by Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Vampire chicks! we love ‘em to death! the vampire chick is one of those ubiquitous and constantly present iconographic images in our culture. there’s even an enormous amount of pornography exclusively dedicated to vampire chicks – right down to the blood drinking! so hot! (excuse me while i faint.)
the very first vampire chick to ever pop up from the ground was in sheridan le fanu’s short story ‘carmilla’ – the first actual piece of fiction to depict classic vampires. it predates bram stoker’s ‘dracula’ by 25 years. she was loosely based on the legend of elizabeth bathory, the noblewoman who mythologically bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth (as if there that many virgins in all of europe), who died bricked up in a castle turret raving mad. or, so the legend goes. nobody really knows how much of that is real.
However, carmilla is a classic vampire story that presents all the basic vampire mythology intact. there is some debate about how much stoker borrowed from carmilla (some scholars claim he said he never read it). there is enough similarity in mythos to suggest otherwise. in it’s day, carmilla was considered risque, even porn. the eroticism of vampire chicks was there from the gitgo. sex & death, together at last!
the first pop culture version of the vampire chick may have been theda bera. with her long page boy haircut and exotic mysterious roles, she became the embodiment of the early vampire chick – the exotica of the harlot of babylon. satan in high heels. there are photos of her that look just like a vampire chick. but so far i know, she never actually played the part of a vampire.
it wasn’t until the todd browning/bela lugosi version of dracula in 1930, that the prototypical pop image of the vampire chick fist pops up in all her glory. the scene in dracula’s tranysvanian crypt /castle with his three ‘brides’ are one of the most truly unsettling images in the film. those three unknown women still stand up today against the best in the biz for sheer creepiness. you really believe they recruited vampire chicks for the roles. their costumes of funeral garb became a standard look for decades and was even carried into the recent times by lily munster (the vampire chick as mom.)
however, the person who finally truly and most profoundly cemented the image of the vampire chick into our collective memories was a woman named carroll borland. she was the president of the american chapter (and the world, i suppose) of the ‘bela lugosi fanclub’. bela loved the admiration of pretty young girls and she became quite close to him throughout his life. when tod browning made is peculiar “mark of the vampire” in 1934, he cast borland as the “luna’ character at lugosi’s request. carroll borland’s amateur acting debut created the first REAL vampire chick. her masterful take (and frankly, the ONLY scary parts of the entire film) are still worth checking out. she WAS ‘luna, the vampire chick.’
her long dark straight hair, round face and deep eye shadow on her pale skin combined with her flowing mourning gown nailed it. when she hissed, the rest was hisstory (sorry). we were smitten. a classic female archetype was finally born. (sheRstanding next to her idol (some claim lover) bela lugosi in the publicity still above.)
soon thereafter ( and i think independently) charles addams began to develop the characters in his cartoon gag panels for the new yorker magazine at first he began to often use a gaunt corpselike woman with long dark hair and a cadaverous figure stuffed into a ridiculously skinny tattered evening gown. she had no name and slowly, the response to her demanded more characters develop in a sort of staggered story line. slowly we got introduced to the characters we now refer to as ‘the addams family’. they were never called that, though. he didn’t have names for them individually, either.
meanwhile, on late night tv across the country, the universal film company began to license their catalog of famous monster movies to television. the exposure of these pre-war monster to the new post war baby boom late night teenage culture became a sensation. almost immediately there was a huge fad of monster stuff stalking the entire country. most local television stations began to feature horror movie “hosts” to introduce these movies to the kiddies with a little humor. somehow, in everybody’s minds, if the monsters were treated as a joke, the kiddies wouldn’t have the nightmares and the parents would therefore not get pissed. i guess.
in los angeles, the bedrock of movie horror, one late night station began to feature a local actress named maila nurmi (a blond) as their horror host. she donned the clothing of the charles addams cartoon character (i think primarily to show off her preternaturally thin 17″ waist and exotic sexy curves). nurmi was quite a real life piece fo work. she already fancied herself a witch and was actually very close to the rebellious young hip actor james dean (and his circle). she even blamed herself for his death (through some sort of curse). she had a completely black candle lit bedroom that was famous around hollywood. but mostly she played hipsters in teenage beatnik movies.
