Blood of the Tribades takes everything good about 1970s lesbian vampire films and makes it better. As much an homage to the likes of The Vampire Lovers as it is a highly pertinent modern feminist commentary, it offers all the comfortable staples of a Jean Rollin film and turns them on their head, subverting every old trope and defying decades-old expectations.
When I recently stumbled across a review of this film, my first thought was: where has this movie been all my life? It’s no secret that I love the lesbian vampire films of the mid-20th century, but it’s also no secret that many of those films where built on sexist and homophobic foundations. So a film that brings all the aesthetics of the 70s and combines it with 21st century feminist sensibilities? Sign me the fuck up.
Blood of the Tribades is set during a non-specific period of Europe past, in a village called Bathory (see what they did there). At the heart of the community is a militantly patriarchal religious cult devoted to the local god, Bathor. This religion demands a strict divide between genders, with the female wholly subservient to the male, existing only to breed and to serve her husband. The cult’s leader spews anti-women sermons that would make the writers of the Malleus Maleficarum proud, while his brethren drink the blood of their god to purify themselves.
But there are some women who have rebelled against the oppressive structures of Bathory and have decided to drink the blood of men, killing and, supposedly, spreading disease. As a result of this transgression, the brothers of Bathor band together and begin hunting down and killing women who exist on the fringes of society: unmarried women, women who live alone or with other women, or basically just any woman they come across.
The women of Bathory have their own religious sect, loyal to the same god. The leaders of this feminine church instruct their flock not to resist the genocide being perpetrated against them.
But there’s another group of women, those who have been outcast and forced into the shadows not only by their male-dominated society, but also by their own sisters. These women refer to themselves as the “keepers of history,” who preserve the true word of Bathor, in a language long since lost (French), and who can recall a time before the dominion of men, before the women of the village grew so complacent that they refused to act even in the threat of violence. These women aren’t going down without a fight.
Power couple Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein tag team Blood of the Tribades as directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers to beautifully recreate the look and feel of a 1970s Euro arthouse-horror flick. The aesthetics, the camera work, the acting, the music, the sets and costumes: each piece is very deliberately chosen as an homage to the lesbian vampire movies of the past. A dose of camp is inevitable (and clearly intentional), and it takes a little bit to get used to these dated mechanics being used on a 21st century production. But it’s a film for fans of the lesbian vampire subgenre, by fans of the subgenre, and pretty soon the underlying politics are all that remind you that you’re not watching a movie from the early 70s.
Naturally, a film about male genocide against women is going to be politically charged. Men dominating women on a grand scale is unfortunately not contained to the realm of fiction. Although the film was made three years ago, its themes are just as relevant now as ever.
And Blood of the Tribades doesn’t hold back when it comes to some women’s complicity in their own oppression. Perhaps the most notable instance of this accountability is the fact that the Bathory women who chose to accept their fate, to remain indifferent to violence against other women until it comes knocking directly on their own door, are almost all white women. The outlaw women, the ones who fight back and show mercy to their sisters despite being shown none themselves, are almost all women of color. At the risk of giving too much away, the ending offers a final twist that furthers this theme and offers an explicit message: it’s only when women of all races, classes, and backgrounds band together for the betterment of all women, not just ourselves, that we can finally throw off the yoke of patriarchy.
By infusing 21st century elements into traditionally problematic genre tropes, Cacciola and Epstein seem as if they are seeking to amend for some of the wrongs done by these genre films in the past. There are equal amounts of male and female nudity, and the violence against men is just as explicit – more explicit, really – than that against women. They take the male gaze of earlier films, which were made exclusively by men and typically intended for a male audience, and punishes these voyeuristic desires. The vampire hunters who leer at their victims, who pleasure themselves while watching affectionate moments between the women they mean to kill, get their just desserts in increasingly creative, bloody ways.
But perhaps the most satisfying, and the most pointed given the film’s specific subgenre trappings, comes in the form of Élisabeth and Fantine. Neither woman is the voluptuous villain nor the virginal victim. They are equals, two women who fall in love without the aid of vampiric mind control or the intent of one to ultimately destroy the other. They reclaim their own fate, ripping it from the clutches of their oppressors, and rewrite the traditional lesbian vampire narrative. And there are no words to tell you, dear reader, how fucking incredible that feels.
Blood of the Tribades might be a love letter to the lesbian vampire films that came before it, but it is also a much-needed update to the familiar formula. It is packed beginning to end with commentary on the misogyny women face in modern society, from religious corruption as justification for oppression, to the daily threats being made to our rights, to racial divides amongst ourselves. And it does it all while at once celebrating and subverting a subgenre that has both appalled and appealed to women for decades.
It goes to show that when women take control of their own narratives, great things happen.
You can check out Blood of the Tribades on Amazon Prime!