Since 1922 with the making and release of F. W. Murnau's Dracula inspired horror film Nosferatu the creature known as the vampire has taken over movies, tv, and also pop culture. The vampire is known throughout the world for its many qualities such as immortality, seduction, hunger, and power.
Many people wonder what exactly is it about the vampire lore that makes us gravitate towards them? Some researchers speculated that the answer lies in our interest with the concept of immortality. However, other researchers have theorized that we, humanity, are possibly more interested in the horror side of the vampire myth.
So, when did this idea or the belief in the vampire or vampires begin for the humankind, and when did we as a culture start to entertain ourselves with stories featuring these creatures of the night? This article will exam where our fear, interest and even our need to explore the reaches of the undead from different cultures around the world. It'll also cover where they first believed in the vampire myth to the eventual beginning of when Hollywood brought the vampire to the big screen.
Origins Of The Vampire
It isn’t widely known where exactly the creature known as the vampire originated from. In folklore, the vampire emerged as an answer to major unsolved crimes. Whatever the case, the earliest account of the vampire that I could find was in Malaysia, being the Langsuyar. The Langsuyar was a beautiful young woman giving birth to a stillborn child. On being told that her child was dead the woman clapped her hands, rose out of bed and then flew out of the window into the trees. The Langsuyar would then feast on the blood of children she attacked. A similar tale was also found in Greece and they called them Lamiai. In Poland, if a child was born with a membrane cap on their heads or was born with two teeth that child was likely to become a vampire if the child wasn’t dealt with while growing up. In the Slavic folklore, a vampire can be created through many ways such as violent deaths like suicide. Even the burial of the dead was seen as another way for a potential vampire to rise. A common creation of a vampire was allowing an animal to jump over a body before burial. Or even during a funeral if a black cat were to walk in front of the casket. It was believed that these events would cause the deceased to come back as a vampire, then haunt the family of the deceased.
Characteristics of the Vampire
The first time fangs were ever used to reference vampires was the James Malcolm Rymer’s novel Varney The Vampire in the 1840’s a half-century before Bram Stoker penned Dracula in 1897. In film, however, the first glimpse we get of a vampiric character with fangs was Graf Orlock in F.W. Murnau ‘s Nosferatu in 1922. The role of Orlock was played by German character actor Max Schreck.
Another characteristic you add to Nosferatu is sunlight being used as a weapon against the undead in a film. Although in folklore and in literature the vampire was able to roam about society freely at any time.
Stake In The Heart
Of course, the best-known way to dispatch the undead is a wooden sharpened stake. It was used to penetrate the creature’s chest. Usually, a hammer would be used to plunge the stake deeper into the chest to destroy the heart. It was believed that the only to stop the corpse from rising from its grave was to nail them to the ground where it lays. The practice was very much widespread throughout Europe. The first time on film this ancient method was used was in 1931’s Dracula with Bela Lugosi.
The Vampire has been associated with blood as a creature that feasts on the living. There has always been a connection to blood and life since the ancient times. In fact, some believed by drinking the blood of your enemies you can absorb their strength.
Defense Against A Vampire
Not only is the crucifix a major symbol of Christianity, but in the novel Dracula (1897) an old woman gives Jonathan Harker a rosary in Bistritz, Transylvania to wear around his neck to ward off evil spirits, especially vampires.
In Slavic folklore, garlic was believed to prevent a vampire from attacking or entering your household. Garlic became widely known for this through the character Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in Bram Stoker’s Novel Dracula. In ancient times garlic was believed to have magical powers for protection against supernatural forces such as Demons, Witches, and Sorcerers. It was also used against natural phenomena like plagues and other diseases.
The Vampire Hunter
The archenemy of any or all members of the undead is the Vampire Hunter. The hunter would travel to small villages to hire himself or herself out for their services. Usually, the Vampire Hunter would try to organize as many people in the village to assist in the destruction of the creature. The Vampire Hunter always carried with him or her a toolkit of the trade. Inside this toolkit held a vile of holy water, a crucifix, a sharpened wooden stake and a hammer to drive the stake into the vampire’s chest.
The best example I believe for the Vampire Hunter is John Carpenter’s film Vampires (1998), which follows Jack Crow (James Woods) who is the leader of a band of vampire slayers that are employed by the Catholic Church. At one point, Crow and his team are met face to face with the first of all vampires Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) who slaughters almost his entire team except for two people Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and Catrina (Sheryl Lee) who was bitten by Valek. They regroup with a priest who has joined them in their hunt of the first vampire with the plan to use Catrina to find Valek since she is now linked psychically to him. The priest informs the group why Valek is in the area. Valek is looking for a black cross that was used in an exorcism on him and made him into what he is, a vampire.