Sex and Vampires

EDIT: I had been thinking about this commerical while I was writing this post and found it on YouTube. It’s a commercial Frank Langella did for the “I Love New York” ad campaign while he was performing Dracula on Broadway.

My good friend, GB Kensington , is also featured in The Sweetest Kiss: Ravishing Vampire Erotica, which was released last week. Her short story is titled “Fair Play”. We’re cross-posting to celebrate the release.

Here’s mine on Sex and Vampires

How did the vampire evolve from its depiction as decaying, foul-smelling, diseased corpses into its 21st century depiction as attractive, alluring, sexy vamps?

Vampires of European lore were ugly, foul smelling creatures. Rural Slovakian and Czech vampires include the upir and the nelapsi. Both are the revived and rotting corpses of the recently dead. The upir is believed to have two hearts and two souls. It sucks the blood from its victims and then suffocates them in a deadly embrace. It also spreads disease and is reputed to be able to kill with its evil eye.

Other creatures also include the Bulgarian vampir, the Bosnian lampir, which crawls from its grave as a rotting and disease-carrying corpse, the Russian uppyr, a decaying, reanimated corpse, the Romanian strigoi, the Albanian shtriga, and the Germanic nachtzeheres (nightwasters), who return from the dead after gnawing on their own limbs and clothing,

Nothing romantic or sexy about these creatures! Their only purpose was to spread fear, disease and death.

However, even during those times, the association of eroticism with vampire was not unheard of.

In Vampires and Sex by Leslie Shepard, she states that “….corpses dug up as suspected vampires occasionally were reported to have an erection. Gypsies thought of the vampire as a sexual entity. The male vampire was believed to have such an intense sexual drive that his sexual need alone was sufficient to bring him back from the grave.”

Once the male vampire came back from the grave, according to Gypsy lore, he sought out his widow and had carnal relations with her. She would then “bear a child by her vampire husband. The resulting child, called a dhampir, was a highly valued personage deemed to have unusual powers to diagnose vampirism and to destroy vampires attacking the community.” (Shepard)

In her article Shepard also makes mention of the langsuyar, a female vampire. “She was often pictured as a desirable young woman who could marry and bear children.” (Shepard).

So even before the rise of vampires as romantic figures in 19th century literature and despite their typical descriptions as creatures too loathsome to even consider having sex with, the association of eroticism with the vampire was not unheard of.

However, it was in the 19th century, with the rise of Romanticism and Gothic literature, that the vampire began his or her transformation into a figure of alluring sexual power.

John Polidori’s The Vampyre

In May 1816, the English poet Lord Byron, his physician John Polidori, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelly and his wife-to-be, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later Mary Shelley, were en route to Italy. They were stalled by bad weather at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. While there the four made up ghost stories. Byron produced a half-written tale about a vampire. Eighteen year old Mary Shelly went on to write one of the most famous horror stories of all time. Frankenstein.

In 1819, The Vampyre: A Tale, was published by Polidori. The short story focuses on Lord Ruthven, who bears a striking resemblance to Lord Byron. The Vampyre was initially published under Byron’s name, but Polidori fought to get credit for the story.

What’s important, however, for the topic of this post is the character of Lord Ruthven. If Dracula, as conceived by Bram Stoker, could be considered the grandfather of such sexy, alluring vampires as Anne Rice’s Lestat, Edward Cullen of Twilight, Laurell Hamilton’s vampire master, Jean-Claude, Buffy’s Angel, True Blood’s Bill Compton, or the Salvatore brothers from Vampire Diaries, Lord Ruthven could be considered their great-grandfather.

Lord Ruthven is a handsome, poised, evil aristocrat who loves to play mind games as much as he loves to kill. He is both irresistible and ruthless. Ruthven is possessed of those vampiric qualities that will reverberate into the 20th and 21st centuries. His arrogance, bloodlust and inherent eroticism will be duplicated in stories and movies yet to come.

