From the Original Vampires to Modern Representations in Movies

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Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series
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

Ghost Tales of the Arctic: Don’t Take What Belongs to the Dead

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore

While attending college in the Interior of Alaska, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Yup’ik—a Central Alaska Native language—on Halloween of my second year, my professor deemed it appropriate to tell us Alaska Native ghost stories. Hearing these stories in Yup’ik gave unique perspective on the particular experience of growing up in such a harsh environment, his soothing rhythm and melodious speech gave it all an otherworldly feeling. It’s important to keep in mind that while this story is told as a folktale, but all folktales begin as oral stories and all of them have honest beginnings.

The Ghost’s Tea Kettle

Snow covered graveyard
Photography by Joy Real

There once was a Yup’ik man and a white man who were traveling from one city to another, during one cold January, by dogsled. The two men came upon an abandoned fishcamp alongside the river, and wishing to avoid the harsh cold of the evening, they made camp in one of the houses for the night. They had forgotten to bring a teakettle, but longed for hot tea to provide relief from the chill of the night—the white man recalled having passed a graveyard near the fishcamp, in which there were several teakettles sitting beside some grave markers. Upon hearing the idea, the Yup’ik man told the white man that it was dangerous to take something out of the graveyard, but this advice fell upon deaf ears.

Once the white man had gotten back from retrieving a kettle from the graveyard, he began to boil snow for their tea, but the Yup’ik man refused to drink any. The two companions began to ready themselves for bed when they heard a snapping sound, the house began to shake, and fog began to drift in through every crack in the house. The white man panicked, he didn’t know what was happening, but the Yup’ik man explained to him that a ghost was trying to get into the house.

Rusty old tea kettle
Photography by Jørgen Håland

Suddenly, the door burst open violently, the ghost seeped into the house like a dense white mist, and the door slammed with a bang behind it. The white man screamed and attempted to run in fear, but his escape route had been sealed off by the ghost and he was trapped. The Yup’ik man approached the ghost without fear and put his hand on the ghost’s head—the ghost was so cold, his hand went numb, but he refused to remove it, knowing what he had to do. He gently applied pressure on the ghost’s head and the ghost began to sink slowly into the ground, but soon he grew anxious and tried to push the ghost down faster, this didn’t work to the Yup’ik man’s benefit and the ghost started to come back up.

The Yup’ik man steadied himself, took a breath, slowed down and pushed down once more with a steady and firm hand, until the ghost slowly disappeared into the ground entirely. Unable to stay in the house any longer, the two men packed up all of their belongings, the Yup’ik man told the white man to return the tea kettle to the grave from which it had been taken. They believed that returning the kettle that it would give them freedom from the ghost, but it continued to follow them as a glowing red orb—the Yup’ik man stopped and made markings in the snow, these prevented the ghost from following them, but ended with them becoming incredibly sick. Once they got to the next village, the Yup’ik man had them roll in garbage to throw the ghost off of their scent and then according to traditional practice when dealing with ghosts, they both urinated around their house to keep the ghost away. Eventually they recovered from their illness and left them with the experience that would help teach others to not take what belonged to the dead.

Ghost Tales of the Arctic: The Frozen Spectre

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore
Haunted Boardwalk
Haunted Boardwalk

One Halloween night, as the sun slipped beneath the horizon, the young children were coming back from their rounds through the little Yup’ik village on the tundra in Southwest Alaska. The teenagers had waited their turn and eagerly squeezed out of their home, as their mother told them they were allowed to leave. They raced through to each of the small houses that dotted the dark, decrepit, and narrow boardwalks that snaked through the village. Not all of them donned costumes and there was still not yet a flake of snow on the ground, a rare occurrence for such a chilly autumnal night. The tall grass line the boardwalk like two moving walls that whispered with the winds that rushed through the spaces between the houses. They grabbed candy within the first house, then came back out and started back off; at each of the doors, they held their plastic grocery sacks aloft, and they became more heavily laden with candies and treats.

