Cast: Maila Nurmi, Forrest J. Ackerman, Count Smokula, Debbie D, Deborah Dutch,
Kevin Eastman, Sid Haig, Jami Deadly, Lloyd Kaufman, Bill Moseley, Jerry Only,
Penny Dreadful, Cassandra Peterson, Debbie Rochon, David J. Skal, Julie Strain,
Svengoolie, Zacherley, Zack Beseda (Tom Mason), Jezabelle X (Vampira),
Bryan Mathew Kelly (The Amazing Criswell), Matthew Muhl (Ed Wood), Bruce Campbell
Vampira. She was the original queen of horror movie hosting and television's very first goth chick, terrifying and titillating TV viewers every Saturday night on her spook program Lady of Horrors -- later renamed The Vampira Show -- in 1954! The wonderfully crafted documentary places actress Maila Nurmi, who created and portrayed the ghoulish character, in the spotlight where she deserves to be. Ever fascinating and controversial, Nurmi gives her adoring fans an in-depth interview and a revealing look into her professional and personal life, providing sordid tales of a Hollywood era past. Also on hand are numerous celebrities who pay tribute to this legendary and iconic figure that planted the seed to the horror hosting craze that would eventually sprout all over the country. Indeed, Vampira's legacy continues to live on for new and future generations of horror fans... and a documentary of such quality and care, as given to Vampira: The Movie, has long been overdue.
As Maila Nurmi narrates her own story throughout the interview, her expressive and engaging demeanor flawlessly draws us into her world. Despite this mastery over her audience, Nurmi confides that she has always felt isolated from the rest of society and has never been able to relate to what would popularly be considered the norm. Often, Nurmi turned to unconventional people and characters of fiction for inspiration and admired those who dared to express themselves creatively and as individuals. The actress emphasises this by not only divulging personal stories of James Dean, Marlon Brando, and others, but by also revealing her true feelings about the people who were a part of her life. Nurmi even goes so far as to be blatantly honest about her short comings and that her strong opinions of others, like that of Edward D. Wood Jr., were at times flawed.
As for Maila Nurmi's VAMPIRA persona, the documentary covers a lot of ground and gives us much to savor and digest. From the conceptualization of the dangerous and sexy television vamp to the successful run of The Vampira Show, the information Vampira: The Movie provides is priceless. Not only does the film showcase vintage footage of a promotional kinescope of The Vampira Show, we are also taken on a journey of what went on behind the scenes during the program's run. Today's generation can now see for themselves how truly wonderful Vampira was on screen and learn how hard Nurmi worked at generating publicity for the television program that would reach beyond its local Los Angeles area to cover the entire country and other parts of the world. Such promotional coverage included special guest appearances by Vampira on nationally syndicated TV shows, as well as interviews and photo shoots for popular magazines like LIFE, Nurmi made Vampira's presence known and felt everywhere and worldwide Vampira fan clubs quickly followed.
Nurmi's vibrant tone ultimately terns solemn as the topic changes to a period in her life when the ambitious actress found herself unemployed and blacklisted in Hollywood. However, Ed Wood, Jr. soon becomes the focus of the discussion and Nurmi resorts back to telling funny and quirky stories about her involvement with the grade-Z motion picture classic Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). Footage of the cult movie is shown as Nurmi reminisces about her experience working on the film and how it affected her sex life! Moreover, horror host Svengoolie appears to provide informative commentary about the movie The Magic Sword (1962), which featured Nurmi as an evil witch in hideous makeup.
Visual goodies help chronicle the life of Maila Nurmi, including vintage photographs and article clippings of and about Vampira as well as Nurmi's early years as a cheesecake pin-up model. A short home movie clip of a very young Nurmi practicing her modeling also makes it into the documentary.
Kevin Sean Michaels directed this highly acclaimed documentary that stands as a true monument to the golden days of television programming and the world of horror movie hosting. Vampira: The Movie has received a lot of positive attention as it toured the film festival circuits and has even won the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Independent Film of 2007. Michaels followed Vampira: The Movie with his second endeavor in documentary filmmaking -- The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels (2008), which I'm sure Sicko-Psychotic followers will want to check out... if they haven't already.
But what inspired Michaels to make Vampira his directorial debut? It seems that, like many of us, Michaels started off as a young horror and sci-fi junkie. He's been a longtime fan of Elvira, George Romero, Friday the 13th the Series, and read Fangoria magazines, which payed tribute to horror hosts in one of its early issues. As a child, Michaels had the rare privilege of being able to stay up late and watch horror and sci-fi programs, such as Chiller Theatre, where he first viewed Plan 9 from Outer Space. This began his fascination with the mysterious Vampira who glided across the crudely constructed cemetery of Ed Wood's cult classic. In later years, Michaels received much of his filmmaking know-how by working as Art Director for Troma Entertainment, Inc. before he decided to pursue his childhood obsession with Vampira and make a documentary about Maila Nurmi. In fact, Michaels couldn't resist filming and including a hilarious short parody about Nurmi on the set of Plan 9! Fetish model Jezabelle X played the Hollywood diva, Vampira, to perfection! Matthew Muhl (All for Melissa) took on the role of the infamous Ed Wood, while Bryan Mathew Kelly (Sugar Boxx) played The Amazing Criswell, and Zack Beseda (War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave) portrayed Tom Mason.
