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Lesbian vampire movie The Blood Splattered Bride takes a bite out of the patriarchy

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Jun 6, 2019, 1:01 PM EDT

Halloween may be several months down the line, but lesbian vampires are forever. Dating back to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's 1871 Gothic novella Carmilla — published 25 years before Dracula, thank you very much — the horror genre has had has its share of Sapphic suckers (of blood), supernatural fiends who will steal yo’ girl... and then turn her into an immortal demon from hell. Bonus!

Though the lesbian vampire of film dates all the way back to the 1930s, with Universal’s Dracula follow-up Dracula’s Daughter, she truly hit her stride in the '70s. The sexploitation genre was hot, and female vampires seducing some pretty young thing and bearing her boobs in the process was even hotter. In many of these movies, themes of female empowerment play second fiddle to the male gaze. Female vampires — uniformly thin, white, and young (or young-looking, anyway) — suck blood, shuck clothes, and then die. Needless to say, most lesbian vampire movies were directed by men, with Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire being a notable exception.

There's one lesbian vampire movie, however, that does go the "f*ck the patriarchy" route, earning it a place alongside more recent explorations of female sexuality and the supernatural like Jennifer's Body and Teeth. That is 1972's The Blood Splattered Bride, written and directed by Vincente Arianda.

To explain how The Blood Spattered Bride breaks the lesbian vampire mold, one must at first explain what that mold is. There are exceptions, but lesbian vampire movies of the sexploitation era tend to have a handful of elements in common. There is a young couple, often newly married. The woman is gorgeous, combining sensuality with a certain sense of innocence. The man more often than not looks like a ‘70s porn reject: bad hair, bad clothes, an unhealthy love of turtlenecks. Admittedly, this may be a product of fashion norms of the era rather than anything specific to this genre of film (‘70s facial hair trends were kind to no one). 

The male lead also tends to be something of a dumb boor. He sees something sinister going on with this mysterious, sophisticated, vaguely European stranger and his sweet, innocent wife, but despite stamping his feet and issuing proclamations — because he’s a man, God dammit — he’s ultimately unable to keep his partner from being seduced by the forces of darkness. He’s ostensibly one of the heroes, but at the same time, you don’t watch a lesbian vampire movie and not root for the lesbian vampire to get the girl. Our in-over-his-head cuckold to the forces of lesbian vampirism must, therefore, be inoffensive enough that you don’t hate him, while being unappealing enough — in looks and in personality — that you don’t feel guilty about rooting for his wife or girlfriend to get swept out from under his nose by a svelte blood-sucking lesbian.

It’s in this husband character — played by Simón Andreu and credited simply as Husband, placing him less as an individual than as a representative for his entire gender — that The Blood Spattered Bride takes a turn away from the typical and towards a more direct confrontation of patriarchal norms. Put simply, the husband of sweet and innocent Susan (Maribel Martín) is an outright dick who feels entitled to his wife’s body and refuses to accept her wedding night discovery that sexual contact with him terrifies her. He belittles her, gaslights her, and forces himself on her (“Marriage or legalized rape?” asks the trailer). Abused, frightened, and trapped, Susan stays mostly passive… until the arrival in her husband’s ancestral home of the visitor Carmilla (Alexandra Bastedo), who’s either an amnesiac or the husband’s centuries-dead ancestor Mircalla, who according to family legend killed her husband on their wedding night and was subsequently buried alive.

Go on. Guess which one she is.

Typical lesbian vampire beats follow. Susan becomes obsessed with Carmilla, while the husband becomes obsessed with freeing his wife from her influence. The difference is that the monster (Carmilla) is the savior and the savior (the husband) is the monster. When Carmilla uses those good ol’ vampire mental powers to try and get Susan to stab hubby dearest in his sleep, you’re rooting for Susan to do it.

As for the sex angle — it’s a vampire movie, there’s always a sex angle — the husband is concerned by Susan’s increasing lassitude and brings in a doctor (Dean Selmier) to treat her. Spying on her one day, the doctor stumbles upon Susan and Carmilla doing… something. We don’t see what it is, but we hear it, and what we hear are “rapturous, over-the-top sex noises,” to which the Doctor — who sees what we don’t — reacts with comical horror, like he just saw a room full of kittens being murdered or James Cameron announce four more Avatar sequels. Strip away the supernatural elements, and the subtext is the same: men feeling threatened by lesbians out of fear that lesbians are better at pleasing their wives than they are.

If you’re thinking at this point that The Blood Spattered Bride is going to turn into an affirming triumph over male power, with Carmilla and the newly-turned Susan walking off into the moonrise, stopping at every hotel along the way to give each other world-shaking orgasms… sorry. The ending of The Blood Spattered Bride is brutal, both for Susan and Carmilla and for the audience watching. This is a lesbian vampire movie, and the lesbian vampire has to die. Carmilla and Susan kill the doctor and another man before attempting unsuccessfully to kill Susan’s husband. He later comes upon them lying in repose in a coffin, which he proceeds to blast to bits. It’s not presented as a triumphant moment of evil defeated, but rather a cowardly act of aggression — he literally kills them while they’re sleeping, without even a shred of regret, hesitation, or mercy prompted by the fact that one of them is his wife. Then, a 12-year-old girl who lives on the property enters and reveals that she’s also been bitten. The husband shoots her execution-style in the back of the head. Then (we learn from a newspaper headline), he cuts out the three vampire’s hearts.

On paper, The Blood Spattered Bride is a story of a man triumphing over supernatural evil. Certainly, that’s how the husband sees it himself. But the way the story translates on-screen is something quite different: a violent man who feels entitled to absolute control over women goes berserk when that control is questioned, exterminating not just those who posed a direct threat to him but a child — the seed of a revolution yet to come — who may do so in the future. It’s a concept that certainly resonates today, as the very hint that rapists may be held responsible for their actions is followed by a lot of hand-wringing about “witch-hunts” and incels go on shooting rampages out of some misguided feeling of rejection. Compared to other lesbian vampire movies, The Blood Spattered Bride may not have the style of, say, a Daughters of Darkness or Vampyros Lesbos, but it certainly has a hell of a lot more substance.

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