In the horror film No Escape Room, Michael and his estranged teenage daughter Karen visit an escape room that turns out to be haunted. After the pair become separated, Michael stumbles into a meadow. It’s not really possible that this meadow exists. It’s hidden behind a wall on the second floor of a house. Everything about it is wrong.
In the center is a murky lake, from which a woman in a white nightgown slowly emerges. Michael doesn’t run, but takes a few steps closer, then stands transfixed as she approaches. If you’re watching this movie, this is the part where you’d start yelling at Michael to snap out of it and flee. Instead, he allows her to kiss his neck and run her fingers through his hair.
Things don’t go well for Michael after this, nor for a host of other horror movie men who are seduced by sexy monsters. I recently made a joke about this on Twitter shortly after watching No Escape Room. The tweet went viral and Twitter chose it as a trending topic, implying that I was examining the trope. That wasn’t really the case, as the thread was intended to be fun and not any sort of formal article. But hey, why not explore this trope?
Who Falls for Monsters?
Judging by how many people have professed their love for Lady Dimitrescu, the exceptionally tall vampire in the video game Resident Evil Village, everyone. But the way movies depict monster love varies a lot.
When women fall in love with monsters, it’s often depicted as a romance. Take The Shape of Water (woman + amphibian man), Warm Bodies (woman + zombie), or the countless teen girls and young women who date vampires and werewolves (Buffy, True Blood, Twilight, etc).
In queer stories, the attraction is often mutual, too. In Let the Right One In, Oskar begins an earnest relationship with the non-binary vampire Eli. The vampire Miriam in The Hunger doesn’t just want to eat Sarah, but desires Sarah as her new companion. Sarah likes her back, at least until she learns more about what an unlife with Miriam means. In the 1872 novella Carmilla, the young Laura is both afraid of and drawn to her extremely beautiful new BFF, who turns out to be the eponymous vampire. (Notably, Carmilla predates and heavily inspired Dracula, not to mention a slew of lesbian vampire adaptations.)
But for our purposes, we’re going to focus on presumably straight, cisgender men who, in horror, are often seduced in a matter of seconds, frequently with little to no dialogue. They often die before they even have sex with the object of their sudden affection, and they rarely form a lasting relationship. They also ignore every signal indicating they should run in the opposite direction. It’s as though they’re completely helpless when confronted with a beautiful woman, no matter how strange the circumstance.
Consider the following three sexy aliens:
In Lifeforce, we see numerous men give themselves over to an unnamed Space Vampire who spends the majority of the film naked. One even allows her to kiss him after he sees her suck the life energy from a colleague. It’s implied she has some kind of power over them, but her two equally nude male vampire partners are never seen using their powers on women.
In Under the Skin, an alien in Scarlett Johansson’s body can seemingly convince anyone to get in her creepy white van and accompany her to a gloomy warehouse where she lures them into another dimension. All she has to do is slowly remove her clothing and walk backward and they follow her without question.
Species stars Natasha Henstridge as Sil, an alien-human hybrid whose nipples can turn into tentacles. After Sil fakes her own death and dyes her hair, no one seems to recognize her anymore—not even the scientist who finds her in his hotel room. Sil explains she’s just a normal woman who snagged a keycard to his room after seeing him in the lobby. Nearly every person I know would find this weird and run away, but this guy has sex with her. She is instantly impregnated with a baby Species and, having no further use for him, kills him.
Why would these men follow sexy aliens to their graves? Well, there are a few reasons.
The Monster Has a Seductive Power
Some of our lady monsters have supernatural abilities that increase a man’s desire for them or, at the very least, decrease his reluctance to avoid them.
This is especially common among vampires. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jonathan Harker awakens in Dracula’s castle to find three beautiful women hovering over him. Harker is afraid, but overcome with “a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with their red lips.” He later expresses reluctance to record the event in his journal, for fear his fiancee will read it and be hurt by his sudden desire for infidelity. When Dracula arrives in London, he easily seduces both Harker’s fiancee Mina and her best friend, Lucy. Though no one actually has sex, there is a lot of biting and blood-sucking going on.
The underlying eroticism of Dracula and Carmilla blossomed into overtly sexual vampires over time, from campy shlock like Bordello of Blood to HBO’s big-budget supernatural soap opera True Blood. In the latter, the vampires are extremely good-looking and engage in all sorts of shenanigans with each other and their mortal friends. They can also “glamour” humans into doing their bidding. While this isn’t necessarily sexual in nature, a human who drinks a vampire’s blood—usually because of its healing properties—may later have sensual dreams about that vampire.
It’s not just vampires, though. In The Love Witch, the beautiful Elaine brews men love potions before she sleeps with them. They later become infatuated with her, sometimes to the point of death. Bo, the succubus protagonist of the Canadian fantasy show Lost Girl, can use her charms to seduce or influence others when she touches them. However, she finds this power doesn’t work on a gay man she attempts to manipulate, as he isn’t attracted to her.
