If you've spent any amount of time on video game social media over the last few months, you're assuredly familiar with Resident Evil Village's tall vampire villainess Lady Dimitrescu.
Even if you aren't a fan of horror (or the long-running video game franchise's violent and gory interpretation of the genre), you're probably familiar with the Bathory-esque character's signature traits: her ridiculous hat, her razor-sharp fingers, and most of all, her imposing height.
Over-the-top villains are nothing new for Resident Evil — last year's Resident Evil 3 remake starred Nemesis, a hulking monstrosity that just won't die — but the marketing around the game has focused on Lady Dimitrescu to an unusual extent. Developer Capcom seemed determined to make the "tall vampire lady" into a viral meme from the second she was revealed in the game's showcase back in January 2021.
But while the rampant fetishization of the character by both the game's maker and its fans is striking — if not a bit unsurprising — for actual tall women, Lady Dimitrescu is simultaneously a beacon of their own power and allure, and a painful reminder of the complex social stigmas society attaches to femme body shape.
Morgan Townsend is one such tall woman. Growing up in the rural South, Townsend felt "weird" and out-of-place due to her height from an early age. Her fellow students would often comment about how tall she was, and she was mistaken more than once for a student teacher in early high school. Now a barista in her mid-20's, Townsend is 5'10", and she has come to appreciate how her height makes her stand out from the crowd. Still, characters like Lady Dimitrescu remind her of how men in her life have fetishized her stature, even in subtle ways.
“Most guys treated me like ass or a freak of nature because of my height."
"As a heterosexual woman… most guys treated me like ass or a freak of nature because of my height," she tells Input via email. "Some of the guys who have treated me the worst have been tall guys…. I interviewed with a man shorter than me for a position and when I asked how he was doing he said 'Could be taller, but I'm alright.' Yeah, I didn't take that job."
Though Townsend is far from a fan of horror video games — she recalls turning on all the lights in her room and turning the volume down for the scary sections of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim — she says she fails to understand how Lady Dimitrescu is supposed to be frightening. She compares the villain's crystal-clear skin and conventionally "curvy" figure to monstrous antagonists like Mr. X and Nemesis from previous Resident Evil games.
"I'd argue that most men don't find her scary, either," Townsend tells us. "Who is this supposed to be scary to? Like, oh, she's going to capture me and eat me. Okay, they couldn't get that across without giving her Christina Hendricks proportions and clear skin? I just don't see how she was designed to be scary at all, but maybe that's just me."
The Capcom-sponsored video "What If Resident Evil's Tall Lady Stepped On You?" is one of the all-time most bizarre attempts at video game marketing — but it appears to be working.
This sense of Lady Dimitrescu coming across as more sensual than scary was echoed by many of the people I talked to for this piece. Non-binary software engineer Adam Kuhn and their wife Crow Roberts (who is 6'1") view Lady Dimitrescu as a horror incarnation of campy characters like those played by the drag performer Divine in the filmography of beloved director John Waters. Though the two of them both agree that the tall vampire lady fills a role similar to Mr. X by chasing Village's protagonist Ethan Winters around her castle, Kuhn and Roberts are unsure if this is the sort of representation that tall women needed.
"It's a very funny idea," Roberts tells Input. “I don't think it's important, but I don't think it's worthless, either. It's a really hyper-specific kind of representation that makes you think, ‘hey, we can be that kind of monster now, too!’”
Like Townsend, Kuhn and Roberts question to what extent Lady Dimitrescu can qualify as a step forward for the franchise's spotty history with women characters, especially considering her stereotypically "ideal" proportions. (Though franchise heroine Jill Valentine is often cited as an early example of a strong playable woman in games, Resident Evil is replete with damsels in distress, particularly Resident Evil 4.)
If Lady Dimitrescu resembled an eight-foot-tall Margo Martindale, the two argue, the reaction from fans would be quite different. "I think we know what happens to big women in games and media when they don't explicitly adhere to the typical standards of attractiveness," Kuhn writes, citing the Cathedral Evangelist from Dark Souls 3 as an indicative example.
"I think we know what happens to big women in games and media when they don't explicitly adhere to the typical standards of attractiveness.”
