Vampire's Kiss **** and Gay Vampire*: vintage porn and horror with a bite 30 October 2017.
by Drew Rowsome-
With Halloween approaching rapidly, I took a break from serious reading for a treat, one with more than a few tricks in it. Actually the vintage porn vampire book from 120 Days Books (publishers of the highly recommended but horrorless Three Ring Circus) is a twofer containing Vampire's Kiss (not to be confused with the Nicolas Cage movie in any way) and Gay Vampire.
Vampirism as a metaphor for gay sexuality goes all the way back to the seminal popular text, Dracula by Bram Stoker. But when Anne Rice pulled vampires out of the closet with Interview with the Vampire and the dozens of novels that followed - as well as the hundreds her success inspired - the idea became firmly planted in the public consciousness. The subtext of every vampire novel and film became the surtext from 1985's brilliant porn melodrama Gayracula to Michael Rowe's extraordinary Enter, Night.
Vampire's Kiss dates from 1970 and Gay Vampire preceded it in 1969. Both were written for the disposable stroke book market and the named authors, Sonny Barker and Davy S, are probably pseudonyms for writers who didn't, don't if they're still alive, want to be associated with writing for the pulp market. 120 Days Books attempt to mine gold out of the mostly ignored, except by the readers who made it flourish, underworld of gay porn novels has paid off with Vampire's Kiss. We may never know who Sonny Barker was, but he is vastly underrated and probably underpaid.
The plot is mainly an excuse to string sex scenes together - the "stroke" portion of the moniker - but Barker has crafted a hilarious, heartfelt depiction of the struggle to come out of the closet. Our hero and narrator, Damon Sanger "a prominent young attorney," goes out drinking one night and ends up in a bar that turns out to be "queer." From there he falls into the clutches of Alan Drake who lives in a trailer, with all the '60s/'70s love pad trimmings, parked behind the gay bar. Sanger is seduced, much against his will, and decides to ignore his brief walk on the wild side, goes back to his wife and straight middle class life, and chalks it all up to being an experiment. Except there is that small nick on his penis that just won't heal...
And of course Drake is as irresistible as is the sex. Sanger keeps a diary and also converses with the rational straight side of his personality as he struggles against the realization that he has become one of the "Homosexual Undead." It is an epic battle, though the forces do not appear to be supernatural except in his imagination, for Sanger's very soul. Instead of blood, he craves semen and in as large quantities as he can get it, he needs it to survive. Drake leaves town for a few weeks and Sanger spirals into a vividly described vortex of craving cock. And proceeds to get a fair amount of cock.
From a contemporary perspective it is easy to laugh at Sanger's rationalizations and ravings, it is a deft portrait of a tortured coming out - and it is camp comedy at its best - but Sanger adds another layer to Vampire's Kiss. The portrait of the bar and its denizens is lovingly and vividly written so that their pride and dignity shines through Sanger's initial disgust. And we get a treatise on tea room sex in the period, a gay bashing, some tentative moves towards a gay rights statement, and, most astonishingly, a civil rights lecture when Sanger decides that black cock is - suprise! - as delicious as white meat. He struggles not only with his internalized homophobia but also with his ingrained racism.
And the sex, which is copious, is fairly hot if a little coy by today's standards. Vampire's Kiss is not very horrific but it is a slice of history, contains many laughs and, even reading on the subway, the distinct possibility of at least a semi. Alas, though Gay Vampire has a more intriguing title and cover artwork, it has lacklustre contents. Vampire's Kiss is filled with rocketing lurid prose that is a joy to read whereas Gay Vampire feels slapped together.
The first problem with Gay Vampire is an utter lack of coherence. Unless it is read as a satire on the serial sufferings structure of Candide or The Perils of Pauline and the numerous porn films they inspired, Gay Vampire has no plot coherence. Things just kind of happen and then are justified with a throwaway sentence as an excuse for back story. It all climaxes, literally, with a scene that must have been written after watching an episode of Dark Shadows, another vampire series overloaded with subtext (it has been recently revealed that most of the cast and creative were closeted but actively gay so the camp gothic atmosphere and seething undertones were quite natural).
There is also an unfortunate fixation on rape that smacks not of the eroticism of turning-a-straight-boy porn or BDSM, but of homophobia and punishment. It is an old moral code where sex for love, even if between a vampire (Barnabas C Dracula) and young Davy Swanson, is blissful but otherwise is painful and degrading. And when the rest of the sex writing is less than steamy or inventive, Gay Vampire runs out of appeal long before it limps to a conclusion. Far more intriguing is the short excerpt from The Adult Version of Dracula which simply inserts explicit sex scenes into Stoker's gothic soft core text. It is clumsy but effectively entertaining.
There is one horror element that can't be ignored, though I was so buoyed along by Sanger's prose and so annoyed with S's, that it didn't hit me until after. The connection of blood and semen to AIDS, which has been mined effectively in vampire novels like Dan Simmons' Children of the Night, Jeremy Jordan King's Night Creatures, and Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain trilogy, casts a dark pall over these early works of gay porn literature. In Vampire's Kiss, Sanger does worry briefly about STDs as he ingests gallons of ejaculate, but then assumes that his new vampiric powers will protect him. The generation of gay men who would have first read these books, and quite possibly the authors, were not as lucky.
Kudos to 120 Days Books for rescuing a historical document that is also entertaining. And for putting a few vampire tricks into Halloween.