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From the Original Vampires to Modern Representations in Movies

Vampire woman walking through the forest
Photography by Racheal Lomas

Have you ever wondered where the modern vampire first appeared within human history? Well, any documentation outside of ancient mythology came with historic value, from credible sources such as historian William of Newburgh. Due to his reputation as a noteworthy and careful historian, his History of English Affairs serves as one of the earliest records of vampire phenomena of the British Isles. Unfortunately, his reliance upon spoken folklore caused these chronicles to come under scrutiny and these chronicles are often considered to have vague and inaccurate content. The reliance on this folklore was due to commonplace belief in the dead returning to life as vampires, so it seemed that diminishing these beliefs would have been considered a disregard of viable information. The relish with which Willaim of Newburgh accounts for the living dead in several of his chronicles is present in his History of English Affairs, he speaks of visible ghosts or animated corpses that were believed to have returned from the grave to terrorize the living–his reports documented several stories of the undead, however, they do not attest to any blood consumption by such creatures. So were these true vampires he was documenting or were these revenants a different type of demon or spirit that was dedicated to terrorizing those who still lived? Well, they did have a few similarities with what we consider vampires.

The first report from William of Newburgh occurred in Buckinghamshire, in which a man returned from the grave and assaulted his wife for several nights; when she finally told her family about what was happening, her husband returned to terrorize her family and her neighbors as well. Only when a local clergyman wrote an absolution and placed it upon the corpse, was the body formally bound to the grave. Another report from History of English Affairs states that the body of a deceased clergyman escaped from his grave to haunt the abbey and in particular a woman from the town in which he had served in life. This woman sought out a monk who vowed to stand guard over the grave at night; when the corpse tried to escape from the grave again, the monk attacked it with an ax until it returned to its grave. When a group of monks dug up the corpse the next day, they found it sleeping in a pool of its own blood from ax wounds. They burned the corpse to ashes to prevent it from coming back again. This wasn’t the only account in which the returning corpse was burned to ashes in order to keep it from returning, as it is a common belief that vampires are exceptionally difficult to kill, but their vulnerability lies during the day while they are sleeping. As nocturnal creatures, they reportedly avoided the sunlight and then would come out at night as a means to hide their true nature. None of these reports indicated a bloodlust, but it’s still possible that these instances were missed.

Vampire lovers aren’t always aware of the vast amounts of lore that is connected to their favored creatures of the night, but the long history of the blood-sucking undead is as colorful as it is convoluted and complex. Within what can be considered the modern era, the lore attached to vampires has inspired hundreds of books, movies, and television references to these creatures and will continue to do so in times to come.

Ambrogio, the First Vampire

Swan with open wings on a lake
Photography by Kari

The very first recorded story that depicts the origin of vampires is from ancient Greek mythology, it is not as well-referenced as it should be in modern times. This story came from Delphi, a city that has existed and been inhabited since 1600 BC–the Scriptures of Delphi written by the infamous Oracle of Delphi were one of many archaeological discoveries that have emerged. These scriptures provided a solid foundation of ancient beliefs and evidence, but there are reportedly other archaeological finds that date back even further into ancient times that validate the existence of vampires. Within these scriptures is a section that has come to be known as the “Vampire Bible,” which tells the story of a man named Ambrogio, an Italian adventurer whose lifelong dream was to have his fortune told by the Oracle of Delphi.

Upon meeting this Oracle, she offered only a few cryptic phrases which translated to, “The curse. The moon. The blood will run.” Needless to say, our hero Ambrogio was disturbed by this message and spent the night pondering this message and its possible meanings. When the morning came, a sister of the Oracle, the beautiful young maiden Selene, came to care for her sister and the temple as she did every morning–upon meeting her, he decided to stay and met with her again every morning before he fell deeply in love with her. He asked for her hand in marriage and to return with him to Italy, but the god Apollo had watched this all unfold and took great disrespect that a mortal would try to take the maiden that was dedicated to him.

In a rage, Apollo cursed Ambrogio so that the sun would burn his flesh, which kept him from meeting Selene again the next morning and depart with her to his homeland. Ambrogio sought the protection of Hades, having fled to the caves, and the god of the underworld made a deal and Ambrogio had to leave his soul with Hades. Hades bestowed upon Ambrogio a magical wooden bow with eleven arrows, with which he was to hunt and kill a creature and offer it up to Artemis in order to gain her favor; once this had happened, he would have to steal her silver bow and deliver it back to Hades in order to retrieve his soul. Unfortunately for Ambrogio, he squandered the arrows killing swans and writing poetry to Selene in their blood. Realizing his plight, he stole the silver bow of Artemis anyway, but upon discovery of her missing bow, she too cursed Ambrogio, so that the touch of silver would also burn his flesh.

