The importance of First Kill’s awkward lesbian vampire

First Kill. Sarah Catherine Hook as Juliette in episode 103 of First Kill. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022
First Kill. Sarah Catherine Hook as Juliette in episode 103 of First Kill. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022 /

Vampires have always been a fearful reaction to others. Whether it be fear of immigration (Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”) or fear of lesbians in the original vampire story “Carmilla,” it’s only recently that they’ve become a symbol of dangerous and forbidden love (a la “Twilight”). Specifically, female vampires have always been used to portray women in, what men believe to be, their most base forms: Controlled by their desire, manipulative, and downright dangerous.

The first vampire story ever written was a novella titled “Carmilla,” written by ​​Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu, which came out in 1872–25 years before Stoker wrote his world-changing novel “Dracula.” The story follows a young woman named Laura who lives in a cabin in the woods with her elderly father when a strange yet beautiful traveler shows up at their doorstep. The following tale is one of caution that warns young women of the dangers that predatory lesbians present to their quaint, heterosexual lives. It’s about a woman becoming corrupted by a vampire, and the metaphorical blood that seeps from her veins is her purity as Carmilla tarnishes her very existence.

As vampires became more and more mainstream, they continued to have predatory and manipulative undertones.

The biggest boom in lesbian vampire films came during the 1970s, which coincided with the height of anxiety around the ever-building lesbian and feminist movements of that time. Lesbianism is inherently a threat to the patriarchy since the core of the lesbian identity removes men from the equation entirely. Lesbians are not chained to men’s expectations, making them less likely to fall into the path of least resistance paved by the patriarchy.

So, in retaliation, the male-dominated film industry turned the lesbian vampire into a warning and a sexual object. The lesbian vampire was simultaneously a cautionary tale about the dangers of lesbians to patriarchal society while also being explicitly catered to the male gaze.

The trend of the predatory lesbian vampire has persisted, even as recently as NBC’s Dracula adaptation, which aired in 2012. In the show, Lucy Westenra was a lesbian in love with her best friend Mina, who reacted extremely poorly to hearing of Lucy’s love for her. Dracula, in retaliation for Lucy revealing her feelings for Mina and posing a threat to his relationship with Mina, turns Lucy into a vampire in the series finale.

Instead of being the sole predator, NBC’s Dracula brutalized Lucy for her attraction to Mina, punishing her for her lesbianism.

Since then, Twilight has excluded queer people from the films entirely. The Vampire Diaries killed its sapphic vampires in a fiery blaze during the 2016 queer character massacre. The Vampire Diaries’ various spin-offs didn’t do much better in providing the sapphic vampire content audiences have been craving.

While the KindaTV web series and film Carmilla, a college-set adaptation of the original novella, laid the groundwork for a new age of lesbian vampires in media, Netflix’s newest vampire romance First Kill picks up the baton and runs with it.

In the web series and subsequent film, Carmilla uses the novella as the starting point for all of the plots, including the fact that Carmilla used to use her beauty and seduction to lure girls into being sacrificial victims for her mother’s cult. Despite the reclamation of the predatory lesbian storyline, which finds Carmilla redeemed through her love for Laura and a newfound respect for herself and others, the underlying predatory nature persists.

First Kill completely removes the narrative from their lead vampire, Juliette Fairmont. Juliette is a Legacy vampire, which means she was born, not made. In comparison to Twilight’s 80+ year age gap between Edward and Bella, Juliette is 16, the same as her monster-hunter girlfriend Calliope. The lack of a significant age difference between Juliette and Calliope puts them on an equal playing field, allowing Juliette to be the shyest and most awkward of the two.

First Kill also forgoes any typical characterization vampires usually have in media, trading in the suave, cool vampire for Juliette’s awkward rambling, and heartfelt confessions. Juliette’s insistence on being hyper-aware of Calliope’s feelings is a stark contrast to the lesbian vampires of old, as she enthusiastically seeks to understand Cal on every level.

Additionally, instead of manipulating Calliope, “corrupting” her with her queerness, both girls are already secure in their sexuality; it doesn’t even play into the star-crossed aspect of their love affair. Instead of showcasing the dangers of lesbianism that its predecessors did, First Kill celebrates its queer vampires with Juliette’s meaningful relationship with her sexuality and her girlfriend. Their sexuality is entirely removed from their parents’ hatred of their union, instead of being a story that focuses on the complicated relationship between loyalty and morality between both families.

While First Kill isn’t perfect but more in line with its Twilight and The Vampire Diaries peers, the show’s insistence on changing the future of the lesbian vampire for the better shouldn’t be overlooked. In what is queer women’s first chance to reclaim the genre that vilified them to no end, First Kill delivers the perfect reclamation of the lesbian vampire.

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