The Role of Sexuality in the British Vampire Films by Hammer

Seminar Paper, 2004

23 Pages, Grade: 1,6


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Film-Industry in Post-War Britain

3. Sexual Awakening: A Process of Transformation
3.1 Changing the Looks
3.2 Changing the Behavior

4. Sexuality and some of its Varieties
4.1 Incest
4.2 Homosexuality
4.3 Pedophilia

5. Dealing with Sexuality

6. Conclusion

7. Appendix: Cast and Crew Information and Pictures

8. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Terence Fisher is considered one of the most influential British film-directors of the 20th century. It was he who made the British vampire film both popular and recognized throughout the world. His masterwork was his 1958-movie-version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. With the huge success of that film, Hammer, the production company Fisher worked for, started a whole new era of horror movies and other Dracula films were to follow. According to Fisher, his “greatest contribution to the Dracula myth was to bring out the underlying sexual element in the story” (Hunter: 18).

Vampirism has traditionally been associated with lust and sexuality, which becomes clear in various modern vampire movies. But this is rather an exception because the film-history of blood-suckers demonstrates that, when times were different, vampires were depicted differently, too. Early screen-adaptations of Dracula, Carmilla or whatever else the treasure-chest of gothic horror may contain, tended to neglect those erotic issues. This changed with Fisher’s Dracula. Sexuality and lust began to play a bigger role in the genre and were consumed by the audience who wanted more. In fact, sexuality in all its varieties became the key to success of each and every vampire film that Hammer made.

In this paper, I would like to take a closer look at this very leitmotiv of Hammer Films, using two of the earlier films, namely Dracula (1958) and its sequel Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966), both starring Christopher Lee as the Count. I will briefly give an insight into the historical background that made the addressed change in the genre possible. Then – based upon my own observations – I will examine the influence of vampirism on its victims and how their characters change in the movies. In addition to that, one part of this term paper will deal with sexual varieties which are also prominent features in Hammer films. In the end I will present the effects that sexuality has on the enemies of vampirism, i.e. how it eventually influences their way of treating it. The subject of my investigations will mainly be limited to the women in those films, since the scope of this paper would otherwise be too large.

Due to the fact that I will work closely with the above named movies, quotes will include the approximate running time of the scenes cited, so that they can be found more easily on the DVDs.

2. The Film-Industry in Post-War Britain

In order to understand why the classic-horror genre underwent a sudden change after World War II, we have to take a look at the British society of that time. This may also explain why a relatively young and non-profitable British movie company like Hammer could soon find itself among the best-known companies on earth.

The majority of people in Great Britain had suffered seriously during the war. Hunger, diseases, and the loss of many British soldiers fighting against Nazi-Germany had determined their daily life. The only thing that had stayed the same all through the war, was the common conviction, that the British society might change in its structure. After the war, things changed indeed but not as expected. The class society – the upper and the working class being divided – remained intact and was just as conservative as before. At the same time, the number of immigrants in England increased rapidly which led to social tensions and a fear of “the other”. On the other hand, the traditional British family seemed to break apart: women who had just worked as hard as men during the war claimed their right to have a job apart from their households, so more women began to earn their own money. The youth created their own sub-culture in the ‘50s and ‘60s, evading their parents and other authorities in order to become more independent. Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, the hippie-movement, the mini-skirt – they all became symbols of a new generation, not only in Britain but in the whole western world (cf. Street 61-62).

Especially the 1950s were a decade of concern: prostitution, homosexuality and other forms of “sexual immorality” had been no issues at all before the war. Now, with the youth appearing in public and practicing a permissiveness never seen before, the older generation saw all their traditional values threatened. Sarah Street calls this the “crisis of masculinity” (Street: 62) since the patriarchal structure within the family slowly seemed to dissolve with both women and children moving away from the center of family life. Literature and the movie-industry reacted to that development, so that gradually a thematic shift took place. Instead of classic film genres like historical and costume films that had determined the industry for decades, new genres experienced rise: Cold War films, science-fiction and horror movies (cf. Street: 63). These new genres were especially popular because they presented worlds far more visionary than those the audience had been used to before. By that it became possible to criticize abuse in society directly, keeping the distance at the same time. So all in all, Street is convinced that particularly horror movies were of greater importance than just for pure entertainment (cf. Street: 76). She takes this idea even further by differentiating between British and American horror films. Whereas in the USA filmmakers tended “to configure the monster, the ‘Other’, as directly relating to the ‘Red menace’, i.e. Communism” (Street: 76), the British film industry took a different approach by directing its criticism right against their own society.

