Not that this is a startling revelation. Growing up, I used to love vampire movies. After all, where else could you see guys hug each other, throw their head back with intense feeling then climax with their eyes rolling back in their heads? And, if you gave them this experience, they went on and shared it with others. That vampire movies represented sublimated (and pretty thinly sublimated) sex onscreen is an old observation.
Which is one reason why they faded somewhat as mainstream films became more sexually explicit.
Then, along came The Lost Boys (1987) and vampirism-as-addiction, and the genre got revitalised. (Along with the best last line in films ever: if you want to know what it is, watch the film, which is heaps of fun.)
Not that The Lost Boys gave up on the queer element. Corey Haim‘s comic-loving younger brother Sam is your classic teenage gay-boy in the making (have a look at what’s on his bedroom walls). And Keifer Sutherland’s David is definitely trying a form of seduction on Jason Patric‘s Michael.
Vampire movies went big time with Interview With The Vampire (1994), the adaptation of the first of Anne Rice’s hugely successful vampire books. Rice had worked out that if you got women and gay men, you had an excellent fan base. So she wrote about pretty male vampires tragically in love with each other. The same formula as Shonen Ai anime. With an added vampiric twist: Lestat (Tom Cruise) and Louis (Brad Pitt) set up as a couple, with Lestat turning a girl into a vampire (a wonderfully creepy debut performance by Kirsten Dunst) so they can be a family–with vampires, procreation is disconnected from gender, which is pretty queer in itself. Lestat’s alternative nuclear family ends tragically, with a messy divorce and Louis failing as a single father. But who said family life was easy?
Working out just what fears and concerns are being appealed to/sublimated is definitely part of the fun of the genre. So The Lost Boys was about drugs, adolescence and absent fathers. Interview with The Vampire was about family dysfunction and finding a place when the social rules of the game seem to be in flux.
Which are also themes in the hugely popular cable TV series TrueBlood, increasingly loosely based on Charlaine Harris’ bestselling Southern Vampire books, aka the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. Given that the background premise is that vampires have “come out of the coffin” due to the invention of artificial blood, the analogy with contemporary shifts in social attitudes to love and marriage is pretty explicit. (Including such nice touches as a “God hates fangs” billboard in the opening credits.) That the series has kept going the black gay character Lafayette that the books killed off early (killing off the gay black character is something of a double cliche) helps the counterpoint along, though the brilliant fun of Nelsan Ellis‘s performance might also have something to do with the character’s survival. You don’t kill off onscreen gold. (In the commentaries, episode directors repeatedly mention that you just point the camera at Nelsan and let him run with it; and that he is absolutely nothing like Lafayette.)
Then there is Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Manifestations of Joss Whedon‘s screen brilliance. How do we love our Joss? Let us count the ways: Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, The Avengers. (He gets a “good effort” on Dollhouse.) The Buffy the Musical and Angel the Muppet episodes are examples of how Joss can go there and carry it off. (The actual Muppets were never this much fun.) While Serenity may be the best onscreen critique of the utopian impulse.
Buffy is gothic in its grandeur. Clearly about adolescence and the pains of growing up, it powerfully wrestles with the burdens of moral and emotional responsibility in the midst of the struggle of good and evil (which Angel also explores). Buffy is also a profound statement of girlpower. Vampires are monsters rather than the prickly love-objects of more recent efforts; staking them is just what a girl’s gotta do. (Well, apart from some Angel and Spike complications.) Joss is keen on strong women characters, and gives the best speech ever on the subject.
Which brings us to Twilight. I refuse to read the books or see the films. My view is nicely summarised in the wonderful parody Buffy versus Edward and Buffy’s “being stalked is not a turn-on for girls” comment. The Twilight books and films seem to appeal to romance as a relief from (female) independence in a quite atavistic, and somewhat creepy, way. And as for sparkling vampires, please.
The gay porn parody Twinklight seems much more fun, in every sense. (The first screen is fine; clicking “enter” is not worksafe.)
Increasingly, gay themes are explicit in vampire films. Roman Polanski’s 1967 romp The Fearless Vampire Killers had a gay vampire, but conformed to the gay-characters-must-die cinematic trope which was still alive and well. In the trashy-fun The Forsaken (2001), it is implied at the end that the two surviving male characters are going to team up to fight vampires in more than one sense. Gay vamps turn up in TrueBlood, but fairly matter-of-factly.
The rise of gay cinema expands the possibilities, but not necessarily the quality. From its trailer, Vampire Boys seems to be pretty dreadful (with IMDB rating to match: though IMDB ratings are very unreliable with low-vote queer films–I suspect there is deliberate voting down). The Bite Marks trailer, on the other hand, makes the film seem like lots of fun.
Of course, it is possible that all the good moments are in the trailer.
And the above examples only touch on the range of contemporary uses of vampires onscreen–from the splendid Ultraviolet (where the V-word is never used), to Forever Knight, to Blood Ties (all police procedurals), to The Vampire Diaries, to Being Human, to Dark Shadows, to …
In a culture much more comfortable with onscreen depictions of violence than sex, eroticising violence is an obvious move. Vampires being bloodsuckers expands the possibilities–what vampires do need not be fatal, it need not be contagious, it need not be painful or it can be any or all of those things. They can see themselves as higher up the food-chain–so a vampire no more has a relationship with a human than we would with a cow or a sheep–or they can be people with special diet requirements. They can be secret dangers confined to, and lurking in, the shadows or they can yearn for mainstream status.
All of which makes them perfect for exploring the edge between respectable and despised, between acceptance and danger, between mainstream and marginal. Yes, vampires are definitely queer. Even when they are ragingly heterosexual.
As, btw, Henry Fitzroy is not, at least in the books. He is rather more omnivorous in his interests; but what is a vampire if not a being who is both profoundly constrained and profoundly not? So profoundly queer in their difference.
The other thing vampires seem to consistently be, is pretty. But selecting recruits for looks is to be expected in such sensual beings. Especially onscreen.