Video game publicist Jasmine Henry (who is 5'10") says she wasn't particularly surprised when she saw many LGBTQIA video game fans shouting on social media for Lady Dimitrescu to "step on them." As a lesbian, Henry says it's pretty common to see women express interest in tall ladies as part of a desire to be pinned to walls, held down, and other such playful sexual play. However, Henry says she strongly dislikes the "step on me" meme, saying that such talk doesn't actually express a legitimate interest in consensual BDSM, but instead makes light of sexual violence.
Henry, who is Black, tends to enjoy depictions of tall or imposing women that aren't so violent and controlling in nature, unlike Lady Dimitrescu. For example, in the UK sitcom Miranda, the titular character struggles to find clothes that fit, an experience that Henry finds relatable. Henry also cites the stand-up comedy of Leslie Jones, who often jokes about her shoe size on-stage. For Henry, media that represent tall women as preternaturally dangerous makes her feel dehumanized.
"I don’t enjoy it," Henry says. "There’s no nuance. We’re more than our height, but we’re seeing these characters being reduced to inches and feet… It also concerns me as a Black woman. There’s a misconception that Black people are stronger, are more aggressive, and can feel less pain. Thinking about it, that’s not unlike the weird, overboard depiction of tall women in some media."
Film critic and prolific horror writer Gretchen Felker-Martin doesn't find Lady Dimitrescu particularly scary either; instead, she finds her hot. A trans woman and self-proclaimed dyke who often writes about the complex intersection of body horror and sexual desire, Felker-Martin says that Lady Dimitrescu seems designed to strike at a particular niche that has become more popular in our current culture.
That said, while a tall vampire lady might seem like a novel villain in a big-budget video game, Felker-Martin says that Lady Dimitrescu falls into territory that is well-covered by film, novels, and other horror media. She points to the Witch of the Waste from Howl's Moving Castle as one of her favorite representations of an inhumanly tall woman character, particularly because the Witch can shift her form as she desires.
Felker-Martin herself is 6'4", which served her well in her previous career as a dominatrix. In her view, many people have a strong sexual desire to be dominated by powerful women, including straight men who suppress that urge due to traditional definitions of masculinity. As a professional critic, however, she feels that Lady Dimitrescu's place in the gender politics of video games is not a subject worthy of serious study, in part due to Resident Evil's messy and downright retrograde representations of women and (especially) fat people. (Indeed, reviewers of Resident Evil Village have heavily criticized the merchant character the Duke, with Polygon writer Suriel Vazquez calling the character a "boring, eye-rolling caricature of a fat person.”)
"Personally, I don't think that tall women are starved for representation. That's not an axis on which I am oppressed. Being a fat woman is so much more impactful to me in my daily life. Every Resident Evil game has some disgusting fat corpse in it. There's a lot of invocation of deformity: Hunched and shuffling people, dragging legs. In my opinion, the politics of Resident Evil are better left under the rock, so to speak."
“Step on me, mommy.”
She continues: "However, look, I'm a dyke. I do think Lady Dimitrescu is very hot. A lot of men came out of the woodwork and said, 'Step on me, mommy.' Well, every woman I know said the same thing. Whoever masterminded that character really tapped into something in the zeitgeist. The absence of women who tower over you is a slot that pop culture needs filled. Audiences want that… I hope we get some good fan-fiction out of this. That's really what I'm looking forward to."
While the cultural legacy of Lady Dimitrescu seems decidedly mixed to these tall women, they do agree on one thing: She is at least entertaining. Though the character absolutely profits from an industry (and society) that sexualizes women to drive sales, she is at least an interesting (if far from original) take on a powerful woman antagonist in a medium still sorely lacking in them. Despite her much-vaunted height, Lady Dimitrescu cannot rise above the cultural forces that produced her, but she can at least have fun cutting up the Ethan Winters of the world.
"I think [Lady Dimitrescu] is indicative of a huge sub and semi-conscious urge towards these enormous women that has been building for a long time, with the advent of giantess fetishism, and the gigantic hologram in Blade Runner 2049," Felker-Martin says. "It's about the push and pull of desire and repulsion that is always at play with a large body, particularly women's bodies. We are entranced by something outside of the norm, but as it departs the norm, it becomes more likely that fascination will flip into disgust. It's about the concept of 'largeness' and what that means to us."