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The Velvet Vampire (1971) | Review

Source: Rue Morgue

The Velvet Vampire (1971) is a vampire horror hellbent on destabilising heterosexual monogamy through its exploration of desire and isolation. We follow Lee and Susan as their marriage becomes threatened through the presence of the ever-alluring Diane, a mysterious woman, who has invited them to her estate in the middle of the desert. Whilst there, their marriage and respective identities are troubled as they both seem to be attracted to Diane, who they suspect is actually a vampire. Playing on old stereotypes about the evil, promiscuous bisexual and made in a time of political unrest, it seems to be wrestling with the panic of change and the possibility of dual identities, as if those who are marginalised by normative society actually have something sinister to hide.

Diane gets to punish those who seek to use her for sex and discard her afterwards and there is a certain amount catharsis that can be had from watching this film as a bisexual woman, whose identity is put under a large amount of scrutiny from straight and gay people alikeBeing a queer vampire is very much a trope within itself, so this catharsis does not come without a large amount of baggage - that being the implicit fear, brought on by biphobia and misogyny, of the conniving woman who wishes to have relationships with multiple genders (*gasp*).

This baggage is common when seeking out queerness in past media. On the one hand, I love when queer women are just explicitly terrible people because it's really interesting to me when queer people choose to take out their vengeance on those who represent heteronormativity. At the same time, the intent of these representations was to perpetuate harmful myths about queer people (see my piece on Alucarda for more on this).

Source: Confluence of Cult
The film seems to be warning of the dangers women face when engaging in the free love movement. Where Lee is free to pursue Diane with next to no consequences from society, Susan pursuing Diane in the same way is presented as horrific. Her desire to be free from Lee's inattentive version of marriage and indulge in her more taboo desires manifests in the death and hysteria surrounding her. She is driven mad by her dreams and by the actions of her husband, who intends to have his cake and steal Susan's right out her hand, with no consideration that she may also want to explore her sudden impulses.

Queerness itself does not seem to be entirely abject, and it's not Susan who is punished for her temptations but rather Diane, for her indulgences. As long as her queer desire is kept under control, Susan goes mostly unscathed. Lee transgresses his own marriage in the pursuit of bodily desire, and gets the short end of the stick, being fully consumed by Diane and kept in her secret room as a keepsake. The film argues that the experience of abject desire will ultimately be punished, unless it is kept under control, unless it's kept within the confines of a house in the desert. Once that queerness enters the 'real', heterosexual world, it will be pushed back into the shadows, or entirely annihilated, using the forces of Christianity, shown in the scene at the end of the film where, in typical vampire movie fashion, Diane is stopped by the use of a crucifix.

And yet, the ending suggests that it can never truly be extinguished. Antithetical to the perpetually darkly lit horror of today, this film is bright, almost candy coloured, wrapping up the tempting delights of being consumed by Diane in a delicious package. We are made to be just as susceptible to the lead vampire's tricks as the two main characters. Where we see behind the two-way mirror into her world of continuous death and consumption, they have no idea until it's much too late. These desires, despite the efforts to repress them, will continue to rise to the surface. Where the film seems to suggest that this is truly the most terrifying thing in the world, the monster-lover inside me sees that even when queer people are represented as terrors to the status quo, they are enduring. 

If you have the opportunity to strike the fear of the devil into a straight person's heart today, then you should do it.