A slew of celebrities were also rounded up to pay tribute and comment on Nurmi and her celebrated persona as Vampira. Scream Queens Debbie Rochon (Chainsaw Cheerleaders), Julie Strain (Zombiegeddon), Debbie D (Kill the Scream Queen) and Debbie Dutch (Sorority Girls and the Creature from Hell) provide eye candy as they shower Nurmi with compliments; Forrest J. Ackerman (creator and editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine) and Jerry Only (bass player for the Misfits) recollect personal encounters with Maila Nurmi; Count Smokula performs an original song about the glamour ghoul; and horror hosts Jami Deadly, Penny Dreadful, Svengoolie, and Zacherley make special appearances. Also featured are David J. Skal (film historian), Kevin Eastman (co-creator of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Lloyd Kaufman (producer-director for Troma Entertainment, Inc.), Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses), Bill Moseley (The Devil's Rejects), and a very brief cameo by Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead)!
Of course, the highlight of the guest celebrity interviews is the controversial appearance of Cassandra Peterson (a.k.a. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark)! We've all heard many of the nasty rumors and slander from the press that Peterson has had to endure throughout the years, but rarely has she ever vocally defended herself, choosing instead to hold her head up high and brush off the negative publicity with class and silent integrity. It was a bold move on the part of director Kevin Sean Michaels to include her, and a relief for many of us fans who have always admired both Nurmi and Peterson respectively. "It is a touchy subject," Michaels confessed to HorrorHound magazine (issue #6, Winter 2006-2007), "but the speculation about the lawsuit should end with this movie. It's an interesting story and it's better that Cassandra tell it than having a cheesy voice-over. It's a matter of fairness to the people involved and the audience. Lawsuits happen in real life." During the interview, Peterson describes in great detail how the character of Elvira was conceived and of the lawsuit Nurmi brought down on her. Peterson also states that she acted responsibly throughout the ordeal and never attempted to infringe on Nurmi's creation. Although the court ruled in Peterson's favor, the Mistress of the Dark felt that "it was a no win situation for everybody." Indeed, comparing Elvira to Vampira is like comparing H.R. Pufnstuf's Witchiepoo to The Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West -- they are completely different personalities. The only difference between these pair of women and our two favorite horror hostesses is that Billie Hayes and Margaret Hamilton admired one another and got along well together.
A most entertaining aspect of the documentary is its soundtrack. Ari Lehman, who was the first actor to play Jason Voorhees in the original Friday the 13th (1980) film, actually wrote the score for Vampira: The Movie which very nicely complimented Maila Nurmi's scenes. Other contributing musicians include The Merry Widows performing the catchy song "Grave Robbers (from Outer Space)"; Mustang Lightning rockin' their "Haunted House" jam; and Curse doing the "Graveyard Shuffle" with special guests David Amram and Marc Ribot. Furthermore, one of the many special features on the DVD includes the full-version of Count Smokula's "Vampira." Fans were obviously impressed by the music and the songs featured in the documentary that a Vampira: The Movie Soundtrack album was eventually released with the addition of 6 extra tracks that were not in the film!
Recently, Keith Woodruff from over at Laughing Scared kindly nominated Sicko-Psychotic to join the quite infectious Minions of Misery circulating around the blog world. The title alone grabbed this ghoul's attention and, after reading Woodruff's contribution, I thought it would be fun to participate in spreading such delicious 'Misery'. Minions must share the following misery:
1. Choose a dark book
2. Choose a dark film
3. Reveal a dark secret about yourself
4. Pass it on to 3 of the darkly inclined
Currently I am reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (gotta love the name). The book is on the New York Times Best Seller list and the crisp pages are littered with unsettling vintage-looking photographs of creepy children to help illustrate this macabre tale. The story centers on 16 year-old Jacob Portman, an alienated youth who grew up listening to his grandfather's tales of strange children who live on an island. The time comes when Jacob stops believing in such fantastic yarns, that is... until his grandfather is viciously attacked by what Jacob believes to be a monster from his childhood nightmares. Thus begins an unusual adventure as Jacob travels to the mysterious island to unearth the secrets of his grandfather's past. As of this post, I am only on chapter 4, but the novel seems to be about courage and loyalty with enough chills to have me anxious to get back to my reading. Amazon.com has a spine-chilling video posted to promote the book and shows some of the spooky photographs of the children. It's a must see/must READ!!!
Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008) is an experimental film by filmmaker of extreme cinema Bruce La Bruce. It's about a goth-garbed young man named Otto, who believes he's a zombie! Otto meets avant-garde filmmaker Medea Yarn, who also happens to be a societal misfit of the movie-making world. Medea is one of the most interesting characters in the film with her over-the-top humor, and her obsession with politics and death. Another intriguing character is Hella Bent, a silent screen actress who only appears in grainy black and white footage and speaks with title cards!
When I was a little ghoul, my family and I were haunted by very active ghosts and spirits... and other dark beings which followed us from house to house. An especially scary one liked to dwell in the long hallway where my toys were stored, so SP spent much of his playtime at the homes of his friends instead.