James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire

In the 1840’s another influential vampire appears on the literary scene. Sir Francis Varney is featured in the penny dreadful turned novel Varney the Vampire, written by James Malcolm Rymer. Sir Varney is a corpselike creature who stalks young girls. Varney, unlike Polidor’s Lord Ruthven, draws more from the blood-curdling vampire folktales of Eastern Eurpope. But Varney the Vampire still retains some of the characteristics of the drawing room vampire as opposed to the grave-rising, diseased corpse of earlier tales.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla

In 1872, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu published a novella in his novel. In a Glass Darkly, titled Carmilla. This could be considered the first vampire novel that not only introduced overt eroticism into the vampire mythos, but whose vampiric antagonist is a woman.

Le Fanu was influenced by folklore and tales of vampires from Europe, but his Carmilla has all the trappings of a modern vampire. She is alluring and seductive. Carmilla could be considered the grandmother of all female and lesbian vampires.

Regarding the overt eroticism, Laura Smith in her article Sexuality in Vampire Fiction notes that in Carmilla, “The physical descriptors of fast paced breathing and muffled moaning clearly identify with a human experience similar to an orgasm and enhance the sexual tension between Laura and Carmilla.”

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Now we come to the granddaddy of them all. Dracula.

Much has been written about how Dracula came to influence all the vampires to come and I won’t repeat that here. Google Dracula and his influences and I’m sure you’ll come up with more links than you could possibly want to read.

Needless to say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, steeped as it is with drama, romance, horror and the supernatural, went on to establish the vampire as both horrific and intensely erotic.

Leslie Shepard, who is the founder of the Bram Stoker Society, spends a great deal of time discussing the erotic nature of Dracula in her article Vampires and Sex. I highly recommend her article as it is certainly far better than my meager post and is well worth the read if you’re interested in the topic.

In her article Lust, Love and the Literary Vampire, Margaret Carter does make a point regarding Dracula that I think is worthy of note. She quotes Carol Senf, author of The Vampire in Nineteenth-Century English Literature.

“Carol Senf has pointed out that the very qualities that make the traditional vampire a threat in nineteenth-century stories such as Carmilla and Dracula — particularly his or her erotic power and unconventional behavior — make the vampire appealing to twentieth-century readers.” (Carter)

And we can add 21st centuries readers to that quote as it really does seem that it was at the turn of the 21st century that vampires really began to explode not only across the literary landscape but in film and television.

Vampires as Sex Symbols in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Vampires made their appearance in movies fairly early. Nosferatu, which was made in Germany, was released in 1922. Some have even credited this movie with having renewed interest in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

If you’ve seen Nosfertau, you’ve probably noted some not so subtle references to Dracula. Nosferatu was an unauthorized version of Dracula. The setting was changed, as were the names, but it’s still pretty much a filmed version of the novel Dracula.

As a result Stoker’s widow sued for copyright infringement. In 1925 the court ordered that the negatives and all copies of the film were to be destroyed. Obviously some survived or we wouldn’t be able to watch it today. It’s speculated that the court case may have served to renew the public’s interest in the Dracula novel.

However, I think it’s safe to say there’s nothing the least sexy or attractive about Nosferatu’s Count Graf Orlock. He resembles more the monstrous creatures of East European lore. With his bald head, skeletal face, ears like a bat and long, rat-like fingers he’s not the kind of vampire one would have sexual fantasies about.

Although he does, like Dracula, like to make his way into the bedrooms of young women in order to suck their blood, the image is definitely not erotic. That’s not to say there isn’t an underlying sexuality in the movie but it’s a sexuality more rooted in horror and fear than in lust or desire.

Two years later, however, in 1924, a stage version of Dracula was presented in Derby, England. The play starred Edmund Blake as Dracula. This play is important in that it introduced the vampire, through Count Dracula, as a creature who could interact with humans. There’s no way Nosferatu’s Count Graf Orlock could have charmed his way into the drawing rooms of English homes.

