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The History of Sexy Monsters

Illustration for article titled The History of Sexy Monsters

Monsters are horrifying, revolting... and often alluring. It makes sense that so many monsters would be hawt, since they're the ultimate predators and they need to be able to lure us into their clutches and stuff. But also, monsters represent the forbidden, and sexy danger, and they can get away with wearing outfits that the rest of us would be scared to try on.


So here's our look at the history of sexy monsters, from the Bride of Frankenstein to True Blood.

Top image: Kevin Nowlan.

Sexy monsters sit at the crossroads of eros and thanatos, and represent our love affair with the abyss. And they also probably result from the fact that people working on horror movies have a pretty insane sense of humor and an awareness that sex sells. But it probably all starts with...


The Bride of Frankenstein

Everybody had a crush on the Bride of Frankenstein. Even Neil Gaiman. The 1935 sequel to James Whale's Frankenstein adds a female counterpart to Frankenstein's monster, whose rejection of the monster at the end of the film causes the destruction of Frankenstein's mansion. Check out some Bride of Frankenstein pin-ups at left, a couple of which are probably NSFW.

In an essay called "Bods and Monsters" in the book The End of Cinema as We Know It, Elizabeth Young writes: "From its cinematic inception to its more recent incarnations, I argue, the bride of Frankenstein bridles at norms of both gender and sexuality... In the initial cinematic incarnation of the bride of Frankenstein, monstrous female bodies are so powerful that they literally bring down the house." In the film Gods and Monsters, she says, the famous Bride of Frankenstein shriek is recast as "a voice of conservative reaction against the ostensible sexual unnaturalness of the monster."

There have been plenty of updated versions of The Bride of Frankenstein since the 1930s, including Weird Science and Frankenhooker.


Vampirella, Vampira and Elvira

As Life Magazine wrote in 1954, in an article called "Good Evening, I Am Vampira":

At an hour before midnight every Saturday on many Los Angeles TV screens, a gaunt, black-wigged mistress of ceremonies steps out of ominous, drifting mists, screams hysterically into a shuddering camera, intones the greeting in the headline above and then sighs morbidly, "I hope you have been lucky enough to have had a horrible week."


Later in the same article, there's a great picture of Vampira, aka Maila Nurmi, walking down the street in L.A. in daylight, with the caption: "Haughty Vampira ignores people on the street. "I like them to stare if they know who I am," she admits, "but not if they don't."

Vampira may have borrowed a lot from Charles Addams and other gothic artists, but she perfected the archetype of the sexy vampire — as seen in Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space and dramatized later in Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood. Maila Nurmi was "the first woman in Southern California to wear backless shoes," according to designer Rudi Gernreich. The Fuck Yeah Vampira Tumblr is worth spending a couple hours obsessing over.


And then there was Elvira, aka Cassandra Peterson, who auditioned to be the horror host at another local L.A. TV station, after having played a ditzy "valley girl" character at a local theater. Her performance as Elvira, starting in 1981, was similar enough to Nurmi's as Vampira that Nurmi actually sued, and lost.

And meanwhile, in 1969, the comics character Vampirella was created by Forrest J. Ackerman and feminist comics creator Trina Robbins, who designed her iconic "two straps of red nothing" costume. Actually, Robbins sketched the costume and then described it over the phone to Frank Frazetta, who was creating the first image of the character, so Vampirella's look was literally the result of a game of telephone. As Robbins explained:

I was sitting at Jim Warren's desk, showing him my art, when Frazetta phoned him. Jim had not been happy with the costume Frazetta had drawn on Vampi, so he tried to explain what he wanted. While istening to him speaking to Frazetta I grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and sketched what he was describing. He looked at my sketch and told Frazetta, "I have a young lady here who knows what I want and I'm putting her on." He gave me the phone and I described the costume to Frazetta, and that's how it happened. I never met Frazetta face to face, and sadly, now I won't!


Between Vampira, Elvira and Vampirella, the archetype of the "sexy vampire" became a mainstay of horror, and cleavage became one of the key attributes of the creatures of the night. Check out a gallery of sexy cleavage vamp images above.

Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt in Hammer Horror

Hammer Films launched in 1934, but it wasn't until 1958 that Hammer really sunk its teeth into the vampire legend — and made vampires sexy once and for all, with the ultra-smoking hot Christopher Lee. Director Terence Fisher has claimed that his "greatest contribution to the Dracula myth was to bring out the underlying sexual element in the story," according to "The Role of Sexuality in the British Vampire Films by Hammer" by Roman Büttner.


All of the vampire movies prior to 1958 were relatively chaste, avoiding any of the sexual themes that arguably are at the heart of the vampire myth. With Dracula (1958) and Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966), Christopher Lee brought a vibrant eroticism as well as what Lee's described as a pantomime moralism to the tale of a sinister, alluring vampire.

And then in the 1970s, Hammer went way more overboard into explicit softcore horror porn, with movies like Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil. The irrepressible Ingrid Pitt brought a ton of sexual intensity as she weaves her spell over other women, in films based loosely on Le Fanu's vampire novel Carmilla.


Species, Lifeforce and Lair of the White Worm

We're skipping over a lot of stuff, but in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a huge boom in "sexy naked monster" films, in which an improbably lovely vampire from space (or snake goddess, or weird clone) goes around mostly in the nude and lures men to their deaths. 1985's Lifeforce is the earliest film in this subgenre, but it was copied for 1995's Species and its many, many sequels. Lifeforce is a lot more insane than Species, however, given that the space vampire can switch bodies and NASA can track its whereabouts via hypnotism. And Patrick Stewart gets melted!


Lifeforce is also known for having many totally insane posters from around the world — some of which are clearly NSFW, so be warned. Also embedded in the gallery at left: the complete films of Lifeforce and Decoys.

In Species, Natasha Henstridge is a human-alien hybrid created in a lab who goes around trying to mate with humans, and killing tons of people along the way — and basically, it's all Ben Kingsley's fault.


Lair of the White Worm is Ken Russell's film based (very loosely) on the Bram Stoker novel, about an immortal snake woman who serves the ancient god Dionin and goes around killing people. As Wag the Movie puts it, she spends a lot of the film "running around with a sacrificial strap-on in blue body paint, in the nude."

There's also been a Japanese version of Species. And then there's the also prolific Decoys series, about sexy female aliens who have to seduce men into having sex with them — so the men can have the aliens' tentacles shoved down their throats and be implanted with the aliens' eggs. And this involves the female aliens having to dress up as cheerleaders and dominatrices and stuff, as they transform themselves into the men's fantasies, so as to arouse them enough to be implanted with eggs. Also, the recent film Splice is clearly drawing on films like Lifeforce and Species.


Check back in a few days for the second half of our history of sexy monsters, including sexy zombies, Twilight, True Blood... and the Borg Queen!


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I wonder if the general human interest in Sexy Monsters stems from a subconscious need to mediate the desires of looks and personality of potential partners...