Sometimes, she doesn’t even have to be attractive. In Jess Zimmerman’s Women and Other Monsters, a collection of essays about female monsters in Greek mythology that came out last month, she talks about sirens, half-bird, half-human creatures who lured sailors to shipwreck and death with their irresistible songs. As Zimmerman notes, men didn’t even need to see the sirens. Their song was enough to leap overboard in the hope that sex was waiting for them.
In many cases, the monster’s seductive ability is a metaphor for the power women are believed to inherently hold over men. In non-supernatural fare, including film noir and espionage movies, the femme fatale doesn’t even need a magical ability. She just needs to bat her lashes.
People in Horror Movies Just Aren’t Great at Making Good Choices
In the film You’re Next, Erin agrees to meet her boyfriend’s family at their remote cabin. When a group of masked intruders shows up, Erin reveals she knows a lot about first aid, setting traps, and killing people. Why? She grew up in a survivalist prepper household. But most characters in horror movies aren’t like Erin. They’re just ordinary people who find themselves in terrifying, sometimes supernatural circumstances for which they’re unprepared.
So, they do things like run up the stairs even when there’s nowhere to go. They split up. They investigate strange noises without backup. They watch videotapes, read ancient books, and bury their toddlers in pet cemeteries despite warnings otherwise. They’re bafflingly bad at doors, whether it’s locking them, unlocking them, or standing in front of one that’s clearly locked and slapping it repeatedly as if that will make a difference. They stand around in the dark saying, “This isn’t funny anymore, you guys!” while the killer takes their sweet time. If they do get one over on the villain, they rarely bother to confirm they’re actually dead, likely due to the fact that they’ve never had to kill or be killed before.
Add in a sexy monster, and horror protagonists are all but doomed. What reason does an ordinary person have to assume that a beautiful woman is actually a terrifying beast? This leads us to our next reason.
The Sexy Monster Subverts Stereotypes About Who’s Dangerous
In the cold open of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s very first episode, a young man confidently breaks into his old high school, a petite blonde in tow. She’s nervous about getting in trouble and flinches when she thinks she hears a noise. To soothe her fears, the man calls out to see if anyone is around. Confirming they’re alone, his date sprouts fangs and plunges them into his throat.
While women are taught from a young age to beware of men, the men who fall prey to lady monsters often do so because they’re unable to see them as a threat. Would a woman invite two strange men into her home on a night when she’s alone? Not likely. But in the thriller Knock Knock, Evan (Keanu Reeves) allows two women to take shelter in his house during a rainstorm. Though they behave in increasingly bizarre ways, he doesn’t fear them as much as he should because he’s a grown man and they’re two young women.
In the film It Follows, Jay (Maika Monroe) is stalked by a monster that follows her at a walking pace until it can reach and kill her. Jay learns that if she has sex with someone, the monster will stalk and kill that person before refocusing on her. To buy herself some time, Jay goes to the beach. She spots three men in a boat and undresses as she walks into the water. It is heavily implied that she has sex with them to put space between herself and the monster, which also implies that the men didn’t find this weird enough to not go along with it.
This confidence has deeper ramifications, too. While most people might be suspicious of a stranger who emerges from the mist for a kiss, horror movie men seemingly don’t find it odd at all. Instead, he thinks, “What bog witch wouldn’t want to kiss me?”
And That’s Why We Have Sexy Monster Folklore
The idea of monstrous women who beguile and harm men is not an invention of modern cinema. Most cultures have some kind of cautionary tale involving a seductress who is not what she seems. We already discussed the sirens, who are often associated or conflated with mermaids and naiads, who can be helpful or hurtful, depending on whom you ask.
In Colombia, the patasola protects the wilderness by charming woodsmen and hunters with her looks before revealing herself to be a one-footed monster and devouring them. In Slavic folklore, the water-dwelling rusalka appears as a beautiful woman, luring men to lakes and rivers where she drowns them. La Sayona is a Venezuelan spirit, forever cursed to hunt unfaithful men. In some versions, she kills them as soon as she can safely transform into her true self. In others, she sleeps with them before ripping off their genitals. In yet others, she passes onto them horrible STDs.
Many of these stories serve as cautionary tales, meant to dissuade men from cheating on their wives, straying from work, or chasing after women they don’t know. They’re similar to figures in Alpine folklore, like the Krampus, who punishes the naughty children St. Nick won’t reward, or Perchta, who will disembowel you if you don’t do your chores.
Most of these creatures can be avoided by following the rules and making good choices. But when you combine folklore with horror’s penchant for both sexy scenarios and protagonists who typically make terrible decisions, well, hilarity ensues.
Sorry, men of horror. You (usually) don’t deserve this, but then again, who in a horror movie does?