Friday, July 30, 2010

Second Anniversary

Jeez, time flies. It's already been two years since I started this thing. Time for a little retrospective.

In hindsight, it's kind of odd that I didn't start this blog sooner. After all, I've been into vampires for about seventeen years now. Wow, even saying that aloud trips me out. Anyway, if you wanna know how I got into this "biz", then read my contribution to Vamp Chix. Interested in being a vampirologist, yourself? No problem. I've got some handy tips for you.

That's one of the beauties of having an online platform: you're able to interact with like-minded people. Take Niels' Magia Posthuma. I can not underplay how influential it's been in founding my own blog. I wasn't kidding when I said I was "deeply flattered" to get a shout-out from him in the paper he submitted to the Vienna conference on vampirism. As far as I'm concerned, his blog should have way more followers than it does. But, then again, that's the price of our niche vampire interest.

Even though I often cover pop culture angles on vampires, my primary interest is the folkloric angle. The scholarly approaches, specifically. That's why I get genuinely excited about stuff like this. Meanwhile, you might notice a hint of cynicism creeping in when I cover certain other things.

As far as I'm concerned, there's not nearly enough coverage given to the folkloric vampire. There's a whole goldmine of info out there, most of it, unfortunately, untranslated, as I've found in my readings. Instead, we're treated to the same-old formulaic rehashes. Roxana Stuart sums up the output perfectly in Stage Blood: Vampires of the 19th Century Stage (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994):
There are at least four levels of criticism in modern vampire studies: 1) ethnographic and anthropological explorations of the subject which take a scientific approach; 2) scholarly literary studies; 3) books on vampire lore and literature intended for popular consumption; and 4) "pop-trash" guidebooks for consumers and connoisseurs of horror fiction, comics, television, and movies (7).
Not much has changed in sixteen years. That said, what intrigues me about the current interest in vampires (yes, I'm talking about Twilight) is just how mainstream they've become. Vampire interest tends to come in waves, usually off the back of popular novels or movies. Or, in Dracula's case: plays. Even though the book's been in print since 1897, Stoker's novel didn't exactly set the world alight until it was adapted for theatre in the 1920s. Poor old Bram didn't even live to see its subsequent success, as he died in 1912. Even coverage of his passing was minimal: the media was kinda distracted by the Titanic going down, ya see.

Meanwhile, Meyer is livin' it up with the success of her novels and box-office takings from their movie adaptations. This is no ordinary level of success: the latest installment's even managed to break a few records. Pretty damn impressive. Also, Dracula's been around for 113 years; Twilight was published in 2005. How's that for context?

Mind you, it's not that I hate Twilight, per se. How am I supposed to make a proper critical analysis of something I haven't read? That said, it's got its fair share of detractors. At the very least, her Saga's helped spur publishers into giving more coverage of the vampire genre, so I'll give Meyers kudos for that. Whether the boom in non-fiction vampire books will amount to more substantial output, however, remains to be seen. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, back to the retrospective stuff. Thanks to this blog, I've had the privilege of reviewing a doco I probably wouldn't've known about otherwise. I've interviewed authors who've been inspiration in my own studies - a great honour, indeed. And thanks to a reader, I was even able to uncover the source of a mis-attributed "vampire" picture.

But most importantly, how else would I have had the privilege of acquiring your readership and following (28 at present count) for this blog? A big, warm thanks to all of you. Here's to many more anniversaries!


Just a side note: last Saturday, I celebrated a friend's birthday. She's also a "vampyre" enthusiast. Guess what I got her as a present? Heh heh. Hope you liked it, Cat!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Blomberg Effect

I've discussed the dubious authenticity of "nineteenth century" vampire hunting kits. Now let's take a look at a few more of recent stock.

But at least they're not fobbed off as "authentic". Perhaps spurred on by the popularity of these kits in auctions, looks like a niche market's been found: retro vampire hunting kits. There's been no shortage of prop makers stepping up to the plate to cater for this crowd, and they charge substantially less than the "vintage" models that sell in auctions ($US14,850 in one case).

The demand for these derivatives, and the subsequent market it's spun off, is what I call the Blomberg Effect. One such company that's hopped on board is Heroes Club. Here's their Special Deluxe Edition Vampire Hunter Killing Kit. It sells for US$468.

Then we come to Alex CF's incredibly ornate twist on the vampire killing kit: the Vampiric Anatomical Biological Research Case. While no specific price is given, his website mentions that a "typical research case is priced at around £1000."

His French Vampyr Hunting Case No. 3 is no longer available.

Lastly, we arrive at the other end of the scale. The bargain bin stuff, if you will. Thus, you can buy Corpses for Sale's "Roman Catholic Approved" Vampire Hunters Kit, for a relatively measly US$85:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Scoop on Vampire Hunting Kits

Vampire hunting kits, allegedly from the nineteenth century, have done the rounds in auctions, fetching high prices. But there's questions surrounding their authenticity. Are they legit?

