Movie Myths 101-Vampires

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 3, 2008 12:49pm | Post a Comment

Whilst descriptions of vampires historically have varied widely, certain traits now accepted as universal were created by the film industry. Where did vampires originate? Well, nearly every culture has its own undead creatures which feed off of the life essence of the living, but ancient Persian pottery shards specifically depict creatures drinking blood from the living in what may be the earliest representations of vampires. In the 1100s English historians and chroniclers Walter Map and William of Newburgh recorded accounts of various undead fauna. By the 1700s, an era often known as the Age of Enlightenment, fear of vampires reached its apex following a spate of vampire attacks in East Prussia in 1721 and the Hapsburg Monarchy from 1725 to 1734. Government positions were created for vampire hunters to once-and-for-all rid man of this unholy scourge.

Even Enlightenment writer Voltaire wrote about the vampire plague in his Philosophical Dictionary, "These vampires were corpses, who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomachs, after which they returned to their cemeteries. The persons so sucked waned, grew pale, and fell into consumption; while the sucking corpses grew fat, got rosy, and enjoyed an excellent appetite. It was in Poland, Hungary, Silesia, Moravia, Austria, and Lorraine, that the dead made this good cheer."

There were a couple of famous vampire cases. I, unfortunately, couldn't find any good pictures for this bit.

In Serbia Peter Plogojowitz died at the age of 62. According to reports he returned after his death asking his son for food. When the son refused, he was found dead the following day. His wife claimed that he came to her after death and asked for his shoes. Plogojowitz was, reportedly, identified by nine victims who died shortly thereafter.

Arnold Paole, a Serbian ex-soldier turned farmer, was reportedly attacked by a vampire years before he died. After his death, people began to die in the surrounding area and it was widely believed that Paole had returned to prey on the neighbors, with Austrian authorities officially attributing 16 deaths to him.

In 1892 nineteen-year-old Mercy Brown died in Exeter, Rhode Island. After death she was suspected of becoming a vampire. Her father, assisted by the family physician, removed her body from her tomb two months after her death and her heart was cut out and burnt to ashes. The ashes were then mixed with water and drunk by her ailing brother, Edwin, who died two months later.

In Malawi during late 2002 and early 2003 mobs stoned one suspected vampire to death and attacked at least four others, including Governor Eric Chiwaya, based on the belief that the government was colluding with vampires. Local radio announcer Maganizo Mazeze was arrested after claiming to be attacked by vampires in a government crackdown designed to end the vampire panic.

In 2004 in Romania several relatives of Toma Petre feared that he had become a vampire. They dug up his corpse, tore out his heart, burned it, and mixed the ashes with water in order to drink it.


Albanian vampires wear high heels.
Bavarian vampires sleep with their thumbs crossed and their left eye open.
Brazilian vampires have furry feet.
Bulgarian vampires only have one nostril.
Mexican vampires have a bare skull instead of head.
Moravian vampires attack in the buff.
Rocky Mountain vampires drink blood from victims' ears through their (the vampire's) noses.
Many vampires are gingers (see Munch's painting above).
Vampires can usually assume the form of animals like wolves, bats, rats, dogs and spiders.


Burying the corpse upside down.
Severing the corpse's tendons.
Burying the corpse with grains which will result in the vampire endlessly counting.
Place a wax cross or piece of pottery with the inscription "Jesus Christ conquers."
Pinning the corpse's clothing and/or body to the casket.
Gypsies suggest driving steel or iron needles into a corpse's heart, placing bits of steel in the mouth, over the eyes, ears and between the fingers at the time of burial and finally placing hawthorn in the corpse's sock or driving a hawthorn stake through the legs.
Pouring boiling water over the grave.
In Saxony, placing a lemon in the corpse's mouth.
In Romania, placing garlic in the corpse's mouth and then shooting the casket with a gun.


An animal jumping over a corpse could lead to vampirism, according to both the Chinese and the Slavs.
A body with wounds not treated with boiled water.
Being the seventh son of a seventh son.
Eating the meat of a sheep killed by a wolf.
Being bitten by a vampire.
Leaving any knot tied in the casket.
Having been a werewolf in life.


A virgin boy on a virgin black horse can ride through a graveyard and the horse will identify the culprit's grave.
Holes in the soil above the grave.
Vampires usually don't cast shadows or reflections. However, Greek vampires do both.
Some vampires won't enter a home unless invited, others are more forward.
Some vampires can't cross running water and most won't enter sacred places.