maila nurmi topped off her tv horror host creation with a black bettie page wig and VIOLA! “vampira” was born. she became an instant star in hollywood, even attracting the likes of the notorious ed wood, jr. to star in his abysmal ‘plan 9 from outer space’ alongside bela lugosi, tor johnson and newspaper psychic ‘criswell’. it was her only ‘starring role.
her ‘act’ on tv was full of quips and snide remarks about the lousiness of the film presented (a innovation she pioneered – some say improvised unexpectedly, being a real snob). she was so good at the wisecracking that the tv crew began to drop her into the movie itself (through the magic of television special effects) where her snide remarks would actually become part of the movie entertainment (ala ‘rocky horror’.) the kids began to flock to the show to watch HER, not the movie. sadly, this was all done live and very very little of it was filmed or taped (or whatever they used back then). some of her intro stuff survives, but the full novelty of her talented schtick is now lost.
however, like annette on the mickey mouse club show, vampira was one of those female images that came to define pre-pubescent male desires. as much as all those baby boomer boys lusted for the rapidly developing good girl , annette, they also stayed up late and became enthralled with vampira and all her dark promise. there was no mistaking it, she WAS sex. so, when warren publications began a comic book that featured a vampire chick from a vampire planet, her name became ‘vampirella’, of course. more dorky little boys with zits and tape on their glasses learned about female anatomy from vampirella that any respected scientist would ever dare to admit. she was that sexy.
but the vampira/vampirella nexus wasn’t he only sexy vampire chick in the market. in 1964, tv finally put the addams family on television with a young curvy (also blond) carolyn jones cast as the newly christened ‘Morticia Addams.” thus was born yet another unwholesome fantasy vampire chick. almost simultaneously, the munsters cast the slightly older, matronly but curvy yvonne de carlo to add a little sexiness to the otherwise sexless munsters. her lily munster was a more conscious throwback to Luna that an homage to the morticia/vampira schoolof though. but, she became the first mom vampire. the producer’s idea of ‘sexy’ seems to have been closer to bela lugosi’s age bracket.
and we can’t ever forget all those vampire brides and vampire lesbians that were so shocking coming out of the english Hammer films. these films were a very self-conscious exploitation and re-establishment of the old iconic themes behind our infatuation with these mythic monsters – good ol’ sex&death. except, in hammer films, they became distilled into a purity like we hadn’t seen before – busty blood-lust lesbians and gorgeous nude contessa’s from hell, all with dripping bloody fangs. the most memorable of the vampire chicks to emerge from hammer was probably that bettie page lookalike (with HUGE fangs, among other things) in “brides of blood.’ barbara steel had NOTHING on her. (oh, by the way, barbara steel was another blond dyed raven. that seemed to be the standard back then. must have been the pale skin.)
so, by the time punk crawled in from under the carpet and out of the woodwork, it was a natural that all the dark disturbing world of the 1970’s sexual underground would come with it. from souxsie sioux’s SM persona to david vanian’s vampie wardrobe to gaye advert’s black sullen ‘dead bettie page’ appearance, the vampire chick leaked back into our consciousness. without a second thought there erupted a new ‘vampire underground’ called Goth, clearly goosed along by the uber-pop anne rice vampire novels. vampire chicks were back, the more darkly whorish sexuality, the better.
in the early 1980’s, cassandra peterson was a member of good standing of the LA improv comedy troupe ‘the groundlings’ (alongside paul rubens and dan hartman). during the course of her improvisational comedy skit work, she began to develop a parody of Vampira (whom she grew up watching as a baby boomer) called ‘Elvira’. she saw the gold in them ‘hills’ and quickly franchised out the schtick directly back into the late night horror host routine (and began a tidal wave of imitators still extremely active today). her vampire chick was so attractive and funny that she began to cross over almost immediately into different markets than the hipster teen crowd. before long the oak ridge brothers released the huge country cross-over hit ‘Elvira’ and promoted her into a level of stardom never seen before by any vampire chick. to this day, Elvira is THE vampire chick – a sort of ‘amercia’s (dead) sweetheart”.
so, that’s the history of the vampire chick (in a small nutshell.) from Carmilla to Luna to Vampira to Elvira. she worked her way into our subconsciousness and now we all want A) to BE her or B) to BED her. amazing but true.