After coming out of the fourth house they spotted something strange emerging from the tall grasses onto the boardwalk behind them—it was a traditional Yup’ik parka, the hood was up and the ruff obscured the view of the face within. It wouldn’t have been strange except for the fact that it had no visible feet or hands. The teenagers sprinted to the next house, scared to death and unsure of what the seemingly floating parka had really been, but they were unwilling to say anything about what they had seen to the adults that were now handing them candy.

Ghost Parka
Photography by Joe Leahy

Between each and every stop for candy, the teens stepped outside and the floating parka had appeared again, as if it was just waiting to scare them. They had all grown up hearing the traditional stories of ghosts and ghouls—all meant to teach them to be cautious in one way or another, as a way to keep them safe in their unforgiving lands. They had a sense that they were being pranked—as if to test their knowledge and preparedness, but not a single one of them could muster up the courage to approach the floating apparition or to try to figure out who was toying with them.

The far north side of the village is where the last batch of houses resided—the travel between where the teenagers were and where their last glimpse of the prized sweets laid was a lengthy weaving, dismally unlit sprawling boardwalk. This path took them directly past the hauntingly abandoned teacher’s quarters that the entire village regularly avoided being near and even speaking about in passing. They made their way down the boardwalk towards this last remaining treasure trove of candy, when the little parka appeared behind them once again. One of the teens looked behind them as they crawled into the artic entry of one of the houses and saw its silhouette looming alone between the spirit-infested teacher’s quarters and the house they entered, blocking their dark and dreadful passage home.

The teenagers reappeared cautiously from the house, but the little parka was nowhere to be seen–each house they exited they huddled together in fear that the ghostly figure would leap out of the shadows and attack them from the front or back, but it didn’t. Then one of the teens gasped and pointed, there it was in the darkness beneath a building, huddled behind one of the steel posts that propped it up from the permafrost–it sat upright, waiting for them. All at once, it sprang up toward them with a hideous scream and chased the teenagers down the boardwalk, growls emanated from the unending abyss of the hood. As the spirit overcame them, they recognized the dead black eyes that sat deep in his sunken frostbitten features; it was the village boy whose snow machine had broken through the ice on the river. The boy had then managed to climb out from what would have been a certain death only to succumb to the elements before anyone could find him, only a year prior.

Broken Ice
Photography by Eberhard Gross-Gasteiger

Ghost Tales of the Arctic: The Red Skeleton

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Like many other folktales of the arctic region, Yup’ik folklore emphasized keeping children safe from the elements and the dangers of being alone and ill-prepared. This folktale is no different, but it definitely gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it over an early-winter bonfire.

Red skull wall
Photography by Jayberrytech

A very long time ago, in the Cape Prince of Wales, in a village off the shore, there once lived a poor orphaned boy with no one to look after him—because he had no one to care for him, he often found himself being forced to do the bidding of all the other villagers. Every single villager treated him cruelly, especially when they all gathered in the kashim—the men’s communal building where they gathered to stay warm, eat, and keep company during the cold winter months. One particularly blustery night, while the snow was falling harshly upon the village, the other villagers told him to leave the kashim to see if the weather was getting any worse. Due to the fact that he was an orphan, he had no one to make him skin boots or warm clothes, so he objected. It was too cold and the boy did not wish to go outside but was driven out of the kashim anyway. Upon returning inside, he told the others that it had stopped snowing, but the weather had gotten even colder. Every so often, the men would drive him back out into the elements, just to torture the poor boy.

Finally, the boy came in, stating that he had seen a ball of fire that looked like the moon coming over the hill to the north, but the men simply laughed at him. They accused him of seeing things and told him to go back out and to look again, that he might see a whale coming over the hill instead. When the boy quickly returned inside, he looked scared and reported that the red ball had come nearer to the kashim and that it was right outside of the house. Once again, his words were met with laughter, but the boy was truly frightened and hid within the kashim. As the men were still laughing, a large fiery figure appeared on the gut-skin covering over the vent in the ceiling and it appeared to be dancing. The men were both scared and captivated by the figure and did not notice the figure creeping through the passage into the room on its elbows and knees. The figure was a frightful sight—a human skeleton that with a brief wave of its hand somehow caused all of the men in the room to follow it, as it crawled through of the passage to the outdoors. Under the spell of the skeleton, the men followed it to the edge of the village until every last one of them had died of the elements, at which point it vanished.

