Recent scary-lovely Swedish flick Let the Right One In is proof that Twilight can't drain all the magnetism out of vampires. And it adheres to a basic vampire principle by breaking sexual taboos beautifully.
Vampires are the sexpots of the undead. Zombies are usually too blood-dribbly and rotted to be players. And ghosts are, well, insubstantial. Which leaves us with vampires, who are permanently young, beautiful, and possess a fierce need to suck things. How could they not be the poster-children for weird sex after death?
Of course, vampires rarely have sex as we know it. Often their only outlet is blood sucking, which leaves them free to form erotic relationships that don't exactly fit the nuclear family mold.
Let the Right One In is the story of a 12-year-old boy named Oskar who falls in love with his mysterious neighbor, the wide-eyed, tragic, manipulative girl-boy Eli (she looks girlish but says she's not a girl). As the film unfolds, we discover that Eli was first drawn to Oskar when she saw him stabbing a tree with a knife, playacting a Columbine solution to his problems with the school bullies. She senses that his imagination is as blood-drenched as her reality, in which she has to kill people and drink their blood to survive.
As they grow closer and share secrets, the taboo aspects of their relationship begin to outweigh the innocent ones. Eli admits she's been 12 years old for "a really long time," and crawls in bed naked with Oskar one night after a particularly harrowing death scene. Given that she's perhaps hundreds of years old, her relationship with Oskar seems a little, well, pedophilic.
And Eli isn't exactly the first eroticized little girl whose vampire antics broadcast a sexual uneasiness. In the novel and movie Interview with the Vampire, our two main characters Louis and Lestat decide to have a preternatural child and turn a gorgeous little girl named Claudia into a vampire like themselves. Everything is great until she's the mental age of an adult and realizes that she'll be trapped in a little girl body forever.
In the Anne Rice novel, which takes place partly during the nineteenth century, Claudia uses her girlish looks to attract men who are looking to buy a little pederasty for the night. She plays into the Victorian appetite for young girls, and thus assures herself a steady supply of blood. But she never actually has sex with these men, or anyone for that matter. Rice's vampires are chaste, though we are given to understand that the act of drinking blood provides a kind of sexual thrill for them. (Which makes it even weirder when Lestat converts his mother into a vampire in a moment of chompy excitement in sequel The Vampire Lestat.)
Rice may shy away from overtly dealing with the sexual implications of her child vampires, but Octavia Butler tackles them head-on in her last novel Fledgling. It's the tale of a 50-something vampire named Shori who has adult desires, but is still in the body of a child (she will eventually grow up, but vampires age much more slowly than humans). To survive, she creates a human "family" of lovers - male and female, all adult - who dote on her because when she drinks their blood she releases some kind of chemical that causes intense pleasure. She feeds a little on each lover from night to night, never drinking enough to harm them, but needing all of them to maintain a steady blood supply.
And she also has sex with them. Shori's first lover is a man who understands what she is, but still finds it difficult to reconcile their adult lovemaking and her child's body. Later, she teaches a middle-aged, bookish woman to accept her latent lesbian desires. Though Fledgling was intended as the first in a series of novels, tragically Butler died after finishing it. So we never get to see Shori grow into an adult body.
Where did all this sexual rule-breaking come from? Certainly Bram Stoker's late-19th century bestseller Dracula helped. He took legends of blood-sucking beasts, mixed them with a little Transylvanian history, and created a mesmerizing creature who drained British ladies of their blood and turned them into wantons. Cinematic versions of Dracula have played up the erotic side of this story, casting gorgeous men and lovely ladies with blood-red lips and strange desires.
And as cult moves like the 1971 Vampiros Lesbos make clear, there's always been room for a little same-sex dalliance in vampire tales - back in the days before gay marriage made homosex wholesome. There are plenty of gay vamps in Anne Rice, and Poppy Z. Brite's early-1990s Lost Souls is packed with gothy clubster vamps who love their gender-bendy homoeroticism. Dozens of other writers and filmmakers have played with the idea that vampires' otherworldly needs make them hunger for men and women indiscriminately.
You can see the apotheosis of this idea in the HBO series True Blood, based on a series of novels about the adventures of a psychic detective and her vampire lover who died during the Civil War. Though the show may be corny at times, and the whole vampire rights/gay rights subplot is clumsy at best, it's still red-hot sexy. There's gay vampire action, plus straight vampires having sex and sucking blood at the same time in a graveyard. I dare you to watch main character Sookie in her see-through nightgown being sucked on by loverboy Bill, without getting a little fanged out yourself.
Whether vampires actually have sex or merely exchange bodily fluids, they always seem to star in tales about sexual desire that oversteps the boundaries of the conventional. Sure there are exceptions - who wants to pork the dudes in 30 Days of Night? But most vampires leave us with lingering questions about our own perverse erotic wishes. Do those wishes make us monsters? Or do we only become monsters when our desires are repressed and twisted into something horrifying?