This new curse caused him to be unable to deliver the bow to Hades and in his grief, he fell to his knees and begged for mercy–Artemis felt pity for him and gave him one more chance. She bestowed upon Ambrogio the speed and strength of a god so that he would be as powerful a hunter as she was, as well as fangs so he may draw blood from his prey and continue to write his poetry. Newly immortal, Ambrogio was to abandon all other gods but the virgin goddess Artemis and with that pursuit of any physical love with Selene. Even though he agreed to the demands of Artemis, he wrote Selene a message that night, instructing her to meet with him on his ship. She found a coffin in the hull of the ship, with a note attached that told her to order the ship to sail and to not open the coffin until sunset–they ended up living inside of the caves of Ephesus together for many years, Ambrogio not having aged a day but Selene, still a mortal fell sick with age.

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Statue of the Greek Goddess Selene

Ambrogio knew that he would not be able to spend the afterlife with Selene because Hades still possessed his soul, so he sacrificed a swan to Artemis to gain the favor of her appearance. Artemis was pleased with his loyalty and service to her, so she made him one final deal, that he may touch Selene one time in order to drink her blood. Upon drinking her blood, her mortal body would die, but she would return an immortal like himself and they would be able to spend eternity together. Selene’s spirit rose to the heavens and at the behest of Artemis became the Goddess of moonlight, where her soft light would touch Ambrogio and the children of the night who were created by him.

The Truth Behind the Legend of Dracula

In the whole of vampire lore, there are no stories that have caused more fear than Dracula; this legendary creature was invented by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel, Dracula. His novel has inspired more horror movies, television shows, and books than any other vampire origin story–while Dracula as a character in the book is entirely fictional, Stoker actually gave him the likeness of a real historical figure who lusted after blood, who was rumored to have executed between 40,000 and 100,000 people in his famous fashion of impalement. According to legend, Vlad III allegedly feasted on the blood of the dying victims as they writhed in agony, but according to the historical references of Vlad Tepes he was regarded as a hero of his land.

Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia

Son of Vlad Dracul, Vlad Tepes the Prince of Wallachia is more famously known as Vlad the Impaler–this moniker served as testimony to the brutal way in which he dealt with his enemies. Born in 1431 in what is now known as Transylvania, a central region of Romania–but according to a professor of medieval history and archaeology at the University of Florida, there is no record of Vlad Tepes ever having owned property in Transylvania. This means that while Stoker’s Dracula may be centralized in Transylvania, the historic Dracula, Vlad Tepes, didn’t have much to do with Transylvania after his birth. The supposed Castle Dracula was never inhabited by Vlad III, but has been turned into a tourist attraction due to its location and physical appearance.

The Order of the Dragon

The year of Vlad the Impaler’s birth, his father was inducted into the Order of the Dragon, an order of knights, the designation of which earned Vlad II the surname of Dracul, the old Romanian word which translated to “dragon,” this was derived from a related word, drac which translated to “devil.” Eventually, this would lead Vlad III to inherit the surname and come to be known as Drăculea, son of Dracul.

Vlad the Impaler

According to the legends that were spoken after the death of Vlad III, he got the name of the Impaler, when he was the voivode, or ruler of Wallachia. He had invited hundreds of boyars–aristocratic Romanians, who had played a pivotal role in dethroning him–to a banquet where he had them all killed and impaled upon spikes while they were still warm. The terror he reigned and the blood he spilled didn’t stop there, as he is also credited with doing the same to dozens of Saxon merchants who had allied themselves with the boyars who had stolen his throne. Another alleged bloody tale is when a group of Ottoman messengers refused to take their turbans off due to religious necessity, at which point Vlad had their turbans nailed to their skulls so they would forever remain on their hands.

Dante and Virgil in Hell by William Adolphe Bourguereau (1850)
Dante and Virgil in Hell by William Adolphe Bourguereau (1850)

Films that are based on Dracula

Vampires as they are in the Movies

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From Traumatized to Terror Creator, the Life of Robert Bloch

Robert Bloch (1979)
Robert Bloch (1979)

His Youth and Education

Robert Albert Bloch was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 5 in 1917, to two German Jews, Raphael Bloch and Stella Loeb who, despite their Jewish heritage, had the family attend a Methodist Church. When Bloch was only eight years of age, he attended a screening of Lon Chaney Sr.’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on his own, where he was traumatized by his first horror scene—where Chaney removes his mask to reveal the Phantom’s horrific face. According to Bloch, “it scared the hell out of [him] and [he] ran all the way home to enjoy the first of about two years of recurrent nightmares.” Like many fans of horror who see their first horror flick too young, this trauma and subsequent nighttime hauntings sparked his interest in horror. He became an avid reader at eight, reading books well above his own level of schooling, as well as experimenting with pencil sketches and watercolor art. While he very much had a love for artwork, but he was diagnosed with myopia in his youth and it deterred him from pursuing it professionally.

