By James Hancock October 22nd, 2015
Sex and horror have always been inseparable for me. Whether or not this is a healthy attitude is for others to decide, but all of my life I have actively sought out horror films that either overtly tackle sexual themes or use sex exploitatively to grab my attention. It is a common trap that I am happy to fall prey to. There is something irresistibly forbidden about a really effective horror film that simultaneously manages to arouse the viewer with whatever taboo is being depicted on the screen. Sadly there are precious few examples of movies that manage to succeed on both fronts. I’m not talking about the countless slasher films that flash a few boobs on the screen nor am I talking about the seemingly infinite number of softcore and hardcore porn films that subvert the horror genre to their own ends. What I relish is that rare erotic horror film that tries to do something more than cash in whatever assets can be easily promoted on a movie poster. With today’s porn-saturated online culture (which I’m not criticizing) I think a lot of people have forgotten the excitement of waiting for a sexual payoff in a film. As a teen in the late 80s/early 90s, I remember watching countless movies after midnight on Cinemax hoping and praying that I might get to see a little skin and there were times where my patience was rewarded in abundance. In the interest of preserving this sense of anticipation, something that is rapidly going the way of the dinosaur, I thought it would be useful to put together a list of my favorite erotic horror films where the sexual payoffs are absolutely worth the wait.
I’m sure the origins of mixing sex with horror go back as far as the origins of storytelling itself but the earliest classic example I have experienced firsthand was reading Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897). Writers in the Victorian Era had to be very clever smugglers but for me the barely-repressed sexuality of the novel has always been one of its defining features. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel Carmilla (1871), which many interpret as the first lesbian vampire love story, predates Stoker’s novel by 26 years but I am ashamed to admit that I have not read it yet. But I don’t think that it is any coincidence that to this day the vampire story has been one of the most consistent avenues for exploring the link between eroticism and horror. With the popularity of shows like HBO’s True Blood (2008-2014) I’m convinced that there are plenty of vampire fetishists out there who would gladly allow vampires to feed on them given half the chance. More than half of the films featured in the list below deal with vampires on some level. I suspect this will always be the case. I don’t anticipate a surge in erotic horror films featuring people having sex with zombies no matter how in vogue zombies might be at the moment in film and television.
As I compiled my list, I was surprised when I realized that I had not included one slasher movie. In spite of some famous titillating scenes found in many slasher films, I think the slasher genre in its own way has held back the use of sex in horror. In John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), we see how libidinous, horny teens are summarily executed by Michael Myers while the virginal protagonist lives to fight another day. Carpenter has been accused of effectively bringing the sexual revolution to an abrupt stop, a fact that Carpenter has apologized for repeatedly. Unfortunately for the last few decades nearly every slasher film has followed this template. So while I’ll acknowledge that many slasher movies like Mario Bava‘s A Bay of Blood (1971) often feature individual scenes that are intensely erotic, the overall effect of most slasher movies for me is not one of arousal which is what this list is all about in the first place.
A list of this kind is obviously highly subjective in nature but I have a few essential criteria in order for a movie to make the cut. First and foremost, the horror has to work. While horror effects date almost as quickly as audience tastes in erotica, a good horror movie always works on some level long after the movie has lost the power to terrify its viewers. The second criteria is more tricky. The film has to be a turn-on without being pornographic. As far as how I define porn is concerned, I know it when I see it and from my perspective not one of these films deserves that description. Erotic? Hell yes. That’s the point of this list, but while some of these films might have been considered to be borderline pornographic at the time of their release, not one of these movies is devoid of some level of artistic value, at least from my warped point of view. So enough blabbering on my part. Here are my Top 10 favorite erotic horror films ever made.
10. Shivers (1975, David Cronenberg)
It was a foregone conclusion that David Cronenberg’s work would make this list. Rabid, Videodrome, The Fly and Dead Ringers all have their scenes that made them contenders but in the end I decided to go with Shivers aka They Came From Within (no pun intended I assume). In a classic experiment gone wrong, a scientist tries to invent a parasite that can live safely in its host and replace the functions of particular organs that are in danger of failing. The result is a disgusting slug capable of reproducing at an alarming rate, one that spreads from victim to victim during sexual activity. Once infected, one of the main side effects is the victim becoming a sex-crazed nymphomaniac which only accelerates the pace of the outbreak/orgy. Softcore scream queen Lynn Lowry appears in a prominent role and there is the added bonus of a special appearance by the legendary Barbara Steele. While by no means one of Cronenberg’s signature achievements, this feature film debut marks the beginning of one of the most fascinating careers in history of the horror genre.
9. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)
At age 16 I had no idea who Francis Ford Coppola was or that he was responsible for some of the best films of the 1970s. But I’ve always been a horror fanatic so when Coppola released Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, I was one of the first in line to see the movie, one whose title suggested it might be the most faithful movie adaptation of Stoker’s novel to date. Some elements of this movie work really well while others do not (Keanu Reeves doing an English accent as Jonathan Harker is particularly brutal), but no one can deny the overt sexuality on prominent display throughout much of the movie. Seeing the character Lucy Westenra kiss Mina Harker in the rain is one of the biggest turn-ons I’ve ever had in my life and the movie only cranks up the volume from there. The biggest highlight of the movie has to be seeing a young Monica Bellucci as she and her fellow vampire predators first seduce and then begin to feed on an unsuspecting Jonathan Harker. At age 16 I didn’t know whether to be afraid, aroused or both and that is exactly why this movie is on this list.
8. Don’t Look Now (1973, Nicolas Roeg)
I debated whether or not to include this film on the list. While arguably the best film of Nicolas Roeg’s career, Don’t Look Now is about so much more than mere kinky thrills. At its core this beautiful and enigmatic film is about a married couple played by Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland who are struggling to get over the horrifying death of their daughter. Of all the shocking endings in 1970s cinema, the finale of Don’t Look Now is in the mix as one of the best. But if you’re wondering why this film made the list, about 30 minutes into the movie Don’t Look Now features the most erotic depiction of married sex ever captured on film. Sex between a husband and wife is not usually high on people’s list of major turn-ons, but this movie will force viewers to reevaluate their opinion. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie hold nothing back in a lengthy love scene of extraordinary vulnerability and intimacy. Even more impressive is that Julie Christie, at the height of her superstardom, was willing to take such a risk. If only we could find a way to convince more of today’s superstars to do the same.
7. Lifeforce (1985, Tobe Hooper)
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cannon Films, you owe it to yourself to watch the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. They were professional schlockmeisters who produced an extraordinary amount of low-budget exploitation films in every conceivable genre. Tobe Hooper’s film Lifeforce is one of their most outrageous achievements, a movie that combines aliens, vampires, zombies and the end of the world all into one deliciously incoherent story. The feature attraction of Lifeforce is the astonishingly beautiful Mathilda May who spends the majority of the movie completely naked as a predatory space vampire who sucks the lifeforce out of anyone she encounters. A true cinematic oddity of the 1980s, Lifeforce is in a genre completely unto itself.
6. Vampyros Lesbos (1971, Jesús Franco aka Jess Franco)
It is impossible to conceive of a list such as this one without reckoning sooner or later with Jesús Franco, a prolific director who had his name on over 200 films as director before he passed away. Many of these films have been lost or forgotten but nearly all of them have some sort of sinful activity on display for our enjoyment. I won’t claim to have a working knowledge of most of these movies but I have seen some of his more notorious films and there is one skintastic classic in his filmography that will not be denied, Vampyros Lesbos. The score alone makes this movie required viewing. In 1995, the score was released on compact disc as Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party which led to the track ‘The Lions and the Cucumber’ being used by Quentin Tarantino in his 1997 film Jackie Brown. As far as the plot of the film is concerned, the title of the movie tells you everything you need to know.