That vampire vixen of television entertainment, Vampira, returned to terrify and delight home viewers with her second live show, simply entitled, Vampira. Vampira debuted on KHJ-TV in 1956, only a year after the highly successful The Vampira Show at KABC-TV came to an abrupt end. In this new program, Vampira had a new set to slink and play dead-around in as she continued to engage all with her spooky skits and sharp cynicism. Also featured, were a new batch of fright flick goodies for the glamour ghoul to host. This time, the show aired on Friday nights (instead of the previous Saturday evening schedule she had over at KABC-TV) and lasted 14 episodes.
1. Tokyo File 212 (1951) The Los Angeles Times posted a brief mention on May 11, 1956 about the return of television's first horror hostess: "...favorite ghoul friend, Vampira, is coming back to TV, KHJ (9), Friday, May 18, at 11:05 p.m. 'I'm so happy, I could scream,' Vampira telegraphed [the Times]. 'I'm really looking forward to the smog again. The air in other parts of the country has no body to it.' " 5/18/1956
2. Lured (1947) "Vampira of the stringy-hair, overgrown fingernail set is on hand every week at this hour to introduce her latest chiller diller. Tonight Lucille Ball and George Sanders star in a tale about a homicidal maniac whose chief pastime is choking women. Vampira's upset because almost everyone lives happily ever after in this one." -- Los Angeles Times. 5/25/1956
3. The Big Night (1951) "Vampira's on hand to introduce this tale of a young man who attempts to hunt down a sports writer whose hobby is murder. Preston Foster, John Barrymore Jr., and Joan Lorring are in the cast." -- Los Angeles Times. 6/1/1956
4. The Vampire Bat (1933) In the village of Klineschloss, people begin to die from what appear to be vampire attacks. Police Inspector Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) investigates and seeks the truth behind these mysterious deaths. Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye also star. 6/8/1956
5. House of Darkness (1948) Francis Merryman's (Laurence Harvey) life is turned into a nightmare when the vengeful ghost of his murdered stepbrother returns to terrorize him. Also featuring Lesley Brook, John Stuart, and famous arranger-conductor George Melachrino. 6/15/1956
6. Without Warning! (1952) Carl Martin (Adam Williams) is a deranged psychopath who murders women with garden shears. The police desperately try to track down the serial killer before he strikes again. With Meg Randall, Edward Binns, and Harlan Warde. 6/22/1956
7. The Dark Mirror (1946) "Vampira is on hand to introduce this suspense movie tonight. In it, Olivia de Havilland portrays twins with the help of a trick camera. One of the sisters is good, the other displays homicidal tendencies, and no one is sure who is who. Lew Ayres, as a young psychiatrist, does a case study on the pair, finds out all about their respective psyches and then the action starts." -- Los Angeles Times. 6/29/1956
8. The Scar (a.k.a. Hollow Triumph) (1948) "Vampira describes The Scar thusly: 'The poor boy let a lush life get the best of him and meets an untimely demise because of an overweight condition -- caused by an excess of 38-caliber bullets.' Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett star." -- Los Angeles Times. 7/6/1956
9. Secret Beyond the Door... (1947) "The Vamp has a spine-chilling mystery, The Secret Beyond the Door as an attraction. She says the story concerns a crime-loving architect, Michael Redgrave, who whisks an adventuress, Joan Bennett, off her feet." -- Los Angeles Times. 7/13/1956
10. A Double Life (1947) Anthony John (Ronald Colman) is a stage actor who takes his roles a little too seriously. His wife Brita (Signe Hasso) leaves him, but finds herself in grave danger when the part of Othello begins to influence and ignite Anthony's jealous and homicidal tendencies. Edmond O'Brien and Shelley Winters also star. 7/20/1956
11. The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949) Bill Kirby (Robert Hutton) is a wealthy American who hires med student Johann Radek (Franchot Tone) to kill his aunt. Radek frames another man (Burgess Meredith), taunts the police, and leads the Inspector Maigret (Charles Laughton) on a wild chase through the streets of Paris. 7/27/1956
12. Captive City (1952) Newspaper editor Jim Austin (John Forsythe) investigates a murder, organize crime, and police corruption in a small town. Featuring Joan Camden, Victor Sutherland, and Ray Teal. 8/3/1956
13. Whispering City (1947) "Vampira, the ghostly one, has another thriller on tap for this evening. It's all about a young newspaper girl who stumbles on a corpse. Involved in the action are Helmut Dantine, Mary Anderson and Paul Lukas." -- Los Angeles Times. 8/10/1956
14. Force of Evil (1948) "Hostess Vampira reports that this 'unique boy-meets-bullets drama' is one of her favorites. Caught in the morass of the underworld are John Garfield and Thomas Gomez." -- Los Angeles Times. 8/17/1956
After a successful run with her original program The Vampira Show (1954-1955) at KABC-TV studios, actress Maila Nurmi returned to television the following year to reprise her popular role as Vampira and host a new spookfest selection of thriller movies for KHJ-TV in Los Angeles, California. This time the new show was simply called Vampira. Although VP followed the basic format of The Vampira Show (a.k.a. Lady of Horrors), it utilized an all too different set, production crew, and original skits written specifically for the new series. On May 11, 1956, the Los Angeles Times promoted the upcoming show in an article that also gave anticipating Vampira fans a little teaser of what they should expect: "[Vampira's] motion-picture fare schedule will spotlight adventures and boy-meets-ghoul dramas -- with the usual unhappy endings."
