“What’s wrong? Don’t you want me any more?” Fright Night’s Amy coos to the boy next door. Her grotesque, too-wide smile reveals too many sharp teeth as she releases a predatory snarl.
There have been some one-dimensional stereotypes of women in horror; stereotypes that directors and writers like Julia Ducournau and Barbara Creed have challenged time and again. Many think we’re solely represented in the genre as helpless victims, sacrificial virgins, or “boyish” final girls. And particularly in the slasher subgenre, sexually active women tend to die early as a twisted sort of punishment. But what about the monstrous femmes?
In one of the most interesting and compelling defiance of these stereotypes, we have the femme vampire. From Vampire Amy (Fright Night,1985) to Akasha (Queen of the Damned, 2002), to Miriam (The Hunger, 1983) the femme vampire is always portrayed as unrestrained and sexually aggressive. And though her victims are clearly attracted to some elements of this hypersexual nature, they eventually become repulsed and try to reclaim their control.
As she attempts to quench her insatiable thirst for blood, she is the one that stalks, seduces, dominates, and kills her prey — subverting Margaret Atwood’s notion that “men are afraid that women will laugh at them, while women are afraid that men will kill them”. Some contemporary horror films have addressed this more directly. Last year, there were 70,330 victims of sexual assault in England and Wales. Yet, in A Girl walks Home Alone at Night (2014), we see a vigilante vamp skateboarding the streets at night without concern for her safety, subverting the implications of the film's title.
As the femme vampire distorts the male gaze into the uncanny, she finds power in her sexuality through inflicting fear. She takes what patriarchal society simultaneously shames and reveres, and exaggerates it to the point of monstrosity. And while that’s definitely a commentary on the perceived threat of unrestrained femme sexuality, it does make for a vengeful and cathartic watch. So, perhaps the next time a man on the street tells me to smile, I will do so. But it’ll be too wide, and with too many sharp teeth.
Written by TNHC's Co-Founder and Editor Emily Malone for 'Show me Your Teeth', a season of films and accompanying zine exploring vampirism and feminism for Warwick Arts Centre, in association with The BFI and The National Lottery.