At the age of twelve, Robert’s father lost his job at the bank and the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he grew up throughout the Great Depression. During his youth, he delighted in the Golden Age of horror films that played in the picture houses, and the magazine Weird Tales, which he scrimped and saved for each month from his allowance so as to purchase a copy of this pulp magazine. Bloch’s favorite childhood short story was one of Lovecraft’s first-person narratives about an artist whose disturbing creations lead to his disappearance, entitled “Pickman’s Model,” and he would also end up doing flattering imitations of his mentor’s style later on. When Bloch was just seventeen years old he wrote to his highly regarded idol, H.P. Lovecraft, to proclaim his admiration for the writer’s short stories. It is said that he greatly preferred Lovecraft’s particular flavor of genre—cosmic or as it’s often regarded, Lovecraftian horror—over what he was being taught in his own high school English classes.

To the unending joy of Bloch, Lovecraft wrote him back and sent him copies of earlier stories he had written and asked Robert if he himself had written any weird fiction. This is when he would be admitted into The Lovecraft Circle as well as when he began writing some of his first (of many) short stories that would be published in Weird Tales. He would be the youngest member of The Lovecraft Circle, which were a group of writers who followed H.P. Lovecraft and published their short fiction in Weird Tales—a pulp horror magazine that circulated during the Great Depression.

Career

With the early influence of Lovecraft and his cosmic horror, Bloch’s earliest short stories took place in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe. Not too long later, Bloch would begin to associate with the Milwaukee Fictioneers, a group of writer’s dedicated to pulp fiction where he began to deviate and develop his own style, instead of relying upon the Lovecraft influence. When Lovecraft died in 1937, Robert was deeply affected by the loss of his mentor, but used it as a reason to keep writing.

Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

Robert Bloch

Novels

Bloch’s first novel to be published was The Scarf (1947) and was very reminiscent of the style he had developed when he was involved with the Lovecraft circle, but also marked the beginning the development of a style he would explore later that would be considered pulp fiction. Like most other horror writers, Bloch had a certain kind of story that inspired him—for some writers it’s urban legends, supernatural monsters, or wicked folklore; but Robert’s inspiration didn’t come from folklore so much as it did true-crime serial killers from all throughout history. Jack the Ripper, Marquis de Sade, and Lizzie Borden were amongst those whom Robert created stories based on their legacies, which included short stories such as “A Toy for Juliette” and “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax….”

When Ed Gein was arrested in his home in Plainsfield, Wisconsin for the murders of two women in 1957, authorities discovered that Gein had been stealing corpses from fresh graves of local women and then using their flesh to create furniture, silverware, and clothing. Bloch only lived about thirty-five miles away from where Gein had lived, so after the discovery of this serial so close to home, he became obsessed. The idea of his next door neighbor being a monster, but going undetected even in such a small town is what he considered his largest inspiration for Norman Bates, the anti-hero of Psycho (1959). The story of Ed Gein was sensational at the time, but what really translated Bloch’s Psycho into an instant classic both in text and Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation for the big screen, was due to the psychological not-so-undertones of the story.

While Bloch had enjoyed some critical and commercial success before he produced Psycho, it wasn’t until the novel was published that his life changed forever. With Psycho and its instant success, he was approached by a Hollywood production company with an offer to purchase the rights to the film. He made a whopping $9,500 which through inflation would equate to $84,472 and some change.

The world of horror would be forever changed by Norman Bates, the sensitive mama’s boy, whose domineering mother corrupted him—which brought an interesting air to the 1960s as the field of psychoanalysis and the research of the Oedipus Complex which coincided with a crisis in contemporary American masculinity which followed the women’s movement of liberation. When Norman psychologically becomes his mother at the end of the novel it was representative of Freudian horror in the utmost of extreme cases. Psycho wasn’t Bloch’s only success and he continued on with his creative writing, winning awards and accolades for his talent.

Death

Bloch was seventy-seven when he passed away on September 23, 1994—he had long battled with cancer and it finally took him at his home in Los Angeles. Before he passed, however, he wrote what was considered an unauthorized autobiography, which was titled Once Around the Bloch (1993) and while he didn’t speak of his illness, it was clear that it was written with the realization that he was not long for this world.

Index of Sources