5. Cat People (1982, Paul Schrader)
Based on the classic Cat People (1942) by director Jacques Tourneur, Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake takes the classic tale of a young woman fearing her own emerging sexuality and gives us a modern version unhindered by the repressive censorship of the 1940s. The film stars Nastassja Kinski, an innocent young virgin who unbeknownst to her is from a supernatural bloodline that will cause her to transform into a giant black leopard if she ever has sex with someone who is not a lycanthrope like herself. Once transformed, the only way her breed can revert back to human is by then committing murder. Cat People is one of the most overtly stylish films of Schrader’s career with an astonishing score by Giorgio Moroder (American Gigolo, Scarface). The movie just oozes sex appeal from start to finish with several scenes worth mentioning including the lovely Annette O’Toole going skinny dipping as well as Nastassja Kinski’s awe-inspiring slow strip tease at the finale of the film. Paul Schrader has directed many fine films over the years such as Blue Collar (1978), Hardcore (1979), and American Gigolo (1980) and in my opinion Cat People absolutely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
4. Possession (1981, Andrzej Zulawski)
Easily the strangest film on this list, Andrzej Zulaswski’s Possession is unlike any other movie ever made. What begins as a simple thriller about Sam Neill’s jealousy of his wife Isabelle Adjani’s infidelities becomes a darkly funny, sometimes terrifying tale about the consequences of making love to a Lovecraftian sex demon capable of taking a lover to orgasmic heights that no human being could ever possibly equal. If that synopsis sounds appealing be sure to hunt down the director’s cut of the film. When released in America, the film was recut to emphasize only the horror elements, a decision which sadly diminished the best qualities of a genuinely deranged cult classic that has to be seen to be believed.
3. The Hunger (1983, Tony Scott)
Before becoming a household name with movies like Top Gun (1986) and True Romance (1993), Tony Scott directed the sizzling vampire love story, The Hunger. While not always narratively coherent, The Hunger has an operatic power which crescendos beautifully in a love scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve all to the music of ‘The Flower Duet’ by Clément Philibert Léo Delibes. The film also has no shortage of violence, brutality and undead carnage along with the added bonus of David Bowie in one of his finest performances as a vampire who is inexplicably aging at an accelerated rate. This is one of the movies that belongs on the Mount Rushmore of erotic horror films.
2. Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)
Under the Skin is the only 21st century movie on this list. That probably has a lot to do the fact that our earliest impressions of what we find to be sexy tend to get trapped in amber at a very young age. For example, as a kid in the 1980s, nearly every time I saw a naked woman in a movie, the actress tended to have tan lines and pubic hair and as a result I find both to be incredibly sexy to this day. But no matter what one’s age might be, Under the Skin is one of the most disturbingly erotic films ever made. Scarlet Johansson took a major risk starring in this film and the gamble 100% paid off with one of the most groundbreaking movies I’ve seen in years. It depresses me that Jonathan Glazer makes films so infrequently. The story follows an alien life form exploring Scotland who periodically seduces men before submerging them in a terrifying vat of black liquid that appears to absorb their life slowly until only a withered husk remains. ScarJo appears in her birthday suit repeatedly throughout the film but you will likely be too unnerved by the story to fully appreciate those scenes until after the fact. As far as the horror of this film is concerned, all I’ll say is that there is one scene involving a baby crying alone on a beach that has left me emotionally scarred permanently.
1. Vampyres (1974, José Ramón Larraz as Joseph Larraz)
I only recently discovered Vampyres but I knew from the opening scene that I was about to see something special. The story of Vampyres is so simple but so incredibly effective. Two beautiful vampires live in an isolated gothic mansion in England and they survive by seducing anyone they encounter on the nearby highway and taking them home for an evening of lovemaking before completely draining them of their blood. The movie is intoxicatingly sexy. The violent, often savage deaths their victims experience do not seem so bad given that they have enjoyed a wonderful evening of fine wine, charming conversation, and a little ménage à trois before meeting their untimely demise. That said, there are moments where the violence is so extreme it has the effect of a bucket of ice cold water being poured over one’s lap. The horror in this film is not to be underestimated. I’ll admit that parts of Vampyres can be a little slow and tedious, but on the whole you will not be able to take your eyes off of this movie. After a bit of soul searching I finally decided that Vampyres very much deserves its place as the best erotic horror film I have ever seen.
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So I hope you have enjoyed this list and found some interesting suggestions for future viewing experiences. Halloween for me has always been an incredibly erotic holiday where people allow their inhibitions to fall by the wayside. Any of the movies on this list would make a fine addition to any kinky Halloween parties you might consider hosting or attending. As always if you have any suggestions or if I made any glaring omissions, don’t hesitate to give me a shout on Twitter. Or if you found this entire list to be in exceedingly poor taste and wish to call me out, those opinions are always welcome as well. For now, I am signing off and I hope everyone has a very Happy Halloween.
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