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Vampires are queer

By Lorenzo

Interview With The Vampire: Tom and Brad having an intimate onscreen moment

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.)

They want you Michael: mainstream boy lust

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.

Managing romance can drain a lass

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.)

Have stake, will slay

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.

Vampire Diaries of pretty people

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.

Do Blood Ties sever or connect?

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.

17 Comments

  1. kvd
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    A good summary, but let’s not forget ‘Lesbian Vampire Killers’ which has always puzzled me as to what is adjective. But a film I thought particularly good was the Swedish film “Let the Right One In” – except I dunno where that sits in your take?

    And lastly, I’m hoping no comments will include one of my ongoing pet peeves: ‘bodily fluids’. What’s wrong with just plain ‘body’?

  2. Posted February 13, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    kvd@1 Alas, I have not seen either film, though I have heard of Let The Right One In and should probably see it.

    As for bodily fluids, it sounds more liquid than ‘body fluids’. :)

  3. Waistless
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Vampires eh? Sorry, but I can’t help but post something taken to its…logical extreme. clicky.

  4. Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    You can’t take the sky from m……Screw you Fox!

  5. Posted February 13, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I have always understood that Vampires were akin to blood sucking lawyers.

    Anyhow i don’t watch crappy teenage frighteners anymore.

  6. Adrien
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Which is one reason why they faded somewhat as mainstream films became more sexually explicit.

    There was a Hammer Horror series in the early 70s that featured a bisexual vampire name of Mircalla Karnstein. She was always rising from the grave near a girls’ boarding school with predictable results.

    Good for kitsch fans bored of Russ Meyer movies.

  7. Posted February 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    V@5 You should really try Ultraviolet (the TV series, not the movie) as it is quality TV.

    A@6 I feel the timing is significant :)

  8. Mel
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    A couple of quick comments- I enjoy horror but it is interesting how much of horror reinforces conservative values. Note how the heroine for example tends to be innocent, chaste or monogamous while a girl who is a little “loose” inevitably succumbs to the vampire/monster/whatever.

    Finished watching Game of Thrones season 2 last night. Watched all ten episodes without a break. Anyone who likes fantasy should check it out. Absolutely absorbing, can’t wait for season 3. The gay contender for the throne was killed off but that was inevitable and I would also have been in the book on which the series in based.

  9. kvd
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    Mel, totally agree about GOT. Brilliant, addictive stuff.

  10. Posted February 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    GOT is the best show on TV, but I’m a nerd so I’m probably biased.

  11. RipleyP
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for the link to Buffy v Edward, that was the best thing i have seen in ages and as I have read the Twilight series I tend to have a prolific detestation for the misoginistic bulldust containde in those books.

    BUffy for me was a huge education in changing my whole outlook on the powerful heroine as being the norm rather than the exception.

    As a Minion of Joss I weap a lonely tear at the mention of Firefly. GOT has been very entertaiing and I too look forward to season 3.

    Of interest has anyone considered Joss Wheadons work in regards to his portrail of women? I have interpreted his work as pro women heroines and gender equality. Then being a boy may skew my perception

  12. Movius
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I thought I was the only one who remembered Ultraviolet. I loved watching that series back in high school. Despite my loathing for monster movies/shows/books that don’t use the actual name of the monster.

  13. Posted February 21, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    M@12 I have the series on DVD :)

    RP@11 Joss’s speech, which I linked to, provides some commentary on the strong women theme.

  14. Truthseeker
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    I do not think that vampires are “queer” in the way that you probably mean it here. My theory is that vampires are all of the same gender. After all, technically speaking, gender is defined by one’s role in the reproductive cycle, and for vampires, they all have teeth and can all procreate individually. Therefore they are all of the same gender and concepts such as heterosexual and homosexual are not relevant when there is only one gender.

  15. Posted February 25, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    T@14 That is only one definition of gender. But I would have thought that claiming physical form, including sexual organs, have nothing to do with gender is pretty queer, really. At least in human terms.

  16. Aristillus
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Vampires are queer. There’s no evidence that this is aesthetically so. Although many have taken on vampiric culture as a lifestyle, vampires do not exist in the real world, therefore, to what frame of reference can one turn to give validity to such a statement?

    The only frame of reference available is in the author of the work you are reading or watching, therefore it is the author imprinting his or her thoughts and feelings upon the mythic creature, humanizing what is essentially thought of as being inhuman.

    Sexuality is not really an issue, blood is, and the vampire would seek it from any animal male or female. With tongue in cheek, I would suggest that apart from a few rare instances in the world, very few would have sex with their food before consuming it.

    So, there really can be no validity to the ‘OP’s’ statement that vampires are queer as a general understanding. it can only be valid after an analysis of the author’s intention to give his or her creature a sexuality it exercises. If anything, the vampire might well be considered ‘bi-sexual’, but again, it is dependent upon what the author wants the creature to convey in terms of sexuality, and why?

  17. Posted April 4, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    A@16 Reproducing without sex and without any connection to gender is not queer?

    And author’s produce a thing — a novel, a film, a tv series or whatever. Once that thing exists, it has escaped from the author and can be commented on its own terms.

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