Finally, these developments led to the sudden commercial success of a small British movie company, Hammer Films, which had specialized in low-budget productions, until it became aware of the trend the film-industry underwent. In 1957, Hammer produced its first remake of a Universal classic with The Curse of Frankenstein. This film, probably the first horror movie that was ever shot in color, became so popular that only one year later another Universal film was remade. And this time, it was Bram Stoker’s well-known novel Dracula (cf. Vermilye: 173). Michael Carreras, the later owner of Hammer Films, holds these early horror movies responsible for Hammer’s success: “These two films remain Hammer’s biggest successes, having grossed some £ 4 million between them, and started the trend which has made Hammer’s name synonymous with horror throughout the world” (Hunter: 13).

Hammer achieved, what no other company had achieved before in the horror-genre: the connection between talented and memorable dialogues, great set decorations, impressive special-effects and, of course, the use of Technicolor which gave the filmmakers new cinematic possibilities. The biggest accomplishment of Hammer Films was, however, to equip their movie characters with depth by giving them a motivation for their behavior. This is indeed a fact in which Hammer’s horror movies differ from what had been done before.

Yet another difference was the explicit use of sexual metaphors which can be found in many scenes in the films made by Hammer. Decades ago, movie journalists thought of this as offensive and highly immoral but Hammer merely tried to create a reflection of what was going on in society. As Jerry Vermilye states, Dracula“reflects the fast-changing moral attitudes of the late 1950s” (Vermilye: 173). Christopher Lee, who became famous with his portrayal of the Count, defines the Dracula type of movie as “a morality play, with an admixture of pantomime, fairy story and melodrama” (Hunter: 22). This was, as Lee says, the basis for the success of the Hammer-Dracula, and it remained the basic recipe for the following Dracula movies, too (cf. Hunter: 22).

The last important fact to name here was the role of censorship which had made horror movies with sexual undertones impossible before the war. In the late 1950s, movie theaters were in a crisis caused by the upcoming television industry, so censorship restrictions were loosened to get their audience back (cf. Street: 76). Without this, Hammer could probably not have realized their films.

3. Sexual Awakening: A Process of Transformation

Now that the historical background has been examined, the center of attention will be two of the earlier Dracula films made by Hammer: Dracula, which was shot in 1958, and Dracula: Prince of Darkness, which was made in 1966. Before going deeper into the analysis of sexuality in these movies, I’ll give a short summary of the films.

The original Dracula (known as Horror of Dracula in the USA) sticks closely to Stoker’s novel, although some minor parts are left out. Renfield, for example, is completely erased from this movie, and Dr. Seward is the family doctor of the Holmwoods’ and nothing else. Jonathan Harker plays a different role, too. He visits Dracula to officially become his new librarian but actually, being a friend of Van Helsing, the objective of his journey is to destroy the Count. Harker is Lucy Holmwood’s fiancée, which is different from the novel as well. As the name suggests, Lucy is Arthur Holmwood’s sister, who, on the other hand, is married to Mina. So all in all, the four main characters from the Holmwood / Harker clan are related to one another more closely than in Stoker’s novel. This can be seen as an illusion to the family-issue named in chapter two, since Dracula, i.e. vampirism, eventually poses a threat to that family and by that traditional family structures. The cities and places from the novel change, too. Castle Dracula is located near the village of Klausenberg; Mina, Lucy and Arthur live in a town called Karlstadt, which resembles contemporary London. The distance between those two locations seems to be minor which adds to the severity of the threat caused by Dracula. Apart from that, the basic plot remains the same as in the novel (cf. Hahn and Giesen: 151-153).