I first read about these things in J. Gordon Melton's The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (Detroit: Visible Ink, 1994). Here's what he had to say about 'em:
No discussion of vampire products would be complete without mentioning the several anti-vampire kits. The first such kit was alleged to have been produced by Nicolas Plomdeur, a gunmaker in Leige, Belgium, in the mid-nineteenth century. His kit included a real pistol made in the shape of a latin cross, a silver bullet, a wooden spike, powder flask, and a clove of garlic. The only known surviving example of the Plomdeur kit is owned by Val Forgett of the Navy Arms Co. A similar kit can be found in the Mercer Museum at Doylestown, Pennsylvania. This kit's wooden box contains a pistol, two silver bullets, a cross attached to a wooden stake, a magnifying glass, some garlic, and several "serums" especially formulated by the kit's manufacturer, reputedly a Dr. Ernst Blomberg. The kit was reportedly designed for nineteenth-century English-speaking travelers going to Eastern Europe (458).
Melton's used two magazine articles as his source for this info:

But I was still somewhat skeptical of the authenticity of such kits. After all, where were the contemporary references to their usage? The items, themselves, seem seem suspicious. As The Concrete Tomb of Hradzka notes:
You may, or may not, have the same gut reaction I did: "Hey, wait a minute." That's what a modern vampire hunter might pack (with the silver bullets in case you run into a werewolf), but it's not what a 19th-century vampire hunter would carry. Dracula met his death by bowie knife, Carmilla was hacked up with an axe (I think), Varney threw himself into Mount Vesuvius, and Lord Ruthven got clean away when Polidori got writer's block. If you go back to the lore (Montague Summers's fascinating THE VAMPIRE IN EUROPE is a wonderful source), you'll see that the way we think of vampires, and killing them, is most strongly based on 1) Stoker's novel and 2) the movies it inspired.
A startling answer to that quandary might've come in 2005, from a firearms hobbyist named Michael de Winter:
My story starts in or around 1970 when I was employed in the printing industry. My hobby was buying, selling and refurbishing antique guns. I sold mainly at the famous Portobello Market in London. My usual stock of guns for sale was only 10-20 at any one time and these tended to be of superior quality. I had a number of regular clients who arrived every week to see if I had any new stock. One of my regulars wanted a fine flintlock pistol and asked me to take in part exchange a Belgian percussion pocket pistol. I grudgingly agreed and allowed him £15.00 off the price of the flintlock.

So, here it is, a poor quality pocket pistol in mediocre condition! What to do with it? That was my question. Having an extremely fertile imagination and being an avid reader, I was inspired. It occurred to me that I could produce something unique that would be a great advertising gimmick and would attract people to my stall. The Vampire Killing Kit was on its way.
Then how does one account for the Belgian gunmaker, Nicolas Plomdeur, and Dr. Ernst Blomberg?:
Regarding Professor Ernst Blomberg and the Gunmaker of Liege, Nicholas Plomdeur, both these gentlemen were figments of my imagination and I was amazed to find mention on a Website of Nicholas Plomdeur’s early career in Paris.
Nonetheless, some express doubt with de Winter's confession. A thorough investigation of the claims about various Blomberg (and Plomdeur) kits can be read at Spooky Land. However, general consensus holds that the kits are fake, even if some possibly preclude de Winter.

There are too many anachronistic and urban legend-like elements in the stories behind the kits. Cited documents associated with their makers can not be traced, while others are revealed as outright frauds. If that doesn't attest to the fakeness of these things, I dunno what will.

Amy Announced!

The main cast of Fright Night remake (groan) was announced a little while ago. But, there was a glaring omission: who the hell's gonna be playing Amy?

Not like it's a minor role. She's Charley's girlfriend and the one they gotta save from the vampire. I mean, they went to the lengths of casing Charley's mum, fer cryin' out loud, but no Amy? Come on!

Anyway, thanks to Everlost of Vampire News, I now know. The role of Amy Peterson will be played by (drumrolls) Imogen Poots.

Heh heh. Poots. Yeah, I spose I can see the resemblance between her and the Amanda Bearse version.

So, is there anything noteworthy on Miss Poots' résumé? Hmm? Well, she played "Young Valerie" in V for Vendetta (2005) and Tammy in 28 Weeks Later (2007). What else? Lorelei Lathrop in Me and Orson Welles (2008). Meh.