 Other villagers returned from fishing to find the rest of the men of the village had died, bodies scattered over the snowy landscape. They entered the kashim finally, finding the orphan boy who recounted the entire story and how the men had died—investigating where the tracks of the skeleton had come from, they followed the tracks through the snow, up the side of the mountain. The tracks ended when they came upon an ancient gravesite—it was the grave of the boy’s father.

Gretel & Hansel (2020), a Grimm Fairy Tale

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore
Creepy Foggy Forest
Photography by Silvana Amicone

Folklore has an extended history of portraying witches as evil, human-sacrificing, child-eating monsters–and for with all of the religious turmoil and economic insecurity that these stories sprang from it’s no wonder. Hansel and Gretel are no different, in fact, it may be the most telling story of them all; for the real evil lies not within the woods, but in the home from which Hansel and Gretel are inevitably turned out.

The Origin of Hansel and Gretel

The original tale of Hansel and Gretel, like many tales that came before literacy and written record was a tale passed down through verbal methods–if you grew up having fairy tales read to you, then you’re probably familiar with the tale of these two siblings. Two children lost in the woods, a trail of breadcrumbs, and a cottage made out of delicious sweets. A wicked witch traps the siblings, intending to eat them, but they trick her, narrowly escape with their lives, and make it back home to their father.

Hansel & Gretel at the Witch's House
Hansel & Gretel at the Witch’s House

While the story doesn’t give us an exact date of when the story was to have taken place, the Brothers Grimm recorded and published the first printed version in 1812, but the story has roots that show it existed in oral traditions for hundreds of years prior. There are theories that date this tale back to the famine that ravaged Europe during the 1300s, which would place the origin somewhere during the Medieval era. The key-point of the story is that the family of Hansel and Gretel are on the brink of starvation–there is so little that the story suggests that their father’s wife, referenced as the children’s stepmother, would rather sacrifice the lives of the children than go without herself.

Survival is the name of the game–this developed the mood of scarcity, gumption, and the bond between siblings. Their family must survive the famine, then the siblings must survive the parents, as well as the hardships of the woods, not to mention the witch herself. It’s easy to overlook the sinister nature of all of these aspects of the tale as soon as there is mention of a cottage made out of candy and sweets. That is the one part of the tale that plants this story firmly into the category of fairy tale, because even though witches may be no stranger to fictional tales, we know all too well that humans can do awful things to one another, including abandoning their children for selfish reasons.

Giving Folklore New Life

Gretel & Hansel (2020) Movie Poster
Gretel & Hansel (2020) Movie Poster

From the origins of Hansel and Gretel, to this newest take on its adaptation to film, the director Osgood Perkins did a wonderful job in honoring the roots of this fairy tale, while also making it unique, visually tantalizing, as well a tasteful combination between the old and the modern. Since he originally made his debut as a horror writer/director with a beautifully tragic and superbly horrific possession film entitled The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), Perkins has given us a fresh perspective on what we should expect from horror. His movies are particularly dark and dreary, the hauntingly realistic settings in which he places his characters bring a dramatic, eerie, slowness that takes you through someone’s story, instead of rushing you to the end. Just like with his first true horror success, Gretel & Hansel (2020) takes us on a journey upon which we are allowed to savor the terrifying circumstances our protagonists take.

If you noticed the glaring differences between the folklore and this new film adaptation, you’re not the only one–the most obvious of which is the age of the siblings. In the original folklore they’re either portrayed as twins, or as an older brother/younger sister pair, but here we see Gretel as the big protective sister. This change is captivating as it gave us Sophia Lillis exploring her talents for horror again after she brought us It (2017) as well as It: Chapter Two (2019) as Beverly Marsh–the sole girl “loser” in an otherwise boys-only club. Suffice it to say Lillis is exceptional in both her role as Beverly and now as Gretel.

It’s not like there haven’t been multiple attempts to capture the original story on film, but it seems like any film that ventured to capture the dark and terrible nature of this tale of caution have all been conveyed with too much of a sense of fantasy and not with the reality with which it was treated in this newest adaptation.

Long live Gretel the Good.

Gretel & Hansel IMDB Listing