Despite the fame that Vampira achieved from her previous show and having been nominated for an Vampira only lasted 14 episodes before it was canceled. Clues as to why it went off the air can possibly be found in Nurmi's vocal dissatisfaction with the KHJ-TV program. The set pieces were asymmetrical as if inspired by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and the props were minimal. Her new 'playground' featured an off-set window, a dead tree branch, a coffin, and a large stool to sit on and present the thriller film of the night. Nurmi also complained that the films were not as good as the ones shown on her previous show. Unlike The Vampira Show, Nurmi and the station itself did very little to promote the new program. Vampira was aired live and not a single copy of any of its episodes exist. The Vampira Show, however, was fortunate enough to have had a short kinescope made in which skits from previous episodes were re-shot to help promote the program to future advertisers. Because this valuable relic has managed to survive and made exclusively available on The Official Vampira website, decades later a new generation of Vampira fans are able to catch a glimpse and see for themselves how truly special The Vampira Show really was. Vampira, however, is not so fortunate and, sadly, remains a lost piece of horror history.
Emmy as "Most Outstanding Television Personality,"
"Vampira promises [that] she'll have something new for viewers. No longer is she the prowling creature of shadowy streets. The new Vampira wants her fans to think of her as the average friendly neighbor they would expect to find living halfway up the next swamp." This excerpt from the Times' May 11, 1956 article gives us an idea in what direction Vampira was heading before it made its debut on May 18 of that year. Vampira's closing comment, "I've undergone a grave change. My motto now is 'home sweet homicide,'" also reflects Nurmi's keen interest in the Morticia Addams character from the illustrations of Charles Addams in the The New Yorker.
In fact, Vampira's roots has a direct link to Addams' cartoon creation when, in 1953, Nurmi attended a masquerade ball (thrown by renowned dance choreographer Lester Horton) dressed as Morticia Addams. Out of 2000 attendees, Nurmi ended up winning first place for best costume and attracted the attention of KABC-TV producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr. Stromberg eventually contacted Nurmi and offered her a job hosting horror films for the station. During her canned interview in the highly acclaimed documentary Vampira: The Movie (2006), Nurmi admitted that she wanted to host The Vampira Show as Charles Addams' female character, but was told that the studio couldn't afford to purchase the rights. (At the time, the Addams characters remained nameless until the 1964 television series The Addams Family assigned them permanent names).
Keeping with the Morticia look, Nurmi developed her own character's persona by drawing from various sources including dominatrix illustrations by John Willie, which appeared in the bondage and fetish magazine Bizarre. Nurmi was also inspired by the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and the villainess Dragon Lady, which she idolized as a child reading the old Terry and the Pirates Sunday comic strips. In later years, Maila Nurmi expressed her resentment toward KABC-TV studios for not offering her the part of Morticia Addams in The Addams Family TV series. It was a role Nurmi had longed to be associated with for many years.
Despite the cancellation of both The Vampira Show and Vampira Presents, Nurmi continued to make numerous personal appearances as Vampira and even had the opportunity to play the part on the big screen in Ed Wood, Jr.'s ultimate cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). The legacy of television's first female horror hostess thrived when the horror hosting craze took over the country during the late 1950s and lasted well into the 1970s. During this period, it seemed as if every city had its own unique television horror host. Further still, in 1958, KUTV in Salt Lake City, Utah, borrowed the 'Vampira' name for their own show called Shock! The show was hosted by a ghoulish character named Roderick (played by John "Jack" Milton Whitaker) who had a mute vampire assistant in a white dress, in which he referred to her as Vampira (played by Phyllis Ranson). In 1981, Nurmi attempted to officially resurrect the character of Vampira once more when she was hired by her old studio, KHJ-TV, to help launch a new Vampira series. The role of Vampira was intended to be played by a new, young actress. However, Nurmi had conflicting opinions with the show's producers about who to cast for the role and, ultimately, walked off the project... taking with her the rights to the Vampira name. The show, of course, became Movie Macabre, and the character's name and personality was changed to the vivacious Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Movie Macabre became a phenomenal hit and helped to revive interest in TV horror hosting once more.
Maila Nurmi was an important pioneer in the annals of horror history and her Vampira persona will forever remain one of the most iconic figures in the horror hall of fame. Unique and always fascinating, there will never again be anyone quite like the original Queen of the Horror Hosts.
Dangerous and alluring, the sexy femme fatale of the television network netherworld, Vampira, was TV's first female late night horror hostess, having only been preceded by her male counterpart from Chicago -- The Swami Drana Badour -- on Murder Before Midnight (1950-1953). The show premiered as Lady of Horrors, in which the likes of Vampira and the show's creepy format had never been done before on the West Coast and television home viewers quickly embraced the sultry seductress's package of late night thrillers. The landmark program was an instant success and was soon retitled simply as Vampira, continuing the ghoulish skits and antics of the wasp-waisted fright hostess as she introduced B horror and suspense thrillers every Saturday night on KABC-TV in Los Angeles, California.
Materializing from a long, dark corridor blanketed in thick billowing fog, the silent and gothic figure of Vampira would stroll right up to the camera and let out a bloodcurdling scream. Fully invigorated, the voluptuous ghoul in basic black would then quickly compose herself and, with a seductive and mischievous smile, inform us: "screaming relaxes me so." This was the intro that, from 1954-1955, television audiences thrilled to tune into every Saturday night.
