31 Days Of Horror 2013: Guest Blogger Liisa Ladouceur On How To Learn About Vampires (or, how I learned to love the Vampire Diaries)

How To Kill A VampireLiisa Ladouceur is the Queen of Toronto Goth, and I’m so excited to have her at Biff Bam Pop as part of our 31 Days of Horror. A noted journalist, author and commentator (we were on an episode of MuchMoreMusic’s Listed together many moons ago), Liisa’s latest book is called How To Kill A Vampire, and is published by our friends at ECW Press. 

Before I started to write my book How to Kill a Vampire, I thought I had seen a lot of vampire movies. I had certainly read a lot of books about bloodsuckers, which is why I decided to focus on the specific topic of vampire destruction myths, something not already on my shelf that I felt could use some attention. I then pretty much spent six months alone in the dark watching every vamp flick I could get my hands on (spoiler: there are a fuck of a lot), while at the same time digging through studies of ancient burial rituals and superstitions, in my quest to get to the bottom of how and why we stake, decapitate and burn vampires.
I learned quite a lot. One of my favourite surprises was how deep the vampire legends are in Greece. Transylvania and its nosferatu get all the attention, but Greece has a pretty wicked monster in the vrykolakas. It’s what you would become you if you were ex-communicated, and some say you could then only be killed on a Saturday, when you weren’t busy out haunting the neighbourhood. Greek legends also say the creature has a habit of knocking on doors and anyone who answers on the first knock will themselves die and return as a vrykolakas — which is why even today some folks won’t answer the door until its rung twice.  There is even a “vampire island” in Greece, Santorni. It’s kind of amazing that only one film of note, 1945’s Isle of the Dead, starring Boris Karloff, has mined the Greek vampire legend for entertainment.

Most of the rarer films I unearthed to watch for the first time were duds. (It ws nice to confirm I had seen all the good vampire films already.) Except for one: Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. This 1972 British film, originally shot as a pilot for a TV series, introduced me to my new favourite slayer. Played by Horst Janson, Kronos is a kind of Fabio for the horror crowd, a swashbuckling blonde hunk on horseback who is rather handy with a sword. Set in the 18th century, the film features a unique premise (young women are being drained not of blood, but of their youth) and plenty of action, mixed with Kronos’ methodical detective work. Sure, it’s as melodramatic as a 1970s Hammer horror can be, but it also really made me root for the slayer, which, as a vampire lover, was a bit of a switch, and one that helped me in my goal of documenting why and how we must destroy the monster.

But my biggest about-face was getting caught up in the TV series The Vampire Diaries. I had previously ignored this show, mostly because it’s about high school teens. I enjoyed Buffy when I was younger but had since moved on to harder horror, and didn’t feel the need to spend time with a supernatural soap opera. (Also, I don’t have cable or generally watch much TV.) But someone at my publishers, Crissy Calhoun, a superfan of the series who has written several excellent guidebooks about the show, gave me a primer on which episodes to dive into first, and I quickly realized The Vampire Diaries offers the most compelling take on the legend in popular culture today.

Much like Buffy, TVD (which as I understand it differs quite a lot from the books it was based on, by L.J. Smith), has its own complex mythology around its vampires, from their origins (created by a grieving witch mother in the 10th century) to their strengths and weaknesses (vervain, an herb, is like their garlic; a special spell-cast ring protects humans from death by supernatural causes, etc). They are vampires as we know them —immortal bloodsuckers who must be invited in to a house to enter — but with lots of twists. I know millions of people, including many readers here, know all about this. For me, it was a good reminder that teen vamps don’t necessarily suck (in a bad way). In particular, I was attracted to the ways in which they can be harmed and destroyed (e.g., snapping the neck as a temporary incapacitation; offing an Original kills everyone in its bloodline), and even more to the show’s slayers. This ancient “Brotherhood” of hunters, with its curses and special tattoos and mysteries, became the prime reason for me to keep watching. Sure, the show is full of adolescent sentimentality, dreamboats, and other anathema to the true horror fan, but it’s also the strongest vampire story going right now, in any medium. I can’t wait until the Halloween high season of work is over for me and I can sink my teeth into the new spin-off The Originals, which features one of my favourite ever vamps in Joseph Morgan’s Klaus.

All this to say, I hope that readers of my book discover new vampire stories to love, too. My intention in writing it was to bring to light the historical vampire legends for the pop culture enthusiast, and to inspire everyone to seek out films and books they may have overlooked, from cult movies to mainstream best-sellers. For there truly is a vampire for every (blood) type.

Thanks to Liisa for dropping by. You can follow her on Twitter @liisaladouceur, or visit her online at www.liisaladouceur.com and www.encyclopediagothica.com. You can order her latest book, How To Kill A Vampire, here


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