Blood & Donuts (1995) Holly Dale — Beware, this post contains spoilers!
“Underneath, this [Blood & Donuts] is a very tender story about trading in loneliness for friendship. It’s not unlike the documentaries myself and Janis Cole made where all the characters may seem like antiheroes. In Hookers on Davie, Michelle, who is an outrageous drag queen that is half woman, half man, inside is a very warm and wonderful human being. Thematically, I think Blood & Donuts is in keeping with the work I’ve always done, trying to dispel stereotypes.”
— Holly Dale
The 1995 film Blood and Donuts, directed by Holly Dale, departs from conventional stereotypes common to horror and black comedy. It works to challenge typical representations of gender in important ways through its characters.
The character of Boya struggles with his existence as a vampire. When humans land on the moon, Boya withdraws from the world. Awoken by a stray golf ball, twenty-five years later, he continues to keep the moon-like object nearby throughout the film. Unlike many vampire characters, Boya is awkward and uncomfortable with his identity. He chooses not to drink human blood, but to live off of the blood of animals. He mourns the people he loves, agonizing over their mortality, but is unwilling to turn them.
In an early scene, Boya encounters Earl, a cabdriver in trouble with a group of local mafia. Boya is teary-eyed and emotional, and Earl comments, “Guys got a thing about crying…my dog died,” and summons up some tears of his own. This scene in which two men, nearly strangers, cry together is an unusual one. Earl is immediately willing to be vulnerable with Boya, while seeming aware of the strangeness of the exchange. Dale portrays two male characters that make an immediate emotional connection that remains strong throughout the film.
A local donut shop is a primary setting, where the audience is introduced to the character of Molly, who is comfortable in her job, even when she encounters “tough guys,” Pierce and Axel, who repeatedly terrorize Earl. Earl worries about Molly being “unprotected,” but Molly is confident, occasionally wielding a baseball bat and is backed up by her male boss. Several times in the film Molly is threatened by the two criminals, but holds a steady gaze and a confident posture. The camera tends to focus on Molly’s face and eyes, absent are any gratuitous shots of her body, common to mainstream horror.
Boya is attracted to Molly, but is reluctant to pursue her, partly due to concern for Earl’s possible feelings. In a particularly unusual scene of sexuality, Boya lies in the bath, intensely fantasizing about Molly (this film is tagged “psychic rape” on imdb). Molly appears to be sleeping and is woken up by a dream-like sexual encounter with Boya. Interesting is that while Boya is quite exposed, nude in the murky bathwater, Molly wears a heavy t-shirt and is dimly lit, partially covered in bed sheets. Often in scenes of this type, particularly in horror, women’s bodies are exposed, but here the portrayal of Molly is more character-focused, her body is not used for the titillation of the audience. If any character is used in this way, it would be that of Boya, who walks nude to the window and stares out longingly. It is troubling to the viewer that this is not clearly a consensual encounter. It might be interpreted that Molly invites the encounter, but later she refers to it as a “bad dream,” and is seen researching Shamanism, wondering aloud if it is possible that Boya indeed visited her in her sleep. It is notable in this scene as well that Boya drops the golf ball as though letting go momentarily of his identity as a vampire and allowing himself to feel human.
Conventional standards of masculinity are exemplified by the crime lord Stephen, played by David Cronenberg, and his two assistants. In one scene, Stephen literally uses his boot to “make a mark,” comparing it to Axel’s athletic shoe, which leaves a mere scuff. Stephen and Pierce compete for dominance of both Axel and the neighborhood. The three express little sign of emotion throughout the film, in sharp contrast to the sensitive Boya. Ultimately, Stephen “wins” the competition for power between the three criminals, but Boya clearly is the most physically imposing and powerful character, despite his less stereotypically masculine demeanor.
Rita, Boya’s former lover before his long slumber, is angry with him for refusing to turn her, and struggles with aging. Connected to him thorough his bite, Rita longs to be immortal and is deeply angered that he robbed her of the possibility of eternal youth. She envies Molly’s beauty and tries to scare her away from Boya. In one of the few gory scenes of the film, Rita confronts and stakes Boya, failing to kill him. This scene is of interest because rather than focusing on her failed romance, Rita is fixated on the lost dream of immortality. She is aggressively angry with the former object of her affection. Boya agonizes over his feelings for Rita, which he feels being reflected in his developing love for Molly. He is troubled by the burden he places on them both, and humanity in general.
In the ending scene, Molly makes use of the Automotive Repair Handbook she studies earlier in the film to revive Earl. Boya is beside himself, feeling responsible for his death in a final altercation with the criminals in which he kills Stephen to protect Earl. Molly magically brings Earl back from the dead, making use of jumper cables and donuts (!). Boya decides to end his existence, facing the sun, and presumably the friendship between Molly and Earl survives. The ending is unusual in that Molly’s character remains level-headed and practical, driving the action of the film, while Boya expresses deep anguish and displays a fear of the mortality of others.
Dale’s film comments on the male gaze and gender roles by at times focusing on the physicality of Boya while presenting Molly as a fully developed and fully dressed character. She confronts gender stereotypes with Molly who is an avid reader, both physically and intellectually competent. Boya maintains his physical prowess while being emotive and unafraid to express his affection for Earl, several times touching him tenderly. She successfully defies some of the conventions of horror with this character-driven film.