After a necessary word or two from the sponsor, Fletcher Jones, which Vampira would occasionally ridicule, the glamour ghoul would ascend to her attic where she'd engage in a one-sided conversation with viewers on various macabre topics, especially her compulsion for murder, and introduce the movie of the night. Originally, the program was intended to be called Nightmare Attic, before it was changed to the less impressive Lady of Horrors for its debut. The setting of the attic was minimal and comfortable for Vampira: a Victorian couch adorned with skulls, a candlestick resting on a coffin-shaped table that read 'REST IN PEACE,' and a giant spiderweb in the backdrop. One may assume that the web was made by her pet black widow spider named Rollo. Often, during interruptions of the movie being shown, Vampira could be seen searching by candlelight for her elusive spider.
Vampira was not only television's first female horror host, she also deserves recognition for being one of the best. Her combination of dangerous persona and wickedly sarcastic wit has never been surpassed by any who have followed in her footsteps. Most horror hosts thereafter have taken a more blatant comedic spin on hosting their fright flicks, but Vampira truly was terrifying.
Vampira's sudden popularity and fast rise to fame are quite remarkable considering the times and what was currently airing on television when she first let out a piercing scream into people's living rooms. In 1954, when Lady of Horrors first aired locally in the greater Los Angeles area and its neighboring counties, middle-class home viewers had never seen anything like the horror dominatrix. It was an era when women were expected to concern themselves with raising families, maintaining house, and keeping up appearances. Vampira, however, rose from the the dark depths of swirling fog and led the fairer gender into a new generation of independence and self-expression, while their male counterparts drooled over the forbidden siren they could never possess.
The show was an instant success, albeit locally. But actress Maila Nurmi, who created and portrayed Vampira, quickly saw to it that the rest of America knew who she was. After the first episode aired, she personally called LIFE Magazine and demanded a publicity photo shoot. While the rest of the United States did not have the privilege of watching the local show for themselves, they were now reading about her and interest in the porcelain-skinned dame in black peaked rather quickly. In later years, her influence would continue to be felt as local television horror hosts began to sprout all over the U.S. like wild mushrooms. In 1958, singer-songwriter Bobby Bare recorded a single called "Vampira" that proclaimed her as his baby. Soon enough, the name Vampira found its way into many other horror novelty songs, often associating her as Dracula's wife.
Maila Nurmi worked hard at promoting her show. She rarely got much sleep as she interviewed live for evening shows like Al Janis' Hi-Jinx, and the nationally syndicated network show The Saturday Night Revue, then having to rush over to the KABC-TV studio set to do her own live show. As Vampira, she attended special events and appeared as a special guest in movie houses that were screening horror pictures. She cut ribbons at supermarket openings, drove around town in a hearse enticing people to watch her show Saturday evenings, and even signed autographs in graveyards. "I was everywhere. Like horseshit at the turn of the century," commented the vivacious Nurmi in the documentary Vampira: The Movie (2006). "You couldn't turn around.. there was Vampira."
After only six episodes, the show's name was changed from that of Lady of Horrors to The Vampira Show in order to capitalize on the popularity the character was achieving. All the effort Nurmi put into marketing the show was to secure a new contract for the second season and help fund a Vampira merchandise line. Sadly, neither would ever take fruit.
After a full season worth of episodes, 49 in all, that ran from 1954-1955 every Saturday night without faulting, the show found itself cancelled despite its popularity. Reportedly, the issue was that the station wanted to own the rights to the Vampira name, but Maila Nurmi refused to give it up and the Vampira show was no more. In all actuality, it was Nurmi's first husband, screenwriter Dean Riesner (Play Misty for Me; Dirty Harry), who came up with the name. Nurmi, herself, designed the character's look and defined Vampira's persona.
On the night of April 2, 1955, Vampira was due to host her 50th episode of the season and introduce The Woman Who Came Back (1945) as the feature. However, due to the program's last-minute cancellation, the film was, instead, shown on KABC-TV's Nitecap Theater without a host. But Vampira wasn't through yet. The queen of late-night thrillers packed up her cobwebs and arsenic and moved into the KHJ-TV studio where she spooked television audiences all over again with her new show, also entitled Vampira.
It's unfortunate for horror fans, but because both Vampira shows were aired live, no episodes from either program are believed to exist. However, a short kinescope was made to help promote the Vampira show to potential advertisers. The footage is a re-shot skit from episode #17 (and possibly #5 as well), introducing the whodunit murder-mystery The 13th Guest. The historical segment was finally shown to the public in a documentary entitled About Sex, Death and Taxes (1995), which covered the lifespan of Maila Nurmi up to that point. In 2006, excerpts from the kinescope were included in Vampira: The Movie. The following year, the Vampira's Attic website began selling a beautifully restored version of the kinescope skit on a Vampira disc that also features the full-length movie The 13th Guest. Adding to the fun, the film is periodically interrupted with vintage Ed Wood, Jr. commercials that are both hilarious and bizarre. It's a horror collector's dream.
