Wild Women With Steak Knives: EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE

Anne Goursaud delivers a double punch of a pre-CHARMED Alyssa Milano and pre-THE CRAFT Rachel True.

By Alexandra Heller-Nicholas · @suspirialex · June 9, 2023, 6:30 PM EDT
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Charmed, I'm sure.

Editor's Note: In each Wild Women with Steak Knives entry, author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas examines a woman-directed horror film that's been largely overlooked or forgotten. Read them all here!

There's a lot to draw us to Embrace of the Vampire – not only is it a steamy horror film with pre-Charmed Alyssa Milano, but it's also an early glimpse into Rachel True pre-The Craft. It was directed by a fascinating woman called Anne Goursaud who in a way I am surprised doesn't get talked about more; aside from this, she later worked with Milano again in 1996 on Poison Ivy II, the follow-up to the saucy Drew Barrymore movie that triggered a great deal of pearl-clutching at the time. But Goursaud is primarily known for her work as an editor, and again here, horror is not outside her purview.

Amongst other movies, she cut Janusz Kamiński's Lost Souls in 2000 and, most famously perhaps – was a frequent collaborator with the great Francis Ford Coppola. Goursaud edited a number of films for him; The Outsiders, One from the Heart, and most notably, the 1992 blockbuster Bram Stoker's Dracula with old mates Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Gary Oldman, and Gary Oldman's enormous wig. It's a film most of us know well, but if you haven't already, it's worth revisiting and watching with a particular focus on Goursaud's editing. We get excited in that film about the cinematography, the costumes, the teen stars gothing it up to the hilt, but my god, it is beautifully cut. Goursaud deserves a lot more credit for making that film work than she gets.

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There's a nice link from her work on Bram Stoker's Dracula to her own directorial debut, Embrace of the Vampire. As Charlotte, Milano's character leaves her strict Catholic high school for the wild, eye-opening world of university, only to find herself smitten with the horny local vampire, played by Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet, in surely one of the poorest casting decisions in a teen vampire film of all time - the man is objectively not sexy, and the film suffers for it. Regardless, Charlotte is besotted, and her reputation as a prudish virgin comes to a dramatic halt as she interrupts her vampiric snogfests for a brief same-sex encounter with a friendly woman photographer.

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Admittedly it doesn't make a lick of sense, but there's no attempt to disguise Embrace of the Vampire's desire to cash in on putting Milano - then America's sweetheart due to her role in the hugely popular '80s sitcom Who's The Boss? - in a softcore vampire teen film. Audiences at the time struggled with watching Milano grow from a child into a woman on screen, more comfortable with her as Tony Danza's wholesome daughter Sam in Who's the Boss? than what turns into something altogether more adult here. The sexualization of Milano became quite a hot topic at the time, the actress herself even going on the record to voice her discomfort over how she was represented as she attempted to gain a sense of agency when faced with the giant representational machine of popular culture that has a nasty history of chewing up young girls and spitting them out.

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For better or for worse, regardless of your take on Embrace of the Vampire, it's a curious film to watch for all of these reasons alone – oh, and there's also there's a glow-in-the-dark ankh necklace and so much soft focus you would be forgiven for wondering if you've developed cataracts. Embrace of the Vampire is good, trashy, '90s fun, and with the broader compelling stories about Milano and Goursaud to go along with it, it makes for quite a ride.