, 2013

Filed under topics (click for more articles on that topic):

More Drivelry articles