Several scripts of the Vampira show are known to exist and be in the possession of private collectors. Nurmi has commented about how dreadful the scripts were for the first two episodes. Instead of hiring an actual scriptwriter, the producers at KABC-TV, unfortunately, gave the task to a resident pianist for the studio who had never written a script before. This problem would only prove temporary as struggling writer Peter Robinson, who had recently moved to Hollywood with his wife and children to pursue his career, saw the show and wrote an entire script for the Vampira character and submitted it. Robinson also included a cover letter that emphasized the show's need for a structured format. Upon reading Robinson's work, Nurmi was both delighted and thrilled. Robinson was immediately hired and demonstrated his skills beginning with episode #3 and lasting throughout the show's duration.
One particular contribution of Robinson's was a rhyme that may have been part of the #17 cocktail episode: "Here's to zombies, the living dead. May you find one beneath your bed. They live on blood and you should too. Hemoglobin is a drink for you. Trickle, trickle, trickle, trickle..." Other known skits involved Vampira conversing with ghosts, playing with Rollo the Spider, and a special guest star appearance by James Dean who played a 'naughty boy' that falls victim to the disciplinarian tactics of Vampira (dressed as a librarian). Whew! What a sight that must have been!
LADY OF HORRORS:
1. Dig Me Later, Vampira Vampira makes her debut as television's first horror host. Because the show's concept had never been done before, Vampira's first episode was meant to inform home viewers what to expect by providing a preview of horror, mystery, and suspense movies she would be hosting... and enticing everyone to tune in to the show every Saturday night. The show launched the horror hosting craze for many future generations, but very few were as wickedly sexy and frightening as Vampira -- the original Queen of the Horror Hosts. 4/30/1954
2. White Zombie (1932) After settling down in her attic, Vampira welcomes her viewers, "I hope you have been lucky enough to have had a horrible week;" and, for those who have ever attempted suicide, she devises a sinister hospital plan called The Yellow Cross. Also in this episode, Vampira informs us that the color of her long fingernails is 'hemorrhage red'. 5/1/1954
3. The Face of Marble (1946) "The Lady of Horrors will again welcome you to her eerie attic on KABC (7) at midnight to show you a movie called Face of Marble starring cadaverous John Carradine. The ghoulish glamour girl will get you watching if you don't watch out." 5/8/1954
4. Revenge of the Zombies (1943) Scott Warrington (Mauritz Hugo) and a hired detective (Robert Lowery) investigate the mysterious death of Scott's sister Lila (Veda Ann Borg) and discover that she and many others have been turned into zombies by a mad scientist (John Carradine) working for the Third Reich. The zombies, however, seek revenge against their creator. 5/15/1954
5. Fog Island (1945) Vampira offers us a foaming vampire cocktail "that will absolutely kill you." Later, Vampira goes on a quest to find her missing pet spider, Rollo. 5/22/1954
6. Condemned to Live (1948) A pregnant woman is bitten by a vampire bat in Africa. Years later, her son, Paul Kristan (Ralph Morgan), grows up to be a professor who starts having blackouts and commits a series of murders, terrorizing the locals in his village. 5/29/1954
7. Gog (1954) The mechanical monster Gog visits Vampira in her attic playroom at 11:00 P.M. on KABC (7); The show's name, Lady of Horrors, is changed to the hostess's name, Vampira, due to all the positive attention and publicity she had been receiving in such a short period of time. Although only aired locally, the show is featured in magazine and newspaper articles -- LIFE Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, TV Guide, etc. -- reaching thousands of people all across the U.S. 6/5/1954
8. Devil Bat's Daughter (1946) Under the care and treatment of a shady psychiatrist named Dr. Elliott (Eddie Kane), Nina MacCarron (Rosemary La Planche) believes that her late father was a vampire and that he has taken possession of her... especially when she wakes up with blood on her hands and discovers a dead corpse. 6/12/1954
9. The Flying Serpent (1946) When archaeologist Andrew Forbes (George Zucco) discovers the legendary Quetzalcoatl, he accidentally brings about the death of his wife. Realizing he can use the vicious serpent creature of Aztec mythology to kill anyone of his choosing, Forbes seeks gruesome revenge on his enemies. 6/191954
10. The Mask of Diijon (1946) After being humiliated on stage, mad magician Diijon (Erich von Stroheim) employs hypnotism to exact his revenge and make others kill for him. Among his intended victims are his much younger wife (Jeanne Bates) and her former lover (William Wright). 6/26/1954
11. The Strange Mr. Gregory (1946) Master illusionist, Mr. Gregory (Edmund Lowe), falls for another magician's wife (Jean Rogers). Mr. Gregory fakes his own death and has the young man framed for his murder and places the married woman under his spell. 7/3/1954
12. The Man with Two Lives (1942) When a vicious criminal is sentenced to death in the electric chair, his evil soul takes over the body of recently dead Phillip Bennett (Edward Norris). Assuming leadership of his old criminal organization, the vengeful crime lord unleashes an all out gang-war upon the city. Marlo Dwyer and Frederick Burton also star. 7/10/1954