Come to think of it, where's Billy Cole? You know, Jerry's housemate in the original. The one played by Jonathan Stark. There've been some suggestions over who should play him. But if you believe what's written in the comments section here, looks like there won't be a Billy Cole character. Dispensing with him apparently makes Jerry more "efficient". I wonder if it's also to sheer off the gay subtext of the original? Maybe I'm not so far off the mark there. Here's what Marti Noxon, the remake's screenwriter, had to say on the subject:
It's interesting… I think they actually decided to stay away from it. Because times have changed so much. If we had gone there, I think it would have felt too precious and a little coy. There's already so much gay subtext in vampire stuff. [Laughs] We've covered that in Anne Rice, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. We've done that. So I think we just kind of moved away from that.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tweaking the Poll

As mentioned, it's not so easy defining what a vampire is and that's equally applicable to wording a poll on whether or not people believe in them. So, time for a little revision.

Firstly, apologies to the folks who voted on the poll already. All two of ya. Literally. For the record, there was one vote for "I believe there are people who call themselves vampires, yes, but there aren't any supernatural ones." The other chose "Not the bloodsucking kind, but the ones that can drain psychic energy, sure."

I found that the old poll was a little restrictive in the answers one could choose. Namely, one. So, this time 'round, I've allowed multiple responses to be selected. As you can see, I've also re-worded some of the options so they give a broader, yet distinctive definition.

Once again, the poll's open till the end of the year. Lookin' forward to your responses!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Do You Believe in Vampires?

Inspired by my latest posting on the other blog, I've decided to cast a poll here, too. A first time for this blog. So, I ask you: do you believe?

Sure, we live in the 21st century and the very notion of believing in vampires may seem absurd. To most people, anyway. But it's a deceptively simple question, which is why I've provided a variety of possible choices.

I bet your thoughts went straight to the bloodsucking corpse variety. The Dracula type. Problem is, the term's used a lot more flexibly these days, especially with the rise of the "vampire" subculture. There's also the occult-derived psychic/lifeforce/energy/prana vampire, etc. etc. crowd.

The poll's open till the end of this year and you can only select one at time. So, choose wisely!

Oh, and by the way: this is my 200th post on this blog! Yeah, I know. Not many bells and whistles today. But, I do have the blog's second anniversary coming up (July 30th), so I might rustle up something more substantial by then. Presuming of course, that I'm not busy and that I remember the date. Heh heh.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Twilight Haters Unite!

There's always a flip-side to success and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga isn't immune from the taint. In fact, it's managed to accumulate its own brand of anti-fandom.

For instance, did you know there's a whole website devoted to distaste for the series? I'm sure there's many others, but this one's called Here's the scoop from their "About" page: is NOT a hate shrine but rather a place of refuge for those who didn't fall madly in love with Twilight...saw through it's blinding errors, contradictions, and mockery of the English language AND the writing profession as a whole. We are not a fan site, we are not a hate site...we just realize and agree that Twilight sucks discoballs. Oh yeah, I went thar.
Not a "hate shrine"? The folks at Encyclopædia Dramatica beg to differ. Before you click on that link though, be warned that it's not safe for work. Or kids. Despite the offensive content, they make some pretty good points about "hating" on the franchise.

As a side note, I've re-labeled my "Stephenie Meyer" posts under the "Twilight Saga" banner. Usually, I prefer labeling posts about a work under the collective name of the author. But when that work exists almost beyond the author themselves, that is, it achieves a mainstream popularity that goes beyond mere autobiographic details and becomes a phenomena in its own right, then I'll feature it under the name of the work itself.

That's why there's a "Dracula" banner at all.

However, if the post largely does concern the author themselves, then they get their own tag. Just something for future reference, there.

Cracking Open the CSI's Vault

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has been kind enough to publish articles from its magazine, Skeptical Inquirer, online. Naturally, a few of 'em deal with vampires.

First up's Paul Barber's "Staking Claims: The Vampires of Folklore and Fiction" (March/April 1996), which is a greatly abbreviated take on the content dealt with in his classic vampirological work, Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality (1988).

There's a brief section on the chupacabra aka Hispanic Goatsucker in Robert E. Bartholomew and Erich Goode's "Mass Delusions and Hysterias: Highlights from the Past Millennium" (May/June 2000).

Massimo Polidoro's "In Search of Dracula" (March/April 2006) is mainly for the Vlad fans, but does deal with the strigoi of Romanian folklore.

The laws of physics are applied to vampires in Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi's "Cinema Fiction vs. Physics Reality: Ghosts, Vampires, and Zombies" (July/August 2007). Their postulations drummed up some decent press at the time.

Lastly, Joe Nickell's "Werewolves—or Weren’t?" (March 2008) touches on the connection between vampirism and lycanthropy. He also explores New England's "vampire" tradition in "Searching for Vampire Graves" (March/April 2009).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In the Mood for Change

It's been a bloody while since I last overhauled the design of this here blog, but I guess it's time for change.

Mr. Moto's out and I've switched over to Josh Peterson's red "Simple" template with a few tweaks to fonts and such. The background's a red and black background by John Woodcock.

