This morning I watched Dracula 2000 as part of a study on Dracula movies. It left me with a lot of questions, like “how should I categorize the vampire making the victim drink the vampire’s blood– plain old violence? Sexual assault? Or is it in a category all its own?” But the main question is what is up with vampires, and why, for the love of God, is vampire sex such a coveted, lovingly photographed thing?
I don’t have a good answer, only speculations. Maybe by the time my study is over, I’ll have sounder speculations. Anyway, I can describe some of the actors who have played vampires in some of the most disgusting, objectifying terms available, but I’ll spare us all that. The collective fascination goes beyond Ingrid Pitt’s bust, Louis Jourdan’s sexy voice, and Christopher Lee’s everything.
Apologies. Contrary to my drooling, attractive actors are only part of it. Given, Bela Lugosi made the vampire popular in a way that Max Shreck didn’t– probably because Lugosi, while no spring chicken, had hair, arresting eyes, a Cupid’s bow mouth, and elegant fingers. He also had charm– enough for the baby Hays Office to get nervous and say “no onscreen bites.” A lot of people today would argue that he’s not particularly attractive– that’s academic– but the censor board may actually have been onto something regarding bites.
People bite each other on the neck affectionately all the time. Getting bitten on the chest is a little less common (at least in my experience), but love bites can happen anywhere. And therein begins my speculation.
Maybe the thing with vampires is that the act of biting someone and drinking their blood has certain connotations already. Especially since the image is of a maiden in a white nightgown falling victim to this act in her bedroom, during the night, at the hands of a swarthy man. Bram Stoker wrote it in a very unromantic way, back in the 1890’s, and though vampirism is linked to sex in Nosferatu, it is also incredibly unromantic– a noble woman has to sacrifice herself by willingly letting the vampire have her blood. In 1931 Dracula looked like a prime catch as opposed to the utterly repugnant John Harker, though his attacks on Mina were meant to be frightening rather than alluring.
Changing attitudes regarding sex may have something to do with the portrayals of vampires, although now the pendulum doesn’t really seem to be swinging back as the country seems to be having another one of its Victorian fits (I’d say “puritanical,” but they Puritans so weren’t). Well, except for Twilight, but it’s an anomaly. And fans of the series don’t realize how creepy it truly is.
Is it just that Hollywood has forgotten how to be scary, so it’s peddling shock? Possible, but some of the older vampire movies combined sex with scares very successfully. Is it overused? Quite probably. Nosferatu have been in vogue for over 80 years now. Maybe it’s time they took a vacation. Or maybe filmmakers need to take a hint from Katherine Bigelow’s film Near Dark and have the vampires just walk up to their victims and start killing. It’s hard to romanticize getting one’s throat cut by a stranger.