13. Corridor of Mirrors (1948) Beautiful Myfanwy Conway (Edana Romney) meets a stranger in London named Paul Mangin (Eric Portman) who seems to have a strange obsession with a portrait of a woman who looks very much like her. When Myfanwy's personality begins to change and resemble that of the woman in the portrait, it just may be that she and Paul are reincarnated lovers from a previous life. The problem is... Paul appears to have homicidal tendencies. 7/17/1954
14. Fear (1946) Out of anger and desperation, medical student Larry Crain (Peter Cookson) commits murder, but soon draws suspicion onto himself the more reckless he becomes. Featuring Warren William and Anne Gwynne. 7/24/1954
15. Rogue's Tavern (1936) Planning to elope, Jimmy Kelly (Wallace Ford) and Marjorie Burns (Barbara Pepper) check into a hotel room, but quickly discover that they are in the company of jewel smugglers and a mad killer that's on the loose. Also starring Joan Woodbury and Jack Mulhall. 7/31/1954
16. Dangerous Intruder (1945) Jenny (Veda Ann Borg) is an actress who has the misfortune of being struck down by a car while hitchhiking her way across the country. Surviving her ordeal, Jenny is taken in by the driver, Max Ducone (Charles Arnt), to recuperate. But Jenny's nightmare isn't over. Someone has murdered Mr. Ducone's wife in cold blood. 8/7/1954
17. The 13th Guest (a.k.a. Mystery of the 13th Guest) (1943) While lighting a cigarette from a candle wick, Vampira tells us why she doesn't rig the attic with electricity: "Everybody knows electricity is for chairs." 8/14/1954
18. Midnight Limited (1940) A mysterious figure known as The Phantom Robber has been pulling a series of robberies on a locomotive headed for Montreal. When Joan Marshall (Marjorie Reynolds) becomes the latest victim, she teams up with Detective Valentine Lennon (John King) to capture him. Unfortunately, The Phantom Robber soon resorts to murder. 8/21/1954
19. Bluebeard (1944) Siblings Lucille (Jean Parker) and Francine (Teala Loring) cross paths with a mad killer dubbed "Bluebeard," who has all of Paris in a grip of terror. John Carradine and Nils Asther also star. 8/28/1954
20. Missing Lady (1946) Lamont Cranston -- secretly the vigilante known as The Shadow (Kane Richmond) -- investigates a murder and a stolen jade statue that is referred to as the "missing lady." The Shadow, himself, becomes the prime suspect when his sleuthing only leads to more people being killed. Featuring George Chandler and James Flavin. 9/4/1954
21. Murder by Invitation (1941) In order to get their hands on rich Aunt Cassandra Hildegarde Denham's (Sarah Padden) fortune, greedy relatives attempt to have the old woman declared insane. Despite this, Aunt "Cassie" invites them all over to her estate. That's when the murders begin. Also starring Wallace Ford and Gavin Gordon. 9/11/1954
22. Red Dragon (1945) "Vampira, the amazing glamour-ghoul... take[s] a bath during the show. Naturally it'[s] a cauldron of fire fanned by gasoline." -- Long Beach Press-Telegram. 9/18/1954
23. The Missing Heiress (a.k.a. Dr. Morelle: The Case of the Missing Heiress) (1949) Poor Cynthia Mason (Jean Lodge). She was do to marry a struggling young author and inherit millions, but mysteriously disappears. Her friend, Miss Frayle (Julia Lang), happens to be the secretary of the great detective Dr. Morelle (Valentine Dyall). Both Miss Frayle and Dr. Morelle head to the creepy dark mansion to solve the case. 9/25/1954
24. The Missing Corpse (1945) Newspaper publisher Henry Kruger (J. Edward Bromberg) leaves the city and heads to his country home to do some hunting. Unfortunately, an unscrupulous rival publisher Andy McDonald (Paul Guilfoyle) turns up dead in the trunk of Henry's car. As more people get involved in the situation, the elusive body keeps turning up missing. 10/2/1954
25. The Fatal Hour (1940) San Francisco Police Captain Bill Street (Grant Withers) calls in the famous sleuth James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) to help solve murders in connection with a smuggling ring by the harbor. Also featuring Marjorie Reynolds and Charles Trowbridge. 10/9/1954
26. Phantom Killer (1942) Assistant D.A. Edward A. Clark (Dick Purcell) investigates several murders that all seem to lead back to a deaf-mute named John G. Harrison (John Hamilton). The crux of the dilemma is that Mr. Harrison is always seen by witnesses attending benefits at the time of the murders. 10/16/1954
27. The Shadow Returns (1946) Lamont Cranston (Kane Richmond), a.k.a The Shadow, gets a tip on a jewel smuggling racket, which, of course, leads to murder. Barbara Reed and Tom Dugan also star. 10/23/1954
28. King of the Zombies (1941) "Vampira, the dream ghoul [has] a special show for this Halloween with fun and games for her friends (?). Formaldehyde-and seek, bobbing for poison apples and other such games [are] played and refreshments [also] include suicider and Thirteen Up." -- Long Beach Independent. 10/30/1954
29. Doomed to Die (1940) When shipping magnate Cyrus B. Wentworth (Melvin Lang) is shot dead, the prime suspect turns out to be his daughter's fiance. But famous detective James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) and meddling reporter Roberta Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) have their doubts as Mr. Wentworth had a lot of enemies. 11/6/1954