Dracula: Prince of Darkness was actually not the second vampire movie made by Hammer. Between the first Dracula and this movie, Hammer had made several other vampire films but none of them featured Count Dracula. In 1966 Christopher Lee had his great revival with his second role as Dracula. The story isn’t based upon any novel written by Stoker but made use of the style and atmosphere typical of the original story. Alan and Charles Kent, two British brothers and their wives Helen and Diana are on a journey through Transylvania and stay overnight in the castle of Count Dracula – who has been destroyed for ten years. At night, Dracula’s devoted servant Klove knocks one of the men unconscious, hanging him over his master’s coffin in order to slit his throat. With Alan’s blood dripping on Dracula’s remains, the count comes to life again, preying on Helen immediately. The next day, Charles and Diana discover the murdered brother and their sister-in-law, who has now become one of Dracula’s vampire-mistresses. They escape from the castle and find shelter in an old monastery, run by the abbot of Kleinberg, Father Sandor, who is also an expert in vampirism. In the meantime, Klove has taken Dracula and Helen to the monastery where the woman is caught and eventually destroyed by the abbot. With the help of a lunatic, Ludwig, who resides at the monastery, Dracula takes Diana as a compensation for Helen. He heads for his castle being followed by Father Sandor and Charles, and in a fight on the ice around the castle, Dracula finally drowns and is imprisoned by the waters (cf. Nash and Ross, Vol. 2: 709 and Hunter: 97-98).

Many people consider this Dracula film “the most creepy one” in the tradition of Hammer Dracula movies since the tension increases rapidly until the Count’s rebirth after 45 minutes. Again we can find the family-issue here with Charles and Alan being brothers who travel around Transylvania with their wives. As Hahn and Giesen state, one characteristic element of Hammer films was to “play with taboos of society such as religion, sexuality, blood, and death” (Hahn and Giesen: 153). Especially in this movie, religion plays a very important role as can be seen in the setting of the monastery and the part of the abbot who replaces Van Helsing from the first movie. But I’ll come to that later.

This chapter has been named “Sexual Awakening: A Process of Transformation”. The meaning of this title is aimed at the function of vampirism in both films. It is interesting to see that, apart from Jonathan Harker in Dracula, only women are turned into vampires. The act of biting is presented as a highly sexual moment with the victims becoming paralyzed, calm but excited both at the same time. The goal of this chapter is to show how, on the one hand, visual effects demonstrate the development from a human character to a vampire and, on the other hand, how vampirism directly influences the behavior of the characters infected.

3.1 Changing the Looks

In the first movie we see Lucy being transformed into a vampire and Mina being on the threshold of becoming one. In Prince of Darkness we have Helen turn into a vampire and, as in Dracula, Diana in a state in-between.

At the beginning, Mina is presented as a graceful, well-educated and moral lady, wearing the Victorian clothes typical of women at that time. Corset, a wide dress with long, puffed sleeves and narrow collar determine Mina’s style of clothing. She wears her hair in a bun kept together by small hairpins. Her feet are never visible since her long dress covers them just as it is expected from an upper-class woman. In later scenes, when she leaves the house, she wears a scarf around her neck, as well as a hat and cape. Her outward appearance can simply be summarized as a style that makes the display of skin impossible. The same is true for Helen and Diana in Prince of Darkness. Both women wear clothes typical of their superior position in society. The color of their clothes is mainly dark, moss-green and wine-red with a slight touch of brown. Their hairstyles are as monotonous as Mina’s: put up in a bun (Helen) and pigtail (Diana). And just like in Mina’s case, the function of their clothes is mainly to cover their bodies rather than to be practical.


Excerpt out of 23 pages


The Role of Sexuality in the British Vampire Films by Hammer
University of Marburg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Blood, Lust, and (Un)death: Vampires in American and British Cultures
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Role, Sexuality, British, Vampire, Films, Hammer, Blood, Lust, Vampires, American, British, Cultures
Quote paper
Roman Büttner (Author), 2004, The Role of Sexuality in the British Vampire Films by Hammer, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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