Friday, September 30, 2011

Vampira: The Movie (2006)


VAMP Productions, documentary, 2006
Producer/Director: Kevin Sean Michaels
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!

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