The Ingrid Pitt column: why vampires are popular

The Hammer Horror legend has played a vampire in the past, and here, she considers their appeal...

When I was a Vampire, I did it for the money. Which makes me a vampiric whore I guess. Which is mild compared to labels the blood sucking, corruption dealing reps of the Undead have been trading under for millennia.

It is hard to understand why the Vampire has such a hold on our imagination. By repute it is foul smelling, fester popping, halitosis sharing, un-fun loving, party pooping nerd with only the flimsiest, most tenuous grip on life – or if you prefer, Undeath. At least that is the bag of the classic Vampire. Lord George Byron’s creation, Lord Ruthven, named by Dr. Polidori and filched from Lady Caroline Lamb, was more robust than Bram Stokers’ Dracula. He could go out during the day and mix on equal terms with the raffish dilettantes and society hostesses. In comparison, although imbued with superhuman strength, Stoker’s Dracula is a pushover. If he is kept from his coffin he is reduced to nothing more than a heap of dust and a gold ring. In the film version at least. If Dracula is tucked up in his shroud by first cock crow he is even more vulnerable. Anyone with a sharpened hickory stick can nail him through the heart and it is goodbye sucker. Some Vampire Dispatching Instructions also recommend slicing off the head, just to be certain.

Garlic has the same effect on Vampires as Kryptonite has on Superman. It jangles the synopses and renders the victim incapable of doing anything but wave his hands in front of his face and bare his unflossed teeth in an unbecoming snarl. The effect of Holy Water is to produce an acidic hissing, steam and much cavorting and if Dracula accidentally slides through the ice into running water he’s a goner.

So what has made the Vampire one of the most popular forms of reading, writing and staking? And what hold does it have over all sorts of people, professional and amateur, who follow the exploits of the Transylvanian Master? I personally know three University professors who are sworn Vampire lovers. One of them, Professor Elizabeth Miller of the Memorial University of New Foundland in Canada, has even been honoured by the Romanians as ‘Baroness of the House of Dracula.’ Her most recent book, Stoker’s Dracula Notes, published about a month ago by Parkstone Press, is a masterpiece. From Mexico University Professor Victoria Amador lectures all over the world on the subject and Dr. Bob Lima, Pennsylvania State University, is an authority on churches and has written several books dealing with the religious side of the Undead.

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So just when and where did the Vampire, in all its variant forms, first see the light of the moon? Probably the blood sucking temptation has always been there, buried deep in the human psyche. Let’s assume we are talking thousands of years ago. A group of hunters are cut off by the snow and are going nowhere. The group consists of body temperature, fast food packages of nourishment that can save the majority of them. I guess the runt of the pack would go first. Cutting up the reluctant fodder would take too long. Leeching onto various parts of the body and sucking is the only viable alternative. The frozen meat can be kept for later. It wouldn’t be long before the act of exsanguination was enshrined on the cave wall and ritualised.

Of course this is not what being admitted into the cult of the Vampire is all about. For one thing the only member of that lost hunting group who has qualified, for the first condition of Vampirism, is the victim. He’s dead! The word ‘Undead’ can easily be siphoned from the belief of the Pharaohs of Egypt and their mortal sidekicks – The Priests. The desert sands produced The Mummy – but it’s just a starting place. The Pharaohs wanted to enter a Paradise exactly like the earthly one they were leaving – only better. They went into a huddle with the group with the greatest incentive to rubber stamp their divinity – the Priesthood. It was unanimously decided that embalming was the business. This way the body could survive the natural decay. The chattels, handmaidens and servants dispatched along with them would show, in the Undead Kingdom they were entering, that this was no common slouch coming up the broad white way but a fellow God on a State visit.

Then the Babylonians managed to edge the plot slightly in the direction of fully endorsed Vampireship by introducing the ‘Ekimmu’. The After-life suddenly opened up to everybody – God and ‘fellah’ alike. Basically all you needed to do was drop down dead and have no well-intentioned friends to cover you with sand. After a suitable time passed the departed would leap up, re-embodied and ready for anything. Especially of a sexual nature. The bonus for being a member of the Ekimmu set was that you entered your new profession massively endowed.

If you are sceptical about this, next time you are sauntering through the temple at Karnak on the Nile, take time to visit the forbidden wall round the back of the temple. Life will never be the same again. It is said that the maidens subjected to the advances of the Ekimmu and his sacred weapon were at first terrorised and then overwhelmed by this mighty phallus.

And this is where the Vampire thing kicks in. Once the Ekimmu had had its wicked way with the girls he whipped out their entrails and gorged on their blood. I know it’s not what you might call standard vampire procedure but more elements have been added to the lore. The wannabe Ekimmu has died, come back in an Undead form, penetrated its victim and drank the blood. Purist might say that the penetration and blood drinking are separate actions – but we’re getting there.

Across on the far shore of the Mediterranean, at the centre of the world, the Greeks were not happy that the Egyptians-cum-Babylonians had come up with the ultimate god-headed Undead. They did have a vampire of sorts. A ‘Vrykolalos’. A lycanthrope. A shape changer more closely associated with the Werewolf. Then one of the poets remembered the tale of Queen Lamiai of Lydia. Lamiai’s children were eaten by the minor goddess, Hera. This sent Queen Lamiai on a crazed path of distraction. She roared around the Ancient world feasting on innocent men and children. She wasn’t perfect for induction into the hall of vampires but Stavros the Priest was in no mood to be choosy. He called in a minor hack poet and copy editor and began spreading the news of their newly invested monster – The Lamiai.

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Before long every little taverna and amphitheatre had its own domestic Lamiai. It was great to give the customers a thrill but soon the Lamiai’s success became Pyrrhic. Customers didn’t fancy meeting the monster on their way home so decided that staying home was the answer. The solution was found in a recommended course of action guaranteed to rid the infested place of any hyperactive Lamiai.

Initially the Lamiai, when apprehended, was spread out on the crossroads, chopped into quarters and a bit buried on each road. The Greeks weren’t too keen on the heavy graft of hole digging and a later innovation was that the grisly quarters were burned on a bonfire and the ashes scattered on the wind.

The Greeks, now that they had added their two pennorth to the vampire folklore, were well satisfied. The case for the properly qualified Vampire was made. You had to be dead, reanimated to an Undead state, there must be penetration and blood must be sucked. Decapitation, crossroads and burning had been added to the litany and there has to be strong sexual connotations.

All the ingredients for a Hammer film when you think about it.

 Read Ingrid’s column every Tuesday at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.


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