A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Oct 1, 2019 by Contributing Writer on The Nickelodeon Blog
By Sloan Wilson, Timothy Sherrier, Cody Dawkins, and Kara Gilmore.
As a silent figure with sheathed fangs skateboards down a desolate and lonely street, her eyes focus on the darkened road ahead. She’s on the prowl for another victim, a man with a price to pay for the woman he’s taken as his own.
Filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour explores the fantastical elements of traditional vampire lore, classic Iranian culture, and the significance of gender roles in her hit movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. When people think about vampires, the first thing that comes to mind is usually Dracula and Transylvania, though the roots of these mythical creatures are much deeper. Many of the earliest bloodsuckers actually come from ancient Middle Eastern cultures—creatures like the Summerian Edimmu and Gallus. The first was a wind spirit that sucked the life out of the susceptible, and the second was often described as a vampire-like demon. Ancient Mesopotamian mythology is also the source of Lilitu, an analog to the Hebrew Lilith and Lamashtu, who were both terrifying female demons known for feasting on the blood and flesh of children or men. A common thread was the fear of females rebelling against reproductive roles. Overall, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a mixture of traditional Middle Eastern and European vampires.
The Girl, the vampire of the film, is as much a product of female vampires like Carmilla and Elizabeth Báthory as it is of ancient female demons. The Girl, a synthesis of Middle Eastern cultural tradition and Western vampire myths, re-invents the blood-sucking female monsters who come out at the dark of night.
On that subject, it would be impossible to talk about the historical context of female vampires without mentioning the fears they subconsciously instill in the (male) viewer. Female monster myths give an easy outlet for male fears of female sexuality, with sharp-toothed female predators representing metaphorical and literal fears of castration. They hold a position of power over men with their ability to seduce and endanger their patriarchal control. In a literal sense, the teeth in the mouths of female vampires evoke the vagina dentata, or a vagina with teeth. Barbara Creed writes that these images elicit fears of castration in the male viewer: “Close-up shots of gaping jaws, sharp teeth, and bloodied lips play on the spectator’s fears of bloody incorporation.”
Lore referencing the vagina dentata focuses on a woman with a vagina dentata and the men she encounters that risk phallic castration if they conquer her. It becomes the man’s job to “outsmart” the toothed beast so he is able to penetrate the woman without fear. In A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the narrative evocation of this lore is flipped. The female vampire stalks, terrifies, and kills men who sexually assault or disrespect women. She kills them with her bloody teeth, a stand-in for the vagina dentata, symbolizing asserting sexual agency over the men who would have traditionally tried to conquer her.
To complement the mystic vampire lore and challenge of gender roles in the film, the setting of Bad City is a timeless and dreamlike place where Iranian culture and the Golden Age of Hollywood interweave. Amirpour creates a world that is unabashedly steeped in classic Hollywood Westerns and James Dean classics like Rebel Without A Cause, without sacrificing its avant-garde credibility shown by stunning black and white cinematography along with its overt feminist message. The film sits at an undefined point in time and an undefined place in the world, allowing it to be fully focused on its characters and its exploration of gender and culture to be globally relevant.
Weird Sisters: Power, Possession, and Feminine Abjection is a series that examines the political complexity of female monsters in this era in which “the witch is having a moment.” We may presume we’ve redeemed the monstrous feminine and welcomed her into mainstream society, but what dread powers might disrupt our easier images of the new “witchy” aesthetic?
This series is curated by Alice Lilitu and Julia Elliott, sponsored by University of South Carolina Women’s and Gender Studies & South Carolina Honors College, and will contain presentational and marketing materials from students in Julia Elliott’s Gender and Monstrosity in Horror Films class at UofSC.