A crucifix
Holy water
A branch of wild rose or hawthorn
Mustard seeds on the roof of a house


Staking (Serbs use hawthorn but Russians and Baltic people use ash, Silesians use oak) -- In Russia and northern Germany, the stake is driven through the mouth. In parts of Serbia, the stomach is staked. Western Slavs and most Germans favor decapitation with the head being then placed between the feet, under the butt, or somewhere far away.
Repeating the funeral service.
Balkan vampires can be shot or drowned.

Make Believe Vampires

        Lord Ruthven                             Varney                                                          Count Dracula

Vampires appeared in fiction with Goethe's 1797 The Bride of Corinth. In 1813, Lord Byron wrote The Giaour. His personal physician, John Polidori, wrote the first vampire story, The Vampyre, after the famous 1816 ghost-story-and-laudanum-fueled nights at the Villa Diodati, which also led to Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus. The vampire of Polidor's story is suave, mysterious Romantic aristocrat Lord Ruthven. He pretty much set the mold for most further fictional vampires. By the time of Varney the Vampire (1845) and Dracula (1897) vampires had acquired sharp teeth and vulnerability to daylight and nourishment from the moon. The cape first appeared in 1820s plays.

                    Carmilla                                          Lust For a Vampire (1971)                          The Vampire Lovers (1970)

A noteworthy variety of the vampire was created by Sheridan Le Fanu, who wrote Carmilla in 1871. The title character is the first lesbian vampire. Lesbian vampires proved quite popular in film.


Despite many film buffs claiming 1922's Nosferatu as the first celluloid vampire, it was preceded by the following*:

Vampire of the Coast (1909)
The Vampire's Trail (1910)
The Vampire (1913)
In the Grip of the Vampire (1913)
Vampires of the Night (1914)
The Vampire's Trail (1914)
Vampires of Warsaw (1914)
The Vampire's Tower (1914)
Saved From the Vampire (1914)
The Devil's Daughter (1915)
The Vampire's Clutch (1915)
Was She A Vampire? (1915)
Kiss of the Vampire (1915)
Mr. Vampire (1916)
A Night of Horror (1916)
A Vampire Out of Work (1916)
A Village Vampire (1916)
The Beloved Vampire (1917)
The Vampire (1920)
Drakula Halala (1921)

Some of those are undoubtedly about soul-feeding femme fatales and not the undead but I can't be bothered trying to sort that out.

                  Drakula Halala                                                                     Count Orlock from Nosferatu

The same year the Hungarian film Drakuka Halala (aka The Death of Dracula) played in theaters, F.W. Murnau shot Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror. It borrowed heavily from Bram Stoker's novel without permission and the author's widow sought to have all copies destroyed. There are notable differences. The film's Count Orlock kills his victims by sucking their blood and bringing plague to Germany (not England). Unlike with other vampires, his victims stay dead. It was in Nosferatu that the idea of sunlight killing vampires was introduced, an invention which has since become practically canonical. And Orlock isn't charming or handsome, but ratlike and repulsive. Throughout the film he never blinks. His portrayal, though widely admired, would seldom be imitated except in Herzog's remake and Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot.


In 1930, Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer made Vampyr. Much of the film is shot through a fine gauze and hence it has a fuzzy, whitewashed look that adds a lot of dream-like atmosphere to the virtually dialog-less film. Loosley adapted from Le Fanu's Carmilla, the vampire here is an evil old hag. It was a critical failure and Dreyer didn't direct again for a decade. It's one of the weirdest and best vampire films around.


Todd Browning's Dracula was released the following year, in 1931. It was adapted from a stage version of Bram Stoker's story. Originally, Lon Chaney was going to play the count but he died of cancer and his replacement was the star of the Broadway version, Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi. Using the same sets, George Melford directed a Spanish Language version at night with Carlos Villarías as the title character. In recent years, this version has often been heralded as superior to Browning's, which was made with uncharacteristic disinterest by the famously temperamental Kentuckian who was mourning the loss of his friend, Chaney. The Spanish crew reportedly watched the dailies after the English version's crew was done for the day and sought to improve and out-do them. Regardless, it was Bela Lugosi as Dracula who cemented portrayals of vampires which has stuck with us sense. Emotionally remote, well-dressed, arched brows, slicked hair and an Eastern European accent became pretty much de rigeur for almost all subsequent portrayals, from the Hammer resurgence, through the countless other versions which have led to Dracula being the most commonly-portrayed character in films, next to (or surpassing, depending on accounts) Sherlock Holmes.


In a recent development of vampire depictions (with films like Underworld, Queen of the Damned, Van Helsing and Blade), vampires have been increasingly portrayed as trenchcoated, leather-favoring, sleazy, posing goths with amazing gymnastic skills. My guess is this is probably owing to animés like Vampire Hunter D and Blood-The Last Vampire.

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