30. House of Mystery (1934) When Vampira has car trouble, Fletcher Jones tries to get her to trade in her vehicle for one of the sponsor's used models. Vampira refuses and wrecks her car on a fire hydrant. Grabbing her shredded umbrella, Vampira proceeds to hitchhike. 11/13/1954
31. My Brother's Keeper (1948) Two escaped convicts (Jack Warner and George Cole), that happen to be handcuffed to one another, escape and go on the lam. As the two fugitives try to ditch the police and the reporters that are hot on their tail, one of them ends up murdering a hunter that stumbles upon them. 11/20/1954
32. Dear Murderer (1947) "Vampira [takes] her flying hearse to Decadence Manor for a Thanksgiving dinner of young Tom Vulture. Rest of the dinner menu includes Sparkling Arsenic, Sour Potatoes, dressing of head crumbs and tid-bits of toes, crank-berry sauce and dead lettuce salad." -- Long Beach Independent. 11/27/1954
33. The Castle of Doom (a.k.a. Vampyr) (1932) When Allan Gray (Julian West) checks into an inn, he discovers he has also placed himself in grave danger as vampires terrorize the village of Courtempierre. Also starring Maurice Schutz and Sybille Schmitz. 12/4/1954
34. The Charge is Murder (a.k.a. Atto d'accusa; The Accusation) (1950) Famous attorney Massimo Ruska (Karl Ludwig Diehl) turns to murder when he discovers his wife Irene (Lea Padovani) has been having an affair with former lover Renato La Torre (Marcello Mastrioanni). 12/11/1954
35. Return of the Ape Man (1944) "Vampira... goes Christmas chopping to fill her hate list." -- Long Beach Independent. 12/18/1954
36. Man with the Gray Glove (a.k.a. L'uomo dal guanto grigio) (1948) Anna Gaddi (Annette Bach) finds herself a prime suspect in a murder and the disappearance of a famous painting. Starring Antonio Centa and Lauro Gazzolo. 12/25/1954
37. Apology for Murder (1945) Villainess Toni Kirkland (Ann Savage) manipulates reporter Kenny Blake (Hugh Beaumont) into falling in love with her and has him murder her much older husband Harvey Kirkland (Russell Hicks). 1/1/1955
38. Decoy (1946) A greedy Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie) comes up with a plan to fake the death of her gangster boyfriend, Frank Olins (Robert Armstrong), and break him out of prison. It seems Frank has in his possession a map to the secret location of $400,000. But jealousy and deceit lead to multiple murders. 1/8/1955
39. Murder Is My Business (1946) Private Detective Michael Shayne (Hugh Beaumont) investigates the murder of wealthy Eleanor Renslow Ramsey (Helene Heigh), but an unscrupulous local law enforcement detective, Pete Rafferty (Ralph Dunn) attempts to frame him for the crime. Mr. Shayne's personal secretary, Phyllis Hamilton (Cheryl Walker), comes to his aid. 1/15/1955
40. Phantom of 42nd Street (1945) When a Broadway actor is murdered and suspicion falls on Claudia Moore (Kay Aldridge), critic Tony Woolrich (Dave O'Brien) teams up with Lt. Walsh (Jack Mulhall) to investigate the homicide and rescue the woman he loves from the Phantom Killer. 1/22/1955
41. The Case of the Guardian Angel (a.k.a. The Adventures of P.C. 49: Investigating the Case of the Guardian Angel) (1949) "Vampira... receive[s] the first 'Black Skull of Death Award' from the Mystery Writers of America during her show... Along with the mounted death head [are] an assortment of weapons that have been featured in mystery stories written by the famous authors." -- Long Beach Independent. 1/29/1955
42. Lady Chaser (1946) "Vampira... visits the spider pound to reclaim her black-widow spider." -- Long Beach Independent. 2/5/1955
43. Killer at Large (1947) Newspaper reporters Paul Kimberly (Robert Lowery) and Anne Arnold (Anabel Shaw) investigate an embezzling ring. Also starring Charles Evans and Frank Ferguson. 2/12/1955
44. She Shall Have Murder (1950) Jane Hamish (Rosamund John) is an aspiring mystery writer who works as a law office clerk. However, her very life is in danger when she investigates the murder of a client. Also featuring Derrick De Marney and Mary Jerrold. 2/19/1955
45. The Lady Confesses (1945) Vicki McGuire (Mary Beth Hughes) is shocked to discover that her fiance's first wife, Norma Craig (Barbara Slater), is very much alive after having gone missing for seven years. That is only the beginning of this odd mystery as Norma is later murdered and Vicki finds herself caught in a web of lies and deceit. 2/26/1955
46. Larceny in Her Heart (1946) Two-fisted sleuth Michael Shayne (Hugh Beaumont) investigates the disappearance of Helen Stallings (Marie Hannon). Unfortunately for Shayne, this is a case of murder which literally lands on his doorstep. 3/5/1955
47. The Glass Alibi (1946) A greedy reporter, Joe Eykner (Douglas Fowley), and his treacherous girlfriend Belle Martin (Anne Gwynne) plan to murder his rich wife Linda (Maris Wrixon). Paul Kelly and Selmer Jackson also star. 3/12/1955
48. Detour (1945) Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is a struggling pianist from New York City who hitchhikes his way to California to be with his ex-girlfriend Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake). When Al meets up with a pill-popper that croaks on him, he steals the man's car and identity, but soon becomes the puppet of a femme fatale named Vera (Ann Savage). 3/19/1955
49. Strangler of the Swamp (1946) Someone or something is killing off the male descendants of those who hung an innocent man in the swamps. Starring Rosemary La Planche and Robert Barrat 3/26/1955