With the release of Bella Lugosi’s Dracula in 1931, the thirties and forties saw a plethora of movies about vampires and other monsters such as Frankenstein and the Wolfman. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s, however, that the full erotic power of the vampire came to the forefront of cultural consciousness.

The English film company, Hammer Film Productions Limited, began to release a series of movies about vampires that became very popular. In 1958, they released the pivotal film, Horror of Dracula, which starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as Dracula.

Christopher Lee could be called the All-Father of the tall, dark, dangerous, sexy vampire of today. All who follow afterwards are merely his sons, daughters, nieces or nephews.

Horror of Dracula went on to earn eight times what it cost to make. Another pertinent fact about Horror is that subsequent movies put out by Hammer Studios were, like Horror, released in color, unlike the black and white horror films of the 30s and 40s, which, of course, allowed the viewers to see all that red blood in all its horrid and fascinating vividness.

Following the success of Horror of Dracula, others in like vein (yes, pun intended) were released by Hammer. The Brides of Dracula (1960), Kiss of the Vampire (1964), which is a filmed version of the vampire novella Carmilla and features an alluring, seductive female vampire played by Ingrid Pitt, Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968).

In a reprise of Lugosi’s turn with Dracula, Frank Langella starred on Broadway in a stage play of Dracula before going on in 1979 to star in the movie version. Langella brought demonic charm and domineering seduction to the role.

From then on the list goes on of the actors who have played either Dracula or vampires. Jack Palance, in the 1973 made-for-television production of Dracula. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in 1994’s filmed version of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Stuart Townsend who plays Lestat in the 2002 movie Queen of the Damned, Richard Roxburgh in 2004’s Van Helsing, starring Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing. Wesley Snipes as Blade, Gerald Bulter in Dracula 2000 and William Marshall in 1972 movie, Blacula,

And that’s not counting the television shows, such as Dark Shadows, Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Forever Knight, Moonlight, and now, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries.

To be honest, I could write a fair-sized book about sex and vampires but I only have time for this rather meager post, which I hope will encourage those who are interested in the topic to seek out and read the many, many books and articles out there about the subject.

To finish off, here are three pics, respectively, from the Twilight movie, the new CW series The Vampire Diaires, and HBO’s True Blood that bring home the fact that vampires are now not only sexy they’re also very much desired by those from whom they wish to feed.

So, yep, I don’t think there’s any doubt that vampires have definitely made the transition from ugly, disgusting, diseased creatures of the night to sexy, alluring, attractive creatures of the night.

They still suck blood but now the women and men who are the objects of their bloodlust are just as willing to appease their own lust as well as those of the vampires.

List of Articles and Books

Vampires and Sex by Leslie Shepard, founder of the Bram Stoker Society

The Allure of the Vampire by David Dvorkin

Sex and Vampires

Lust, Love and the Literary Vampire – Margaret Carter

Rough Sex With Vampires: What Does “True Blood” Tell Us About Women and Sexuality?

Sexuality in Vampire Fiction by Lauren Smith

Jones, Ernest. On the Nightmare. New York: Liveright, 1951. Print.

Stevenson, John Allen. “A Vampire in the Mirror: The Sexuality of Dracula.” PMLA 103, 2 (1988): 139-49.

Twitchell, James B. Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.


15 Responses to Sex and Vampires

  1. Digital Dame says:

    Fantastic post! I can see I still have a lot of catching up to do in the genre.

    I keep seeing a lot of chest-beating by those who oppose the picture of the vamp as something to be desired and lusted after. I suspect it’s largely the same crowd that’s fueling the current zombie craze. Rotting flesh seems to be more to their taste.

    Anyway, I’ll be following up on all links you posted. Thanks for putting that all together!

  2. jennareynolds says:

    Thanks, DD!

