When we think of great vampire films, we often think of anything Dracula — from the Bela Lugosi and Frank Langella versions to (my personal favorite) Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In these depictions, Nosferatu was based on the literary text where the looming figure seeking eternal love and life is a man. But what about the women?
In 1985, American cinema struck it big with the release of cult classics like The Breakfast Club, Back to the Future, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and Weird Science. But in between these gems was a hidden jewel called Once Bitten starring a very young Jim Carrey and sultry model-turned-actress Lauren Hutton as the bloodsucker seeking her next big score.
Typically, depictions of female vampires are that of “wives” to the big, bad head ViC (vampire-in-charge); however, the horror-comedy flick Once Bitten took a spin on the traditional vampire lore and put a woman at the forefront.
Considered a “modest hit,” Once Bitten follows a sexually frustrated high school virgin Mark Kendall (Carrey), whose girlfriend Robin (Karen Kopins) won’t give up the goods. During a wild night out with his horny friends cruising the strip in LA, he meets “The Countess” (Hutton) who takes him back to her place for a quick bite — literally.
The Countess, a fabulously dressed 400-year-old mistress of the dark, needs the blood of a virgin — three “transfusions,” to be exact — by a deadline in order to remain young and beautiful. Though simple enough, these transfusions must be done within some time between each other and ultimately transform the virgin into one of her vampire lovers.
One of the draws of the film, aside from Jim’s young, fresh face and the cheesy dance battle between Robin and Countess to Maria Vidal’s “Hands Off,” is the fact we get to see a woman taking charge and being the predator instead of the prey.
Overall, the idea of a vampire being a man makes a lot of sense, since the act of drinking blood can be perceived as a metaphor for virility and serves as an allusion to the deflowering of women. Think about it: the fangs of our male Dracula — a long, hard, piercing extension of his body, often penetrate the tender, fleshy neck of a woman, causing her to bleed. As he consumes her blood, she loses her humanity and becomes his lifelong lover, a woman with an awakened sexuality who loves him without condition. Long story short: vampirism is all about taking a woman’s virginity and making her a wanton mistress bounded to her maker.
The beauty of Once Bitten is that it sees our Countess requiring blood from the groin region of her virgins, thus asserting her dominance over the young Mark. This time around, we see a woman — a much older woman, at that — having an “innocent”, vulnerable man succumb to her whims.Since the release of Once Bitten, there haven’t been many American movies where female vampires have taken the lead — at least in the same capacity (and popularity) of a Dracula. The closest may be Aaliyah’s Akasha of 2002’s Queen of the Damned. But even in that regard, Akasha was not “turning” a young, impressionable mortal into her lovelorn sex slave; instead, she was convincing the vampire Lestat (Stuart Townsend) to become her equal in power and world domination. Though powerful, Akasha was still no Dracula. Lestat’s innocence and regard for human life and humanity, for the most part, was long gone.
While there are certainly various films with female vampires in the lead roles, it’s safe to say it’s not prevalent in the media. The patriarchal depiction of the virginal woman fallen prey to the sexual magnetism of the man (and all its metaphoric implications) has been a part of our society for years. But it’s time for the tables to turn and I, for one, am ready to see more Countess-like vampire mistresses emerging from the dark and trapping men in their sultry covens.