I'm also gonna start bolding the first paragraph of my posts to make 'em look a bit newsy. Got the idea from ninemsn. Hats off to them.

More Sugar for Kane

I gave some coverage to Tim Kane's The Changing Vampire of Film and Television: A Critical Study of the Growth of a Genre (2006) here, but Andrew's recently given it a much more thorough review. Check it out.

We both enjoyed the book, as you'll see by his rating, even if we disagree on a few minor points.

The Twilight Machine

While I may occasionally sneer at Twilight, one thing that fascinates me about it is its level of success. Absolutely phenomenal and bewildering at the same time.

I mean, how often does this level of mainstream popularity and success happen to an author who'd never even written a novel before? A manuscript that took a mere three months to complete? By contrast, Stoker's Dracula (1897) was written over a period of seven years.

What about the story itself? The vampire love triangle, prolonged over a series, wasn't new to young adult literature when Twilight was published in 2005. So what's the big deal about with this one?

Anyway, here's a peek inside the inspirations that gelled into the mega doorstop epic that is the Twilight saga. Of course, there's another probable angle, alluded to by Rob Pattinson, himself.

Should've Been the Count

Speaking of hypotheticals and casting choices, here's one that's gripped me for a few years.

Many actors have played Count Dracula over the years, the best-known being Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and, to a lesser extent, Gary Oldman.

But there's one actor who I feel would've been perfect for the role, even though, to my knowledge, he'd never even been in a horror film. I'm talkin' 'bout this guy:

Lee Van Cleef in a publicity shot for Escape from New York (1981).

That's right, Lee Van Cleef (1925-1989). You probably know him best as Sentenza/Angel Eyes (aka "The Bad") in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). He featured in a variety of other Westerns and action flicks. Point is, take a look at his mug and let's compare it to Jonathan Harker's description of the Count in Stoker's Dracula (1897):
His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.
Physical appearance aside, did I mention that he was also best-known for playing villains? A shame he never really broke that Western/action flick mould. I think he would've been a superb Dracula.

Here's a scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to prove a point. It's the bit where Angel Eyes pays a visit to a former solider to question him about the location of a missing man and a cache of stolen Confederate gold.

You'll get an idea of why Van Cleef was typecast and also see the kind of menace he could convey in his performances. Perfect for a reptilian vampire Count.

Ramblin' Man

Just came across another Twilight-centric study on Amazon, to be released on November 3. This one's called The Twilight Mystique: Critical Essays on the Novels and Films.

If I can be bothered, I'll get around to compiling a list of studies on Twilight. And presuming there's a decent number out there. We'll see.

Yeah, I bet you can sense my lack of real interest. Heh heh. However, I'll give those books credit for something: thanks to their pop culture infiltration, there seems to be an increase in the publication of the books about vampires. Woohoo!

However, it's disenchanting to see that not many of these are be meaty studies of the field. Just the usual regurgitations on vampire history and the literature and film stuff. Ah wells.

At least, in the English-speaking world. If you shuffle over to Niels' Magia Posthuma, you'll see some seemingly interesting publications (see here and here) in German. It's a real shame that the majority of this stuff doesn't get translated into English more often. Practically none of it, actually.

In fact, the most recent translation of any vampire non-fiction book I can think of, off the top of my head, is Claude Lecouteux's The Secret History of Vampires: Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes (2010), which was originally published in French as Histoire des Vampires : Autopsie d'un mythe (1999). While it has some interesting references, it's also pretty damn incoherent in structure. It just seems to jump all over the place.

Really, that's the best book we make available in English? Come on!

Amazonian Recommendation

Sorry for neglecting the blog, folks. Just been really busy lately.

Here's a brief item of interest, thanks to Amazon's recommendations. It's a new book to add to the burgeoning field of Twilight scholarship. It was released on June 15th.

That's right, I'm talkin' 'bout Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media, and the Vampire Franchise. Here's its product description:
Focusing on the wildly successful Twilight series, this collection of scholarly essays examines the phenomenon from diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives. Particular attention is paid to cultural, social, and economic aspects of the series and to the recurrent messages about youth, gender roles, romance, and sexuality. Essays discuss race and religion, and provide audience analyses of young adult, adult, anti-, and international fans. Other chapters are political-economic examinations into celebrity, tourism, and publishing. With new research by established and rising scholars, this volume is a significant contribution to the growing field of youth studies and complements existing feminist cultural analyses of media texts.
Does that kinda stuff tickle your fancy? If you liked the books mentioned here, it'll probably be right up your alley. Personally, I prefer a more generic approach to vampire studies, not regulating them to a specific pop culture vampire franchise. See also: Buffy Studies.

But hey, that's just me. That's not to say the book won't be of some interest, however.
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