    Well, I’m sure there are more than enough traditional, non-sexy vampires to go around to please those who prefer them that way. πŸ™‚

    I mean, seriously, vampires are not real and who is to say what they should or should not be be like. It’s an wide open field as far as I’m concerned for those who want to read and write in that genre. Sexy vampires. Scary vampires. Funny vampires (thinking of the very funny movie Love at First Bite starring George Hamiltion).

    I like ’em all!

    You’re welcome about the links!

  3. gutterballgt says:

    I suspect it’s largely the same crowd that’s fueling the current zombie craze. Rotting flesh seems to be more to their taste.

    Well, DD, I love me some zombies, but ew. Not in that way. Heheh.

    Scary or sexy, I also love me some vampire. I think each type hits a different note. You can go for the terror of the upir or the smut of a Jean-Claude, but either way, boy, are you in for a helluva ride.


    Excellent post, Jenna. I think I’ll have to attack your reference list. Woot!

  4. Kathy S. says:

    Great post, Jenna! I’ve been in love with vampires since the Dark Shadows series, and I cannot wait to see the Tim Burton version starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. I read the Anne Rice novels again and again. I love vampires and find myself thrilled when a new incarnation comes on the scene. Just when you think vampires are out, they rise back from the dead, again and again. And they come back with a new angle, which is all the more fun.

    Thanks for the links and all the great info!

  5. jennareynolds says:

    I totally agree on all counts, GB!

  6. Digital Dame says:

    Ha, love it, GB πŸ™‚ Something for everyone!

  7. jennareynolds says:

    You’re welcome Kathy! I think Barnabas Collins was my first taste of a really cool vampire since I know I didn’t see the Christopher Lee Hammer movies until later.

    I also can’t wait for Depp as Colllins!

    Yeah, it seems you just can’t keep a good (or bad) vamp staked! πŸ™‚

  8. Joely says:

    The Frank Langella version is still my all-time favorite vampire movie. There are so many erotic possibilities with vamps, from the bite itself, which some authors have given orgasmic powers, to the dark threat of death in your lover’s embrace. Vampires will always be a fave of mine! (Except I refuse to read or watch Twilight.)

  9. jennareynolds says:

    I found that “I Love New York” ad campaign Frank Langella did while he was performing Dracula on Broadway and put at the top of the post. He was great, wasn’t he?

    I agree about the erotic possibilities. They’ve always been there, I think, in one form or another.

  10. Awesome, awesome post- Jenna.

    I agree. There’s certainly room for both the original/totally evil vamps and the romanticized ones.

    I’d love to see a good film adaption of Carmilla. Preferably a European director over Hollywood.

  11. jennareynolds says:

    Thanks GS!

    I agree. There’s no reason why we can’t have both kinds of vampires. There’s blood enough for all of them. πŸ™‚

    I’m wondering if, perhaps, some director is contemplating doing a film version of Carmilla with vampires being so hot now.

    Oh, that reminds me. I must blog about two vampire movies from foreign directors that recently came out. One I’ve seen and it’s awesome and the other is slated to come out on DVD in November.

    Gotta remember to blog about them.

  12. I hope you do blog about them!

    Regarding Barnabas, he’s definitely my favorite “good” vamp. After he turned from the show’s villian into its hero, he was never self-pitying or whiny. (I found Louis and Lestat intolerable in that regard) And I loved the way he and Julia worked together. I really hope Tim Burton casts a cool actress in that part. I was thinking Dana Delaney would rock as Julia. She’s in the correct age group, and I’d rather see an underused, talented actress rather than the usual face.

  13. jennareynolds says:

    Looks like my friendly neighborhood library has Dark Shadows on DVD but unfortunately doesn’t appear to be the episodes with Barnabas. Darn. Well, maybe I’ll come across them somewhere. Perhaps with the release of the Burton movie some network will air some of the episodes.

  14. Letty says:

    Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) was the “Rach 3” of vampires. So romantically and compellingly played by this great actor.

  15. Jenna Reynolds says:

    I agree, Letty. πŸ™‚

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