To have an interest in Gothic, erotic, horror cinema means to have been born under a different moon entirely. It means you’re not as interested in the formulaic standards of terrified women running from predictable monsters. Instead, if you’re like me, it means you like evil women. You find delight in the idea that autonomous female desire itself is monstrous, and when portrayed with equal parts sexiness and power, it could easily consume the moralistic banality touted by mainstream horror cinema.
In these films, female sexuality terrifies and overpowers the moral man—the morally just repressor. The lady baddies from cult horror films of the 60s, 70s and 80s were most definitely not victims of their own sensuality, and they didn’t need to desexualize themselves to attain power. Often, they were seeking out sex with each other, seeing as the main theme that sexed-up Euro-horror films of this era set the foundation for the classic lesbian vampire romp.
In these awesome old films, feminine evil gives moralistic good what it rightfully deserves, and does it with the irrepressible sexuality normally attributed to the pathetic victim. Lesbian vampire became a lens with which various directors intellectualized female sadism and its excesses. Each interpretation had its own individual mood, style, and texture.
All of the following recommendations are vintage, NSFW horror. They were also all filmed abroad. While Americans were being spoon-fed carefully-censored Hollywood films, directors across the Atlantic were churning out grown-up and sexy horror flicks.
Before the 1960s, European cinema was a ticking timebomb of moral restraint. As a result of too many social and political changes to name, this bomb exploded and liberally doused anyone watching these films with every transgressive act imaginable. The following films represent a peculiar subgenre within exploitation cinema, rife with campiness, blood, and naked flesh.
It goes without saying: these aren’t for everyone.
Jess Franco’s: Necronomicon
Jess Franco is a legend in the sexploitation horror genre, but not all of his films are watchable. Necronomicon (a.k.a. Succubus; 1967) is one of his best. It shares with Franco’s better-known film Venus in Furs the (then) present-day time frame of the campy goth sixties atmosphere. In Necronomicon, staged sadism (thankfully!) becomes reality as the “stage performances” of sexually compulsive main character Lorna begin to blur the line of fantasy under the influences of a mysterious stranger. Whippings, murders, interpretive dance—what more can we ask for?
Jean Rollin’s La Vampire Nue
France held a commanding presence in the gothic, erotic, horror film genre, thanks to auteur Jean Rollin. Rollin filmed exquisite ‘60s and '70s gothic eye candy, with many films featuring lesbian vampires who poetically conveyed no distinction between right and wrong. Slower pacing and minimal storyline dog most of his films, however La Vampire Nue (also known as The Nude Vampire or La Vampiresa Desnuda) is a compelling exception.
The story involves a bizarre suicide cult, whose members are among a wealthy and powerful elite, and like to continually have scantily clad girls around dancing or performing various chores. The fulm centers on Rollin’s characteristic pair of twins, dressed up in strange carnivalesque costumes, which creepily add to the eerie cemetery and mansion settings. Accidentally, one of the cult member’s sons is included in their rituals and then the story careens down a gleefully psychotic and deliriously sexual path, which must be seen to be believed. Without the confusing final scene on the beach, this would be a perfect film.
Hammer Studios’ The Brides of Dracula
Hammer Studios in the UK produced some of the best horror films ever made in its heyday. The studio was known for the way it gave unknown directors, like Ray Ward Baker and Terence Fisher, room to make excellent film. One hardly needs to mention the revered actors who did some of their best work there (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt, and many others). But in 1960, The Brides of Dracula was unleashed onto a viewing audience ripe and ready for what was to become the studio’s trademark cocktail of bloodthirsty fangs and sinful women. The film was an instant classic, but two Hammer films released a decade later rate higher in my book: Lust for a Vampire , and Countess Dracula.
Lust for a Vampire (1970)
This one has a special place in my dark, pervy little heart. The story takes place, to our delight, in a school for young ladies who are required to wear uniforms which are quite sheer. (How thoughtful.) When a new pupil arrives at school, she’s eager to share her preferred extracurricular activity with her new schoolmates: lesbian sexual vampirism. Add to this their erotically challenged professor, who does everything possible not to hump the resurrected vampiress’ leg while maintaining a sense of propriety when people start asking questions about his school’s sudden drop in enrollment…
Countess Dracula (1972)
This film is enticingly hailed as “the most erotic Hammer film,” presumably because it has more babes in various states of undress than any other Hammer film made at that time. In it, stacked siren Ingrid Pitt plays the role of Countess Ersebet Bathory, “The Blood Countess” to the absolute oversexed hilt. True to the legend, the poor rich countess needs to bathe in the blood of super-hot unsuspecting virgins in order to retain her supple, uh, youth.
Renato Poselli’s Reincarnation of Isabel (1972)
Leaving the UK for Italy, be sure to put the Reincarnation of Isabel on your list. Directed by Italian Renato Poselli, Reincarnation is a nicely textured, weirdly colorful, unintentionally campy gothic B-movie masterpiece. This “knee trembler” is one of the most perfect examples of the genre, involving a satanic cult, sadistic couplings, whippings, impailings, torture, many, many naked breasts and really cool matching red robes. I wish they could all be like this.
Poselli’s The Devil’s Wedding Night
A fantastic example of how Hammer influenced Italian nudie-vampire movies. This great little epic stars the gorgeous Rosalba Neri (she was basically Italy’s erotically explicit answer to Barbara Steele). Mark Damon plays twin roles, one on a quest to find Dracula’s ring of power, while his playboy twin brother races to beat him to it – only to discover that sexually predatory Countess Dracula uses it to lure virgins to her tomb by the light of the full moon. This exceptional film boasts a gothic nineteenth century setting, intelligent storyline, great costuming, believable acting, and a screen-melting vampiress.
Finding these films isn’t impossible. They’re all listed at cult-flick-friendly MUBI.com, and The Nude Vampire streams in high quality at Fandor. Amazon streaming has The Nude Vampire, Devil’s Wedding Night, and Reincarnation of Isabel. Netflix only has Vampire Lovers on offer, and Amazon DVD has Brides of Dracula, Countess Dracula, Vampire Lovers, Succubus and Lust for a Vampire.