In the inaugural episode of Daughters of Darkness, Kat and Samm explore the history of lesbian vampire films. This first episode of three begins by examining the lesbian vampire from her origins in eighteenth century Gothic literature, particularly Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unfinished poem “Christabel” (1797) and Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu’s story “Carmilla” (1871), both of which explore themes of monstrosity, repressed sexuality, and female identity. “Carmilla” — the source material for the majority of lesbian vampire films — follows a lonely young woman named Laura, who makes a strange, seductive new friend, Carmilla, whose designs on Laura are decidedly sanguinary.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s surreal horror film Vampyr (1932) was the first to adapt “Carmilla,” however loosely, but was followed soon after by the more straightforward Universal horror film, Dracula’s Daughter (1936). The latter — with its depiction of an elegant, sympathetic female vampire reluctantly driven to act out her bloodlust out on female as well as male victims — was among the first to portray vampirism as a blend of madness, female hysteria, sexual dysfunction, and addiction. Dracula’s Daughter would influence subsequent adaptations of “Carmilla,” like Roger Vadim’s lush arthouse effort Blood and Roses (1960) and obscure Italian Gothic horror film Crypt of the Vampire (1964). The film co-starred Hammer star Christopher Lee, who spends much of the running time in an outrageous smoking jacket.
Speaking of Hammer studios, the episode wraps up with a discussion of their Karnstein trilogy, a watershed moment for lesbian vampire cinema. Films like The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust for a Vampire (1971), and Twins of Evil (1971) — as well as some of the studio’s outlier efforts like The Brides of Dracula (1960) or Countess Dracula (1971) — left a bloody mark on vampire films. With minimal violence and plenty of nudity from buxom starlets like Ingrid Pitt, these films generally depict aristocratic vampires preying on innocent young ladies in pastoral settings. A film like The Vampire Lovers was famous for its use of lesbianism and casual nudity, but is quite restrained compared to the films discussed in episode two by European directors like Jess Franco and Jean Rollin.